The Myth of Mitoraj

by Danilo Brunetti

Discover the truly secret side of Rome by exploring the “classically modern” works of Igor Mitoraj. By Federico Schiaffino

Artist Igor Mitoraj embodied all the fasci­nation of classical myth. “I carve blindfolded heads, bound bodies,” he said. “To me, the bandages represent a kind of protection from a hostile reality. It’s a symbol of survival, a chance to live in the myth.” 

A great connoisseur of the classical world, Igor Mitoraj took inspiration for his works from easily recognizable mythological characters: Eros, Venus, Icarus, the Centaurs, and sculpted them into the shape of broken artifacts-in fact, none of his pieces is entirely intact. They are fragmented, cracked, and wounded images, complemented by empty spaces that stimu­late the imagination of the viewer to fill in the missing pieces. The great sculptor, who died in 2014, was the Polish son of a French father who spent most of his life between Paris and Tuscany, but nevertheless, his heart belonged in classica! Greece and Rome. 

photo by Ibisco27@Flickr

Some important works by Mitoraj can be found in Rome, although, being little publicized, they belong to a part of the city that is still to discover. In Piazza Montegrappa, at the far end of Viale Mazzini, we find his sculpture of the goddess Roma, created, in his words, “as an act of love for the city of arches and temples,” made of Travertine, the very same materiai that made up the many buildings and bridges of ancient Rome. The goddess, depicted among the ferns and pines of Rome, presents a bandageless face, her wide-opened eyes turned toward the Tiber and the city. The goddess takes the form of a fountain: “water runs through her as memories run through us. On her face, which is slowly becoming crusted over with sediments and deposits, we can see time passing.” 

photo by Zingaro @Flickr

He loved to describe how he “learned about Rome at a very young age. My teacher, Tadeusz Kantor, and I used to talk for hours. And I imagined … I imagined … Borges is right when he says that one never goes to Rome for the first time; one only returns. Because Rome is a myth that lives in the universal imagination. I arrive there, and I contemplate it, and invariably I find it beautiful, with a beauty so absolute as to be, at times, painful. Standing before its perfections, which can be found both in wonder as in chaos, a great spiritual comfort comes over me. Roma sub­dues me. When we say ‘Eternal City,’ we are right. Rome will never die.” 

Mitoraj carved angels and gods, athletes and heroes. These figures, these “wounded giants” often take the form of tattered bodies that refer to the utopia of the “whole man.” A few of his masterpieces can be found here in Rome, such as the Head of St. John the Baptist donated by the artist to the Basilica of Santa Maria degli Angeli on occasion of the inauguration of its new bronze doors in 2006. There are two entrances to the basilica, each made up of a set of double doors. One of the two bronze doors depicts the Annunciation: an angel above and Mary below listening. The diffused background allows the viewer a glimpse of the world as seen from above. A few figures scattered around the work repre­sent the presence of the angels: the heads of disembodied angels, sometimes blindfolded.

photo by Serguei_2K @Flickr

The apposite door depicts the Risen Christ:  a figure with the signs of crucifixion on his body, to emphasize that life is inseparable from suffering, yet at the same time, surpas­sed by the resurrection. Also here, random figures represent the martyrs, disfigured by torture. 

photo by Cinzia Fanicchia

Another astounding work, a piece from the private collection of the Valentino brand, is on display in the courtyard of Palazzo Mignanelli, historic seat of the fashion powerhouse. A large enigmatic face, created as part of a fountain, the Goddess Roma em­bodies time, one of Mitoraj’s favorite themes. “Water flows like our memories … like our days that run across this face.” But in Rome, the Eternai City, which lives in its own timeless dimension, seconds tick by in a different way.

Forget Michelangelo and Bernini! Take a Mitoraj-themed tour across ltaly to find a number ofthe great artists most celebrated master­pieces. 

Tivoli: In this town, famous for Renaissance Villa d’Este and ancient Villa Adriana, the last thing you’d expect to see is a work of contem­porary statuary placed in the central square. But that’s exactly what you’ll find in Piazza Trento, right in front of the entrance to Villa d’Este. The work in marble, entitled A Broken Kiss, is part of a fountain that evokes the unstop­pable passage of time. 

Osio Sotto: Since 2007, one of Mitoraj’s major works has been on display in a piazza in the charming me­dieval town of Osio Sotto. The work, Sleeping Osiris, is a memorial to those who sacrifìced their lives for ltaly. 

Florence: In the proverbial cradle of the Renaissance, you can ne­vertheless fìnd a few select works of contemporary art, including Mitoraj’s enormous Cracked Tyndareus, located in the Boboli Gardens. The crumbling, disembodied face of the work depicts both strength and fragility. 

Pietrasanta: This tiny town in Tuscany, famous for its marble quar­ries, was Mitoraj’s home base in Italy. Like the great Michelangelo before him, he was inspired simply by being in the presence of this raw materiai of choice. Throughout his career, the artist donated several works to the city, most notably, The Annunciation, a bronze bas-relief lunette placed above the door of Sant-Agostino Church, visible from Piazza Duomo. 

Pompeii: 30 of the great artist’s colossal bronze works are on display temporarily in the magnifìcent ruins of Pompeii, reflecting the ruined nature of the abandoned city. The exhibit runs until 8 January.