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Fernando Botero: Head of Christ

ArtWay Visual Meditation 16 October 2022

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Fernando Botero: Head of Christ

Superman or Man of Sorrows

by Willem de Vink

Our Western society is dominated by an obsessive attention to the body. The desire for a healthy, strong, and agile body is expressed, for example, in the fascination for superheroes. A generation is growing up with Superman, Batman, Spider-Man, Hulk, Cat Woman, Wonder Woman, Wolverine, Daredevil, X-Men, Avengers and other figures with bulging muscles and tight six-packs from the Marvel Comics. In that world hyperbole is the appropriate language. That is why Douglas Wolk claims in his book All of the Marvels (2021) that Marvel, with its accumulation of stories, heroes, and worlds, is the greatest work of art on earth.

Most of us would call the Bible the greatest. No epic has been told, translated, and pictured as often as the Bible. The central message of the Bible is quite different from the excessive violence that is poured out upon us in the stories about superheroes in super bodies. It is precisely the weak people in their vulnerable bodies who get a voice in the Bible. And even though Jesus healed the sick, compelled the powers of nature, and rose from the dead, he was in no way a superman, but on the contrary, he was a Man of Sorrows.

When Jesus identifies himself with the poor, the prisoners, and the sick in their battered bodies, he no doubt also does that with people who suffer from obesity. The work of Fernando Botero helps us to better relate to this. This Columbian artist specialises in paintings and sculptures of fat people, although he asserts that he only exaggerates the human bodily form. In any case he has presented Jesus several times in such a striking body.

Fernando Botero belongs, together with Diego Rivera, to the most famous visual artists from Latin America. He likes to play with volume in his work. Due to this his striking, round figures have something alienating and humoristic, while especially evoking pity. Botero´s very recognisable, unique style has become known as ‘Boterismo.’

Everything in Botero’s work breathes South America, also in his paintings where he depicts scenes from the life of Jesus. In 2010-2011 he made 27 oil paintings and 34 drawings about the suffering and dying of Jesus, collected under the name Via Crucis. ‘For centuries artists have been painting nothing else,’ he comments, ‘so I wanted to do so as well, to make it believable for today’s world and also for myself.’ Botero puts Jesus in bright colours in his own 21st-century reality. In so doing he paraphrases age-old themes. We see how the Messiah is beaten by an agent in a vivid green uniform, while a woman looks on from a red-coloured home. On another painting a green Jesus hangs on a cross against a New York skyline. The entombment also happens within a cityscape. ‘That is the world I know,’ says the painter. All his paintings are unmistakably ‘Boterismo,’ because everywhere Jesus seems to be suffering from obesity.

When we look at the portrait on the painting Cabeza de Cristo (The Head of Christ) that Botero painted in 1976, we see an almost round face. It appears even more round on account of the doll-like small nose, mouth, and ears. Jesus bears a crown of thin branches full of thorns that pierce his skin in rows. He closes his eyes. His face and body are splattered with blood. With his hand, his fat and pierced hand, he points to his heart, where he probably suffers most of the pain.

At first glance such a swollen head frightens us. We want to turn away from that chubby, dough-like face. But when we continue to look, Jesus automatically comes closer. His whole appearance has a childlike radiation that makes Him endearing. After a little while it is no longer difficult for us to feel empathy. Here is a Man of Sorrows whom we would like to place on our lap to comfort.

And with that we have grasped the effect of Botero’s special rendering of Jesus. For nobody wants to be fat and everyone who is too heavy suffers from his or her weight. But obese people do want to be taken seriously by others; they want to know that they are allowed to be there and be loved. This Jesus appeals to the viewer to satisfy that desire.

Botero forces us with his ‘Boterismo’ to identify ourselves with fat people, precisely what Jesus would have us do as He was no superhero in a super body, but someone who in his disfigured body came to stand next to vulnerable people. He inspires us to do the same. A body that gives and receives love lasts longer than a body that is trained to smack people. Art that pictures Jesus in the form of vulnerable people will continue to exist, even after the superheroes of Marvel have long been forgotten.

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Fernando Botero: Cabeza de Cristo, 1976, oil on canvas, 185 x 179 cm, Museo de Antioquia, Medellín, Colombia.

Fernando Botero (1932) is a Colombian artist. Botero is one of the best-known artists of Latin America who makes very recognisable paintings, pastels, and sculptures. The connecting element is the heightened volume of the bodies. This provides his art sometimes with a comical effect, at other times with a touching effect. He takes his inspiration from South-American culture, but also from his predilection for the old masters, such as Raphael, Velazquez, and Uccello. Apart from everyday scenes, he also touches on injustice and social themes. Botero attended the Jesuit school in Medellin. After that he never let go of his faith, even though he does not feel bound by dogmas. He is critical of materialism and the art of our time.

Willem de Vink (Utrecht, 1957) is speaker, writer, and artist (drawings). His strip book Jesus Messiah has already been published in more than 200 languages. He also wrote the book Dit is liefde, Vincent. (This is love, Vincent). He recently published the book In het hoofd van de maker. Creativiteit, Kunst, Kerk (In the Maker’s Head. Creativity, Art, Church).

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ART NEWS INTERNATIONAL

FESTSCHRIFT LAMBERT ZUIDERVAART – ICS October 27 - Zuidervaart Festschrift Celebration. Almost two years after the publication of the second volume of ICS’s Currents in Reformational Thought book series, Seeking Stillness or The Sound of Wings: Scholarly and Artistic Comment on Art, Truth, and Society in Honour of Lambert Zuidervaart, we are finally ready to celebrate this splendid collection of essays! Join us on Thursday, October 27th, 2022, as we gather in person to celebrate the contribution of ICS Senior Member Emeritus Dr. Lambert Zuidervaart to the tradition of Reformational Philosophy and reflect on the diverse contributions made to this festschrift in Dr. Zuidervaart’s honour. The event will feature a presentation on the book and a panel discussion, followed by a light reception. Thursday October 27th, 2022 at 3:00 - 5:30pm, Regis College, University of Toronto (100 Wellesley St. West). Book presentation and panel discussion – St. Joseph Chapel. Reception: Christie Mansion. Please RSVP to cprse@icscanada.edu if you would like to attend.

JAMES SMITH AT MORPHE ARTS – 31 October, 7 – 10 pm, Saint Barnabas Dalston, Shacklewell Row, London: Morphe Arts lecture by theologian James K. A. Smith, professor at Calvin University, who is over from America to launch his new book How to Inhabit Time. A hot meal will be included in the ticket! "In all of our rich literature on spiritual formation I think there is something missing, which is attention to the fact that as creatures we are temporal, we live in history. How to Inhabit Time is really intended to be a spirituality that takes seriously our temporality."

BOOK MATTHEW MILLINER – Matthew J. Milliner, Mother of the Lamb: The Story of a Global Icon, Fortress Press, 2022. Mother of the Lamb tells the remarkable story of a Byzantine image that emerged from the losing side of the Crusades. Called the Virgin of the Passion in the East and Our Lady of Perpetual Help in the West, the icon has expanded beyond its Byzantine origins to become one of the most pervasive images of our time. Mother of the Lamb: The Story of a Global Icon | Fortress Press

CALL FOR PROPOSALS –  The newly established series New Perspectives on Dutch Seventeenth-Century Art at Brepols Publishers invites proposals for the publication of manuscripts on subjects related to the visual arts in the Dutch Republic. Read more

REFLECTING THE GLORY – 29 October – 30 December, Gordon College, 255 Grapevine Road, Wenham, MA: Sandra Bowden: Reflecting the Glory. Opening reception and gallery talk at 4 pm, 29 October. Read more and see the works here: Reflecting the Glory - Sandra Bowden Christian Fine Artist

BILL VIOLA IN SALZBURG – Bis 30 Oktober, Museum der Moderne Salzburg, Mönchsberg 32, Salzburg: Bill Viola in Dialog. Das Museum der Moderne Salzburg widmet Bill Viola (1951 New York, NY, US – Long Beach, CA, US), der international zu den renommiertesten Videokünstlern der Gegenwart zählt, eine umfassende Ausstellung über sein mittlerweile fünfzigjähriges Schaffen. In seinen bildgewaltigen Werken verhandelt er wesentliche existenzielle Themen des Menschseins wie Leben, Verwandlung, Tod und Wiedergeburt. Viola versteht Kunst als einen humanistischen Dialog mit den Betrachtenden und als Reflexion über das In-der-Welt-Sein, die das Potenzial hat, den menschlichen Geist zu erneuern. Auf diese Weise erschafft er Werke visionärer Poetik, die das Geistige mit dem Ästhetischen verbinden. Gerade jetzt, in einer Zeit der Ungewissheiten und des Wandels, haben seine Werke, die sich um die Frage drehen, wer wir in der Welt sind und wer wir füreinander sind, eine hohe Relevanz. Die in enger Zusammenarbeit mit dem Bill Viola Studio entstehende Personale ist die erste museale Präsentation von Violas eindrücklichem Werk in Österreich. Di – So, 10 – 18 U (Mi bis 20 U). https://www.museumdermoderne.at/ausstellungen/detail/bill-viola/

HERBERT FALKEN IN WÜRZBURG – Bis 20 Januar 2023, Museum am Dom, Kiliansplatz 1, Würzburg: Herbert Falken - Zum 90. Geburtstag. Öffnungszeiten: https://museum-am-dom.de/de/museumsbesuch/dein-besuch

VOLKER STELZMANN IN WITTENBERG – Bis 31 März 2023, Stiftung Christliche Kunst Wittenberg, Schlossplatz 1, Lutherstadt Wittenberg: Volker Stelzmann: Pellegrinaggio II. Öffnungszeiten: https://christliche-kunst-wittenberg.de/contact/

HANS LEISTIKOW IN FRANKFURT – Bis 15 Januar 2023, Dom Museum, Domplatz, Frankfurt am Main: Hans Leistikow (1892-1962): Zurück in die Moderne. Vor siebzig Jahren entstanden die immer noch modern anmutenden Fenster des Frankfurter Doms. Dass ihr Schöpfer Hans Leistikow war, in den 1920er Jahren der wichtigste Graphiker im Neuen Frankfurt, ist heute fast vergessen. Die Geschichte der Domfenster wurde zum Anlass einer Wieder- und Neuentdeckung: In unmittelbarer Nachbarschaft zu seinem größten Werk zeichnet das Dommuseum Frankfurt mit vielen Arbeiten aus dem künstlerischen Nachlass, aus öffentlichen und privaten Sammlungen, Leben und Werk des bedeutenden Gestalters und Lehrers in einer Zeit voller Umbrüche nach. Öffnungszeiten: https://dommuseum-frankfurt.de/thema/sonderaustellung-leistikow/

For more exhibitions, lectures, conferences etc., click here

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Other recent meditations:
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- November 2022: Wafae Ahalouch, Trinity: Kuyper Revisited
- October 2022: Dominik Schleicher: Abused, No Further
- October 2022: Paul Hobbs: Saint Mercy - Nigeria

For more Visual Meditations, see under Artists