I’ve encountered Botero a few times in my life—most of them unexpectedly. I didn’t even know who this Colombian artist was the first time I was walking through Venice, and I spotted his voluptuous nude sculptures on display throughout the town. For those of you who aren’t familiar with his work, Fernando Botero is an artist who specializes in subjects of corpulent proportions. Both a sculptor and a painter, Botero won first prize at the Salón de Artistas Colombianos in 1958 and was given the International Sculpture Center’s Lifetime Achievement in Contemporary Sculpture Award.
The first time I saw those Botero sculptures in Venice, I was surprised by the look of them, particularly after touring museum after museum and seeing the work of Italian masters like Michelangelo, Donatello, and Bernini. The sculptures of these artists were classical and elegant, timeless. Botero, on the other hand, took the naked form to exaggerated proportion, shaped intentionally large bodies, always naked, and who generally looked very at ease.
So I became interested. I liked that he had gone beyond (way, way beyond) the Boticelli-esque full-figured women to excessively large women and men as his subjects. Some years later, I would see his paintings at the New Orleans Museum of Art, again without even knowing he was there. One summer, though, when I had students in Italy and was looking for a place for a daytrip, I came upon the tiny town of Pietrasanta. This town is known for art, with pieces set throughout the town, an art school there, and guess who else makes his home there part of the year? Yes, Fernando Botero.
Well I dragged the students there, needless to say. They weren’t super excited about going but winded up liking it well enough. It is, after all, a small town without a lot to do other than wander, look at art, and eat gelato. Wait, that’s not so bad, is it? The art school housed several of Botero’s pieces, which I was thrilled to see. In addition, there were two of his paintings—Porta del Paradiso and Porta del Inferno—in a church down the street. Vibrant colors of crimson, royal blue, pink, and green set off the signature figures in these paintings.
Also, and no one believes me, but when we were having lunch in a small restaurant near the piazza, I could’ve sworn he was sitting behind me. I wanted to go ask but didn’t, and regret to this day that I’m such an introvert. So silly. But that’s fine, I’m thinking it was and like the idea, whether it was true or no.
The last encounter I had was in Cartagena, and no, though I was close to Bogota, I didn’t make it to the Botero Museum. However, walking through the old center of Cartagena was a lone sculpture of a woman on her side, lounging easily, as if she had all the time in the world. It as an unexpected treat and made me immensely happy. I felt lucky that day and had a coffee, enjoying the moment.
I love this artist’s work and I’m pretty sure I’ll run into Botero’s works again—it’s not a matter of if, but when…