Nens jugant amb una papallona (1839)
La Bellesa Ideal
You’ve got to figure someone did their artistic homework if they could find graceful beauty in a man on the verge of hacking a mother and babe to death or a woman breastfeeding her…um…shackled father. But hey, if the Romans and Greeks did this kind of stuff, why can’t someone create quality remakes centuries later?
‘La bellesa ideal’, a small exhibit at the Museu Frederic Marès, has just this type of scandalous retro content, all done by Antoni Solà (Barcelona, 1780—Rome, 1861).
I may be behind the times, but I think there’s something refreshingly peaceful and honest about Solà’s work. Today, cultural savvy pulls a lot of, or perhaps too much, weight. Culture consumers expect either total originality (yeah right) or, at the very least, some sort of clever, street-smart disruption and reinterpretation of what came before. But what about tackling the bigger, older questions like how can I make shackled men drinking milk from unconventional sources look timeless or, more ambitious still, what is ideal beauty?
Long ago (1801), in a place not so far away (Barcelona), people took these challenges seriously. Solà, the son of a carpenter, submitted ‘Aneas and the Sybil of Cumas Visit the Styx’, a work in painted plaster, to a contest put on by the Junta de Comerç. After winning (only one other person entered) Solà’s prize was a trip to Rome to refine his budding skills. Once in the Eternal City, he never looked back—unless it was to find new subject matter.
The resulting sculptures, in flawless white marble, look like the kind with missing arms found in museums but since they’re not actually thousands of years old, they look even purer and more perfect. (Just one guy is missing a big toe.) But the artist, who spent the rest of his life in Rome as a member of the San Luca Academy, also tackled other subjects. One sculpture depicts Blasco de Garay, a Catalan whizz (inaccurately) credited with creating an early steamboat prototype in the 1500s and (accurately) credited for pioneering work on paddle-wheel boats.
If you’re looking for something new, you might want to sit this one out but if you appreciate calm, straightforward works that use a common vocabulary used over thousands of years, stop by. Oh, regarding ‘Roman Charity’, the girl was breastfeeding her imprisoned father. Some accounts say the authorities were so impressed with her generosity, the prisoner was pardoned.
Gabe gave this show four out of five
La bellesa ideal: Antoni Solà, Escultor a Roma
Until September 27th
Museu Frederic Marès
Av. Marquès de Comillas 6-8
Metro: Jaume I (L4)
What’s more: The entrance fee to this show includes entry to the museum’s permanent collection. Frederic Marès was himself a Catalan sculptor and the museum houses his private art collection.