Saturday 13 February sees the opening of Botero: Via Crucis, la passione di Cristo at the Palazzo delle Esposizioni in Rome. This fascinating exhibition, featuring 27 oil paintings and 36 sketches and watercolours, has already been shown in Chile, Colombia, the United States, Panama and Portugal. All of the works of art were created between 2010 and 2011 and represent the 14 Stages of the Cross with an intense humanity typical of the Colombian artist.
Botero affirms that this sequence of paintings is without “satire”, explaining that he wanted to paint the stages of the Cross simply because they stand for such a fundamental moment in the life of Christ. These pictures may not be satirical, but they are not without pathos and I would hazard even bathos, veering only just wide of humour as they plunge Christ into Colombian crowds rich with telenovela drama, expressions and colour.
There’s often something comforting about Botero’s plump protagonists, but the sheer singularity of the subject here changes all that. This is a Saviour with the body of a retired rugby player, no Renaissance waif. His mother, whose face is carbuncled with tears, is a rotund, plain, dismal matron.
Throughout the sequence, Christ engages with a colourful cast that range from the endearing to the grotesque (mostly the latter). Judas is a pimp or drugs baron, while the intensity of the final portrait, Christ crucified in Central Park against the New York skyline, is rendered strangely alien by the hulk-green hue of his body. Even at the moment of death, his expression is somewhere between agony and a resignation which veers into I-can’t-remember-if-I-left-the-gas-on territory. It’s a wonderfully human moment, leaving you with an intense respect and compassion for this particular Son of Man. One only wonders how the angels will manage to heave him up into heaven.
Testaccina visited the press preview of the exhibition at Palazzo delle Esposizione in Rome.
Botero: Via Crucis, la passione di Cristo runs February 13 – May 1, entrance costing €10.