"In Botero's work, drawing has always accounted for as much as painting," Marc Fumaroli observed a decade ago, "but it seems to have gained some terrain in recent years." Indeed, as the stature of his works on paper has risen, Botero "has come to augment the size of his drawings to equal that of his paintings," an indication of the seriousness with which the artist treats the graphic medium, in some ways a more intimate window into his personality than his paintings. "The contented draftsman playing with lines and volumes is much more calm than the painter," Fumaroli notes, and drawings such as the present Mother and Child reveal Botero at his most humane, rendering his subjects with tender affection.(1)
Botero began to draw as a young boy growing up in Colombia and recognized an early vocation for watercolor, a traditional form in Antioquía and one that he honed as a teenager, painting the ocher-colored roofs of Medellín and scenes from the local bullfighting ring. The first work that he ever sold was a watercolor-- for two pesos!--and he has never looked back, in successive years imparting a monumentality to his watercolors that draws, perhaps unexpectedly, on the Italian fresco tradition. "I use watercolors to try and define my position as an artist," Botero once explained. "I see them as small frescoes. By superimposing very thin layers of paint and reserving the whiteness of the paper, the shapes are built up, as in the 'affresco' technique where the whiteness of the whitewashed wall constitutes white paint." Botero had the opportunity to study the extraordinary fresco cycles of such early Renaissance masters as Giotto, Masaccio and Ghirlandaio during a formative two-year period in Florence, and he understands his watercolors as constituting a modern-day reprisal of the Old Master tradition: "I paint large watercolor pictures which, in some ways, give me the sensation of painting al fresco; I experience them as small frescoes rather than as huge watercolor pictures."(2)
Mother and Child ranks among Botero's loveliest works in this medium, its gleaming, transparent washes of color and maternal theme discreetly nodding to both the technical and thematic legacy of the artist's Renaissance sources. "The theme of maternity is evidently linked with the image of the Holy Virgin and her Child--an image that was familiar to Botero from his first visits to the churches and chapels of Medellín," John Sillevis has remarked. "The protective intimacy of mother and child cannot easily be separated from an art historical tradition of which Botero has created his own version," he notes, even when the artist leaves out explicit religious symbolism.
The present work offers a charmingly bourgeois reinterpretation of the classic Madonna and Child theme. This young mother, demurely attired in a lace-trimmed gown and matching rosette headband, cradles the doll-like child on her lap in a tender image of maternal love. Miniaturized but with precociously adult facial features, the child is dressed in a flowing, golden-colored costume that Botero renders in softly luminous tones that become more and more attenuated as the garment trails off, revealing the whiteness of the paper beneath. The rounded folds of his dress, as with the subtly rendered sheen of the drapery and the pleats of the mother's gown, display the artist's facility with the watercolor medium; the sheer layers of pigment skillfully reflect light and build shadow, imparting a warm glow to his subjects. Painted on a deliberately monumental scale, Mother and Child is not only a fitting homage to Botero's Renaissance masters, but a fine testament as well to his virtuosity and charismatic range as a draftsman.(3)
1) M. Fumaroli, Botero Drawings, Bogotá, Villegas Editores, 1999, n.p.
2) F. Botero, quoted in Botero: aquarelles, dessins, sculptures, Basel, Galerie Beyeler, 1980, n.p.
3) J. Sillevis, The Baroque World of Fernando Botero, New Haven, Yale University Press, 2006, 239.