Apollo Magazine

NATO’s night out at the Prado

Leaders of the alliance’s member countries have a lot on their minds at the moment, but there was still time to look pensive in front of Old Master paintings at this week’s summit

Boris Johnson at the Prado before a dinner of the leaders of NATO member states on 29 June 2022.

Boris Johnson at the Prado before a dinner of the leaders of NATO member states on 29 June 2022. Photo: Ballesteros – Pool/Getty Images

Introducing Rakewell, Apollo’s wandering eye on the art world. Look out for regular posts taking a rakish perspective on art and museum stories.

When the heads of government of the NATO countries met in Madrid this week, they certainly had a lot to talk about. Given the war in Ukraine, the nervousness of Russia’s Baltic neighbours and the desire of Finland and Sweden to join the alliance, one might have expected that the assembled leaders would have no time to stand and stare. But stand and stare they did in the galleries of the Prado, just before dinner on Wednesday. While even Rakewell sometimes struggles to look soulful in front of the greatest of Old Master paintings, your roving correspondent was rather impressed by the pairing of the various premiers with works that say a lot about how they want to be seen.

Justin Trudeau, for instance, looks stern and saintly with a congregation of, er, saints and the Virgin Mary (all painted by Rubens) in attendance.

Justin Trudeau at the Prado. Photo: Bertrand Guay/Pool/AFP via Getty Images

Velázquez’s masterpiece has taxed viewers for centuries with the mystery of who is looking at whom. Are the figures looking at the painter (who has put himself in the painting), or at the Infanta’s parents (reflected in a mirror) who are watching the painter create the whole scene. Why not just take a selfie in front of Las Meninas as a souvenir, as Joe Biden did with the Maltese prime minister and his wife?

Joe Biden snaps a selfie with Maltese Prime Minister Robert Abela and his wife Lydia Abela, in front of Las Meninas (1656) by Velázquez. Photo: Bertrand Guay/Pool/AFP via Getty Images

As Emmanuel Macron contemplates the hard task of governing France without a supportive National Assembly, even The Three Graces can’t cheer him up.

The French president Emmanuel Macron gazes glumly at The Three Graces. Photo: Ballesteros – Pool/Getty Images

Boris Johnson, however, seems very much more taken with Rubens’s curvy ladies. If, instead of the Graces, we think of the goddesses Hera, Athena and Aphrodite – and remember that ‘Boris’s real first name is Alexander, which is how Paris is known in the Iliad – the British prime minister seems about to announce the winner of the beauty competition and give her a golden apple (please apply to Lulu Lytle for matching gold wallpaper). Rubens’s Judgement of Paris (1638) hangs in the same gallery, of course, but the deities in that painting aren’t quite as risqué. Rakewell awaits the consequences of Johnson’s Judgement with something like a sense of dread.

Boris Johnson gesticulates at The Three Graces (1630–35) by Peter Paul Rubens. Photo: Ballesteros – Pool/Getty Images

Got a story for Rakewell? Get in touch at rakewell@apollomag.com or via @Rakewelltweets.

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