Yuste, nogal del emperador Carlos V (Yuste, The Walnut Tree of Emperor Charles V)

Charles Clifford

Wales, 1819 - Madrid, Spain, 1863
  • Date: 
    1858 (Spring) / Vintage print
  • Technique: 
    Albumen print on paper
  • Dimensions: 
    Image: 41 x 31 cm
  • Category: 
  • Entry date: 
  • Observations: 
    The copy displayed in room 201 is a facsimile copy created to preserve the original
  • Register number: 

Charles Clifford was court photographer for Queen Isabella II of Spain, where he lived from 1850. In 1858 he travelled to Extremadura to visit the Monastery of Yuste, where Emperor Charles V had retired in 1557 and died the following year, exactly three centuries before Clifford’s journey, who was probably there to commemorate the anniversary. Most of the photographs from the visit illustrate the preference Clifford (who may be the elegant gentleman facing the camera in the photograph) held for classical architecture, Roman and Renaissance ruins that he photographed so often during his travels around Spain. The magnificent walnut tree at Yuste is the exception; it is a monumental tree to which some years later, in 1873, “deserved respect” would be given by the writer Pedro Antonio de Alarcón, who stated that its “age could not be less than six centuries” and that “it is held in great historical reverence, and no traveller passes it without taking a few leaves as a souvenir.” The remains of the “Imperial Monastery, with its offices and the palace of Charles V” (in ruins since the Peninsular War, and private property since 1821) are a stark contrast to the vigour of the tree, which has survived religious power (the Hieronymite monks) as well as political (the Austrian dynasty). This is a metaphor for the historic decline of a ruined nation, over-dependent on memory. Yet it is also a romantic image of the majesty of nature, close to photographs like Carleton E. Watkins’ redwoods from the 1860’s or Rodney Graham’s recent upside-down trees.

Horacio Fernández