Power and status. Portraits from the Sculpture Collection of the Bucharest Municipality Museum

Exhibition at the Suțu Palace

Power and status. Portraits from the Sculpture Collection of the Bucharest Municipality Museum



The sculpture collection of the Bucharest Municipality Museum has a series of metal, marble and plaster portraits of some Romanian personalities, created mainly in the second half of the 19th century and the first half of the 20th century. If in the European space the portrait was one of the most popular artistic forms, with well-defined functions in the relationship between society and the individual, in the Romanian space this genre is more difficult to approach. The demand for portraits painted on a mobile medium increases after the beginning of the 19th century, when foreign artists started to create such works. In sculpture, portrait is approached with more difficulty and develops only after 1850 when artists trained in art schools abroad start to activate. Therefore, the Sculpture Collection of our museum preserves some pieces relevant for the development of this artistic genre in the Romanian space.

The exhibition entitled Power and status. Portraits from the Sculpture Collection of the Bucharest Municipality Museum aims to bring to the public 43 sculptures made of various materials, representing the busts of some Romanian historical personalities. Therefore, three categories of objects are exhibited that identify with three general lines of development of Romanian portraiture: live model portraits, mythical portraits (the individual portrayed is no longer alive and his figure is unclear in the common imagination) and realistic portraits (made after moldings, without the aesthetic intervention of the artist).

The first category of portraits concerns personalities contemporary with artists and are live model paintings, made on request in order to immortalize a person with an important contribution in the life of Romanian society: mayors of Bucharest, politicians of the time, scientists. The second category of portraits is generated by the interest for the history of the Romanian space, which led to a production, sometimes mythical, of historical portraits of Romanian voivodes and some characters such as Horea, Cloșca and Crișan. The third category, represented by few works, is that of portraits recording the features of human figures using a molding applied directly on the face. Its most common form is the mortuary mask, but there are also moldings of living people. In order to emphasize the differences between the aesthetic portraits, the busts in our case, and the realism of the masks, the busts of I.G. Duca and Nicolae Titulescu are exhibited along with their mortuary masks. To complete the analogy, we add a unique mask (so far it is the only one identified in Romanian sculpture of the nineteenth century): the mask made after the face of Mihail Kogălniceanu 10 years before his death, that served as a model for several public sculptures of the politician.

The exhibition aims to capitalize the heritage from the Sculpture Collection of the Bucharest Municipality Museum, while pursuing some specific objectives: exhibiting some less known portraits (such as those of Bucharest mayors); recontextualization of the historical figures and  aesthetic norms of rendering of some characters that were missing from the Romanian collective visual until the 19th century; recognition of the Romanian portrait identity and the formation of a label in this field, starting with the second half of the 19th century.

Dr. Nicoleta Bădilă