Fernando Botero (b. 1932)
Fernando Botero (b. 1932)

El rosario

Fernando Botero (b. 1932)
El rosario
signed and dated 'Botero 69' (lower right) signed, dated and titled 'Botero 69, EL ROSARIO' (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
78 x 44½ in. (198.1 x 113 cm.)
Painted in 1969.
Acquired from the artist.
Anon. sale, Sotheby's, New York, 20 November 1989, lot 58 (illustrated in color).
The Mayor Gallery, London.
Acquired from the above by the late owner (1990).

Lot Essay

Botero left his native Colombia in 1952 for travel and study in Europe, stopping first in Barcelona and making his way gradually to Florence, where he supplemented his studies at the Academy with courses in art history. In the static monumentality of the painting of the Florentine Trecento and Quattrocento, with which he found spiritual truck, Botero discovered what would become enduring precedents for his work. Like Giotto, Masaccio, and Piero della Francesca, the Old Masters whom he most admired, Botero has consistently stressed the importance of tactile volumes and formal amplitude in his figures. Like his Renaissance masters, the Peruvian writer and intellectual Mario Vargas Llosa has observed, Botero has filled his pictures with clerics more for visual than spiritual reasons, and by so doing, he linked his work to those mentors and he expressed a world in which, in effect, as in the Italy of the City States, the Church was omnipresent.[1]

"The reason why I painted priests is obvious," Botero once remarked of his early interest in clerical subjects. "I was totally involved in and enamoured with the Quattrocento. But I could not of course now paint characters of the Quattrocento. My priests were contemporary, but out of the Middle Ages." [2] Though drawn from the Western canon, Botero's priests and nuns belong fully to the modern-day Latin American world, a society where Catholicism has long been a ubiquitous presence in everyday life. Like most Colombians, Botero studied religion as a child and was immersed, as a matter of course, in the aura of sanctity (both real and imagined) that permeates the traditions of his country, as Edward Sullivan has noted. "Throughout his career he has returned to themes associated with religious life from time to time. . . . The theme of the ecclesiastical authority figure has long interested the artist."[3]

The Catholic Church established a powerful built presence in the baroque churches and chapels of Botero's native town, Medellín; and its cultural influence and political authority, there and elsewhere, would persist well beyond the end of Spanish colonial rule. At the time of his childhood, Botero has recalled, the Church was overpowering, occupying not only the churches but the streets as well.[4] The Church took a partisan stance during the 1940s and 50s, amid widespread political violence, and there is a critical undertone to many of Botero's religious paintings that reflects his feeling of revulsion against the Church's abuses of power. Botero's paintings from the 1960s frequently reflect the collective and personal trauma of his country, and many of his religious subjects from those years such as the dramatic Dead Bishops,1966 bear silent witness to national despair.
Happily, the humor is much lighter in Botero's many paintings of nuns from that time. El rosario belongs to a repertory of nuns and female saints portrayed by the artist in a number of paintings and drawings, including the well-known Our Lady of New York, 1966, Mother Superior, 1966, and Our Lady of Colombia, 1967. The gentle dignity of the present nun, clasping a rosary in her hands and peering out through wire-rimmed spectacles, suggests the protective role of the Church and the maternal warmth of its devoted servants. She stands in graceful serenity, a stoic image of tender calm and abiding affection instantly familiar to any Catholic schoolchild. The two apples floating suggestively at the right are playful reminders of Botero's sense of humor: perhaps a reminder of the Fall of Eve, they hover enticingly against the shadowy background, tempting but just out of reach.

Abby McEwen, Assistant Professor, University of Maryland, College Park

[1] M. V. Llosa, "A Sumptuous Abundance," Fernando Botero, Stockholm: Moderna Museet, 2001, 27.
[2] Fernando Botero, quoted in V. Llosa, "A Sumptuous Abundance," 26. [3] E. J. Sullivan, Fernando Botero: Drawings and Watercolors, New York: Rizzoli, 1993, xviii.
[4] Botero, quoted in W. Spies, "'I'm the most Colombian of Colombian artists': A Conversation with Fernando Botero," Fernando Botero: Paintings and Drawings, Munich: Prestel-Verlag, 1992, 159.

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