The National Art Museum of Catalunya, Montjuic, Barcelona.
These original Romanesque frescos survived from the 11th and 12th centuries. The quality of the line and colour is so clear considering they have endured fires and dereliction. Entering the first room is awe inspiring, with the atmospheric low lighting and the scale of the architectural settings. I did not expect the high ceilinged exhibition halls to be so vast, to show so much, including the films of the inner workings of restoration and behind the scenes of the exteriors of the exhibition displays!
How frescos are made
The artist works in sections of freshly applied lime plaster and has to judge how much they can paint in a day. The plaster is only workable after about an hour and then for about another six or seven hours before it starts to harden and cure. The paintings are created by applying pigments mixed with water, onto the fresh plaster, so the colour sinks in and becomes an integral part of the wall.
Grotesque art and the church
The content is wordless stories depicting scenes from the bible and other images of the Grotesque. The content of the characters themselves, once you take a closer look, contain strange compositions combining different species and body parts. You can’t help but make the connection of how grotesque art directly influenced the surrealist movement. It makes me wonder about how the establishment of the church viewed life back then, when they let such strange creatures into the inner chambers of their holy sanctuaries. I know the gargoyles on the gothic churches were supposed to be scary enough to ward off evil spirits but maybe these frescos were designed to frighten demons, the enemy, as well as the congregation too?
After the Romanesque churches fell into dilapidation, what was left of the frescos, were transported in their entirety. Whole sections of wall were saved and preserved. The restorers implemented a careful process of attaching to the front, a fibrous sheet, that is glued on and holds the front panels intact. Then the process of painstakingly chipping the fresco off the wall takes place. The fresco is then laid on a new structure and transported to the restorers workshop. With some respectful mounting and sensitive restoration, the material on the front of the fresco is cleaned off. The frescos, in this case, are displayed in mock ups of the original church architecture, with high vaulted ceilings, tall archways and huge radiating chapels.
The energy of the 800 year old Romanesque frescos seems to have been transported too. From generation to generation, these frescos have sustained through umpteen incense swingers, funerals and weddings – witnessing prayers and absorbing all that bargaining with God. Now these frescos live in a museum to endure – I wonder for how many more hundreds of years? One can’t help feeling the effort gone into this exhibition, to bring this ancient art into the present moment, with such a sympathetic delivery.
I recommend a visit when you are in the area – entrance is free on the first Sunday of each month!
Please take the time to browse the art I make on this website!