Fernando Botero's monumental sculpture is cherished worldwide. Globally exhibited for over four decades, Botero's astonishing bronzes have graced the public squares of Latin American towns, idyllic European boulevards, and the main avenues of large metropolises on every continent. From Bogotá to Paris, New York to Hong Kong, Botero’s voluptuous and instantly recognizable characters have become ingrained in the public memory. Inescapable, his monumental sculpture has transcended its stationary nature to become integral to our understanding of these spaces.
From the beginning of his artistic career over six decades ago, Botero has drawn inspiration from historical sources ranging from Roman and Greek classical sculpture to Renaissance and Baroque painting. Although historically grounded, his work can simultaneously portray everyday imagery; glimpses of human experience ranging from the intimate to the public, the personal to the political.
Among his most celebrated sculptural series is his homage to Titian’s (Tiziano Vecillio) Rape of Europa. Painted by the Italian artist sometime during the period of 1559 to 1562 for the King of Spain Phillip II, the work depicts a demure and vulnerable Europa flailing her arms and legs as she is suddenly carried away on Jupiter’s back. Disguised as an ornamented white bull, Jupiter's massive strength seems to confront the viewer while two playful Cupids entertain themselves flying carelessly in a turbulent sky. While a clear reference to Titian’s masterpiece, Botero’s interpretation of this historical subject is a keen embodiment of his approach to contemporary sculpture. Distilled to its primary actors, Botero portrays Jupiter as an amiable bull whose tender nature is diametrically opposed to Titian’s fierce treatment. Likewise, our Europa appears placidly and comfortably seated on this larger than life bull; her long hair creating a beautiful cascade on her nude body. Feminine and coquettish, she crosses her legs and raises her right arm behind her head in a flirting pose more closely resembling the unabashed attitude of a contemporary model than that of a frightened mythological princess. Botero’s Rape of Europa is unequivocally unsentimental.
As with other historical imagery, Botero reveals a surprising alternative narrative: one where women have been purposely afforded control of their fates. No longer victimized, they reveal themselves as powerful participants rejoicing in their choices—whether situated in family kitchens, brothels or opera houses. Ultimately, Botero’s monumental sculptures are formal masterpieces of composed volume and mass. He has said of his sculpture, “I never give particular traits to my figures. I don’t want them to have personality, but rather that they represent a type that I create… what matters for me is the form, the voluptuous surfaces which emphasize the sensuality of my work.”
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