Leonora Carrington (b. 1917)
Leonora Carrington (b. 1917)

Baile de máscaras

Leonora Carrington (b. 1917)
Baile de máscaras
signed and dated 'Leonora Carrington--1954' lower right
oil on canvas
39½ x 19.7/8in. (100.3 x 50.6cm.)
Painted in 1954
Acquired from the artist
Anon. sale, Sotheby's New York, Important Latin American Paintings, Drawings and Sculpture, Nov. 21, 1995, lot 53 (illustrated in color)
Private collection, New York
Gary Nader Fine Arts, Miami

Lot Essay

During the first half of the Fifties, Leonora Carrington created hallucinatory works that project life within houses of worship. Carrington integrated pagan and secular iconography with the same systematic hybridization that she had done with her personages. Baile de máscaras is not Carrington's title. However, it holds narrative, if not historical truth, about the painting, which deals with masks and dancing as metaphor for spiritual transformation. The original title, In the Temple, informs that the painting is about what is taking place within a sacred space. As in other pagan temples, particularly those created in Italian painting of the 16th century, pillars forming circular colonnades support the roof. Through a delicate hue of light, Carrington's scene blends horror and dazzling beauty. It reminds one of Lomazzo's treatises on painting (1584) describing Bosch, painter of "strange sights, and frightful and terrible dreams unique and divine."
In order to gain a sense for Carrington's composition, one needs to know her iconographic sources. On the upper right corner, a cloth face, representing the Veil of Veronica, observes the events taking place. Opposite the Veil, in a niche below the ceiling, two birds quarrel to the death of one of them, and an egg dangles from the red string that might be a line of blood spilling from its wounded neck. The detail of the dangling egg is borrowed from Piero della Francesca's Madonna and Child with Saints and Duke Federigo of Montfeltro, (ca.1472). As Carrington does here, Piero suspended the egg from a thin chain above the Virgin and the personages below to convey the illusion of space behind, around, and before. The egg stands for the Christ Child in the womb. Below, in the forefront of the painting, a group of masked personages appears to wait their turn to perform. Their masks are metaphors for roles we play that become more real to us than our unseen reality, until we confuse the costume with who we are. One of them, a personage with multiple limbs wearing a lizard's mask and a blue feathered robe, dances towards the area below the suspended egg, away from the other five masked performers, and the jackal-god of mortuaries- that accompanies them. With a third eye on its forehead to denote awareness that can destroy Karma from previous lives, it is significant to Carrington as she created a second version in another painting of the same year. She called it Coatla, a name derived from Quetzalcsatl, meaning 'plumed serpent' in Nahuatl. The image draws from a personage in the central panel of Bosch's Garden of the Earthly Delights (c.1505). 'Satan's nets' blends the body of a man and a woman entangled in briars, struggling uselessly to free themselves from each other. Their body fused at the hip makes their four legs dance a symmetrical movement. An owl mask covers their head. Trapped in a sexual conflict, their repetitive dance step, akin to kicking, transports them into another state of consciousness. Sacred dances circle energy, focusing to transform inner realization with intent to transcend human suffering. In the Gnostic writing, specifically in the Acts of John, he documents:
To the universe
Belongs the dancer.
Whoever does not dance
Does not know what happens
In the Temple, is a microcosmic portrayal of the human need to understand invisible forces, attributing them to a Divine being. From memory, Carrington draws on universal symbols to convey the human need to transform instinctual needs and rise above them if one is to stop suffering.

We are grateful to Dr. Salomon Grimberg for his assistance in writing the essay for the above lot.

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