Exhibition | Gilded Figures: Wood and Clay Made Flesh

Posted in exhibitions by Editor on October 27, 2021

Pedro de Mena, Bust of Saint Acisclus, ca. 1680, polychrome and gilded wood
(New York: Hispanic Society Museum & Library)

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Now on view at HSM&L:

Gilded Figures: Wood and Clay Made Flesh
The Hispanic Society Museum and Library, New York, 15 October 2021 — 9 January 2022

Gilded Figures: Wood and Clay Made Flesh offers a rare glimpse of a major art form from the early modern Hispanic World: polychrome sculpture. Building on the legacy which Archer M. Huntington left the museum, the institution has added to its holdings of this material so that today the HSM&L boasts the finest collection of these works outside Spain. Until recently, this vivid sculpture went largely unnoticed, but now it elicits enthusiastic responses. Even so, this exhibition is the first event in New York to feature this art form in the last two decades. The over twenty wood and terracotta sculptures exhibited not only attest to the high level of artistic production, but they also highlight the role of women artists and show how the stylistic conventions of Spain were adapted in the New World.

Luisa Roldán, The Mystical Marriage of Saint Catherine, 1692–1706, painted terracotta (New York: Hispanic Society Museum & Library).

Gilded Figures begins with late Gothic and early Renaissance works by the finest sculptors from Castile. Among these, a superb monumental relief of the Resurrection attributed to Gil de Siloe reveals the dazzling talent of those artists. How decisively Italian models shaped the work of following generations appears in the sixteenth-century reliquary busts by Juan de Juni. The Baroque period witnessed an impressive flowering in which figures like Pedro de Mena achieved effects of stunning naturalism as seen in his St. Acisclus. The exhibition also draws attention to the role of women artists with works by Luisa Roldán and Andrea de Mena, the first of whom achieved spectacular success in her lifetime rising to the position of Royal Sculptor (escultora de cámara).

The last section of the exhibition focuses on sculpture from Latin America, with works characterized by an impressive range of scale and emotion. A monumental sixteenth-century relief of Santiago Matamoros (St. James the Moorslayer) from Mexico reveals how Spanish models were transplanted and adapted to the needs of the Catholic church as it embarked on a campaign to convert the indigenous people. In addition to Mexico, Ecuador witnessed a flourishing of polychromed sculpture in which sculptors in Quito produced masterpieces. Painted with a vivid attention to detail, statues like the Virgin of Quito or St. Michael show the powerful effects these talented artists achieved. The exhibition concludes with perhaps the most dramatic display from this school: Caspicara’s Four Fates of Man. In these figures, the sculptor depicts a range of emotions with consummate skill and a delicate touch as part of a theological lesson to inspire people to persevere in their faith.


Wednesday, November 17, 6.00pm
Orland Hernandez-Ying (Curatorial Research Fellow), Gilded Figures: 18th-Century Sculpture in the Real Audience de Quito

A presentation of the iconographic innovations of three particular sculptures from Ecuador covering issues of the indigenous predilection for angelic representations in art and santo-making techniques (carving, painting, gilding, encarnados, etc.) and the ordenanzas. The examples demonstrate how the extraordinary aesthetic quality of pious sculpture in the Real Audience de Quito was admired overseas during the colonial period with works shipped to other American colonies as well as to Spain. Reservations are required; please contact events@hispanicscoiety.org, indicating the number of guests and the name of the event.

Saturday, November 20 and Saturday, December 4, 3.00pm
Gilded Figures: Somatic Walk

Join Nicolás Dumit Estévez, Hispanic Society Artist Research Fellow, who will guide visitors through an embodied exploration of emotions germinated from the sculptures in the exhibition, as well as those arising during our current times. We will investigate individually and as a group how the awareness and articulation of emotions can lead to the process of healing and balance. Reservations are required; please contact events@hispanicscoiety.org, indicating the number of guests and the name of the event.

Tuesday, December 14, 6.00pm
Gilded Figures: Roundtable Discussion

• Jerrilynn Dodds (Harlequin Adair Dammann Chair in History of Art, Sarah Lawrence College)
• Hélène Fontoira Marzin (Head of Conservation, Hispanic Society Museum & Library)
• Edward J. Sullivan (Helen Gould Shepard Professor in the History of Art, Institute of Fine Arts and Department of Art History, New York University)
• Amanda Wunder (Associate Professor, City University of New York, Lehman College, Department of History; and CUNY Graduate Center for Art History, History, and Global Early Modern Studies)
• Moderated by Patrick Lenaghan (Curator of Prints, Photographs, and Sculptures, Hispanic Society Museum & Library)

Join us for this lively, informal conversation about the unique field of polychrome sculpture. ‘Outside’ perspectives and reactions will illicit new understanding of these painted sculptures made of wood and clay. Reservations are required; please contact events@hispanicscoiety.org, indicating the number of guests and the name of the event.

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