Six marble sculptures of great value for the collection of the National Museum of Fine Arts, which were in the Military School from October 1973 until November this year, have returned to the Museum in an act of historical reparation.
The works, which weigh from one to three tons and were exhibited in the hall of the building, recently inaugurated in 1910 on the occasion of the Centenary of the Republic, are once again on display today to the public who visit the Museum.
“The recovery of these six sculptures from the founding collection of the National Museum of Fine Arts, after 49 years of stay in the Military School, represents a very important act of reparation for the Museum, for the heritage and the soul of our country”, he assured the Minister of Culture, Arts and Heritage, Julieta Brodsky Hernández.
“Besides the artistic value for the Museum’s sculpture collection, the return of these works means an act of justice, pieces that were taken away in a dark episode in our country and which today return to their origin, to be part of this collection for our National Museum of Fine Arts”, said the Secretary of State, who explained that these six specimens make it possible to reconstruct the path of models and repertoires of works present in Latin American academies, becoming documents for the history of art.
The return of the sculptural ensemble began to take shape in October 2021 after a formal return request by the director of the MNBA, Fernando Pérez, to exhibit them in the international exhibition “El Canon Revisitado”.
The request had the collaboration of the Minister of Culture, Art and Heritage, Julieta Brodsky; and the Minister of Defense, Maya Fernández, who after a long process managed to confirm the return of the Military School.
The transfer of the sculptures was carried out through an operation which included the preparation of the pieces and their packaging. The preparations took ten days, while the move was completed in three days. The process was led by conservator Florencia Achondo and architect and museographer Cristóbal Artigas, included the hiring of a company experienced in the transfer of large-format heritage sculptures, and required the participation of a team of around 20 people.
This effort also had the support of Denise Ratinoff de Lira, Teresa Solari Falabella and Juan Yarur Torres, who donated private resources to carry out the transfer. These resources, necessary to conclude with the recovery of assets, were administered through the Fine Arts Foundation.
“These are marble reproductions of very emblematic classic pieces, made with great quality. Some of them will be exhibited in the museum room, where they originally were, and others will be incorporated into a new sculpture exhibition area which will soon be inaugurated. In this way, they will fulfill their original purpose of bringing our audience closer to key pieces of art history,” comments Fernando Pérez, director of the MNBA.
While the undersecretary of the Armed Forces, the undersecretary of the Armed Forces, Galo Eidelstein, underlined that “the important thing is the possibility that after almost 50 years, when things seem like they can no longer change, work can finally resume. The attitude determination of the commander in chief of the Chilean army, General Iturriaga, contributed to the fact that there were no problems, the rest were just administrative procedures. These sculptures are the heritage of all Chileans”.
When consulted regarding the return, the Army declared that since 1967 the Army Museum had been located on the premises of the Military School. For this reason, on October 29, 1973, the Military School requested seven sculptures on loan for use, for which a loan receipt was signed between the Military School and the Museum of Fine Arts.
“The transfer was carried out with specialized personnel from the Museum. The responsible authorities were the then Deputy Director of the Military School, Lieutenant Colonel Luis Danus Covián, and the direction of the Museum of Fine Arts, through its curator, Olga Rodríguez Maluenda. ” The army has pointed to El Mostrador.
The pieces were in the Central Hall (the sculptures “Laoconte” and his sons, “Apollo Musageta” and “Venus de’ Medici”), and near the entrance to the Officers’ Casino of the Military School was the “Wounded Gallia”. Meanwhile, there were two sculptures in the stadium: the gladiator Damassone (Damoxenos) and the gladiator Crengaleo (Creugas).
The value of these pieces lies not only in their sculptural characteristics, but also constitutes evidence of an educational program and a model to follow for the artists of the new Republic, in a period of conformation of its cultural institutionality linked to art: Museum / Academy and in which it was planned to establish the modern values of the nation-states. Among the returned pieces, the piece Laocoon and his sons stands out, a life-size copy of one of the most important works in the tradition of Classical Antiquity, belonging to the Hellenistic period. The original, sculpted between 170 and 150 BC, is in the Vatican Museums.
For art historian Catalina Valdés, it is very common for a national museum to have works on loan from other museums or places of culture.
For her, a very important example is the large number of works that the National History Museum has on loan at La Moneda, a loan that was also made effective during the dictatorship, but in this case after the plebiscite of 1980, as part of the restoration of the building presidential.
He also points out that prior to the coup, the MNBA, riddled with bullets and overrun by Chilean Army soldiers after the coup, already had many of its “classical” style sculptures stored in warehouses.
“The director of the time, Nemesio Antúnez, did not have much appreciation for that Eurocentric art, which at the time was considered old and elitist. Logically, the loan was not made by Antúnez, who left office immediately after the coup” , he said explains.
“I don’t know the details of handling the loan, but I understand that the military took charge of the museum for a while until Lily Garafulic was appointed in 1974, a great sculptor who took charge of the collection during that cruel and dark time for culture and for the whole country”, he adds.
The specialist explains that the sculptures that are now returning to the MNBA are part of the copy collection and “this is a crucial aspect of the story, since they correspond to a type of work of low quality, both in material terms – many are in plaster – as by workmanship: generally they are sculptures made in series in European workshops”.
“It is a very typical object of the 19th century: through these copies, the European academies of fine arts spread the classical Greco-Roman aesthetic without claiming originality, but rather provoking the reminiscence of a style, an aesthetic and a ethics that organizes modern reason Throughout the Western world, the copying of sculptures like these was part of the training of artists and architects who had to learn the technique and recognize the classical proportions through drawing and modeling in plaster, to create paintings, sculptures and buildings in line with the bourgeois taste of the fine arts of the time.Over time this type of sculpture was forgotten in the secondary corridors of museums or went into storage, but in some cases – notable that of Buenos Aires – they formed museums with pedagogical purposes”, he underlines.
“The re-evaluation of plaster sculptures has recently occurred in Latin American countries that are developing a critical review of their art history, taking into account the colonizing power of the imaginaries that works like these have. Understanding the socio-cultural functions of works of art, contextualizing its conditions of creation and circulation, understanding the role played by its materials and its forms, in addition to simply interpreting their narrative character, is what we call the social history of art. function, this time, not to candidly transmit a model and to impose a taste and an aesthetic, but precisely to give birth to the stories that art can tell about how our societies were born, to open questions that contribute to the decolonization of our imagination, revealing the mechanisms by which the models operate sociocultural, as part of a past that still has a lot to say about our present,” he says.
Even so, for Valdés these works cannot be exhibited without considering the fact that he attended military school for nearly 50 years.
“It is essential that their return includes an exhibition that -also- tells that story. I imagine that they could be part of the exhibition that the museum is doing to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the coup next year. It would be interesting to know what functions they served these sculptures in the context of training, not for artists, but for soldiers, in the midst of a military dictatorship? Isn’t it so hard to imagine that they served to promote an ideal of masculinity based on the principles of war and competition…and, naturally, a model of bodily beauty typical of classical culture which, among other things, is quite far from the reality of the Military Junta and its soldiers”, he concludes.
1- The Wounded Gladiator or Dying Gálata, ca. 1910. Ernesto Gazzeri (Roman copy of the Greek original attributed to Epigona).
2- Damoxeni, approx. 1900. Unidentified author. Copy of the sculpture by Antonio Canova. Probable acquisition for the Museo delle Copie.
3- Creuga, approx. 1900. Unidentified author. Copy of the sculpture by Antonio Canova. Probably a purchase for the Museo delle Copie.
4- Apollo Musageta or Apollo Citadero, around 1900. Ernesto Gazzeri, at. (According to Donatello, according to a Greek original inspired by Scopas)
5- Venus de Medici, 19th century. Unidentified authorship (according to Cleomenes, according to the Greek original)
6- Laocoon and his sons, 19th century copy. Authorship not identified (According to Agesandro, Polidoro and Atenodoro de Rodas).
Like a white march, the mediated visits will be carried out from Tuesday to Thursday, at 11am, between December 22nd and January 31st, subject to registration on the Museum’s website.