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50 masterpieces by Colombian master Botero are on show in Rome

by Andrea Carli

At the beginning of May, a Fernando Botero retrospective opened in Rome at the Complesso del Vittoriano, a few steps from the Colosseum and Imperial Fora. The Rome show aims to be a tribute for his eighty-fifth birthday: fifty masterpieces, many on loan from around the world (including oil paintings and sculptures), retrace the over 50-year career of the master, from 1958 to 2016. Botero is one of contemporary art’s most iconic artists.

Columbian born -- but well-known and well-loved throughout the world for his immediately recognizable unique pictorial language -- on May 4 the artist attended the press conference arranged to launch the Italian exhibition.

“There are all aspects of my way of practicing art,” he said. “The works in the show give visitors a complete view of what I made. I believe very strongly in volume, in this sensuality that pleases the eye in painting . A painting is a rhythm of coloured volumes where the role of the image is that of a pretext.”

The artist spoke about the close relationship he has with Italy.

“I arrived in Florence for the first time when I was 20 years old,” he said. “I was a student. I love the country. Now I have a house in Tuscany. I spend two or three months a year in that wonderful place.”

His references to Italy must be ascribed mainly to the culture of painting he came to know and love through Giotto, Piero della Francesca, Leonardo and Andrea Mantegna, important figures for reference during his travel in Italy in the early nineteen-fifties.

The full forms, especially of the women, are the quintessential element in Botero’s work. Their redundant, original language accentuates the volumes and the three-dimensional plasticity. Botero expands the forms because this serves to help show the importance of colour, laid out in large, flat, uniform areas, without contours or shading.

In his paintings, the moral and psychological dimension disappears. The characters in his paintings feel neither joy nor sorrow. Whether with card players, circus people, bishops, matadors or female nudes, Botero expresses no judgment.

“The two keywords to understand the art of Botero are recognizability and consistency,” added the curator of the exposition Rudy Chiappini. “He attachs importance to the shape because the shape marks out the boundaries of the style.”

The exhibition seeks to immerse the visitor in the artist's creative universe. Nostalgia is felt echoing through for a world that no longer exists or is breaking apart. Men, animals and vegetation whose features and bright colors immediately bring back memories of Latin America, where everything is truer than true, where there is no place for nuance and where there is indeed a preference for vibrancy in form and narrative.

(“Botero”: The exhibition takes place at Complesso del Vittoriano in Rome through August 2017)