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National Gallery of Art: The Sacred Made Real


Among the most breathtaking exhibitions that I have ever seen at our National Gallery of Art sadly closes in one week, on May 31.  Were any of its pieces part of the permanent collection, they would have been treasures for regular visits to appreciate and think on.  The Sacred Made Real is a collection of mostly Spanish polychrome sculpture, a breathtaking realist process that defies our conventional expectations for statues that are prototypically monochromatic and carved from a single piece of rock.  The exhibition includes this fascinating video (shown here complete) on the antique process of creating one such figure, "Saint John of the Cross" by Spanish sculptor Francisco Antonio Gijón (1653–c. 1721):



At the exhibition, which you'll find in the East Wing (I.M. Pei Building), you can spend anywhere from fifteen minutes to several hours, depending on your interest, as there are select few pieces, yet each of them is endlessly hypnotic in its sheer beauty and dramatic force.  One of my favorites - and the photo here does not do justice - is the statue of Mary Magdalene, into which the artist has carved all her agony and loss.  There are also several pieces (including paintings) depicting "Saint Francis Standing in Ecstasy" that are genuinely haunting as well as unique in their boldness at capturing a moment in time rather more like documentary than homage.

Aside from the inherent awe from seeing this exhibition, I found it personally meaningful because I had just returned from the Semana Santa celebration in Antigua, Guatemala, which arguably is second only to Seville as a site of pilgrimage for processions in the Iberian Catholic heritage.  In Antigua as in Seville, one stands among hundreds of robed and hooded participants who carry enormous andas, in an undulating sway, and these platforms are crowned with polychrome sculptures such as you will see in the exhibition.  Here is one photograph of many that I took while on voyage:


For an interactive slideshow with detailed captions, set to the rich musical accompaniment of Requiem Aeternam composed by Stephen Hough, click here.
 

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