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January 7, 2013 5:40 pm
One of the perks of working at Sotheby’s is that you can keep works by your elbow for a certain time while you put them through the cataloguing and valuing process. Some years ago, I kept by me a print from Luis González Palma’s 2005 series La Luz de la Mente in just such a way and christened it The Underpants of Christ. I have wanted to own one ever since.
La Luz de la Mente is a series of re-creations of the loincloth of the crucified Christ in pictures by artists including Velázquez, Zurbarán, Murillo, Bellini, Rubens, Guido Reni, El Greco and (more surprisingly) Eustache Le Sueur. It is a mad idea: the devout obsession of a small boy used to praying in the presence not of a painting or a carving, but – as the church insists – in the actual presence of Christ. In González Palma’s hands, it is not so mad. He has taken pains to recreate the drape and fold of each painter’s version of the loincloth, and he shows us his workings in the bits of string that hold his arrangement together.
Making this sculpture is slow careful work of the kind thought particularly apt to the greater glory of God. He photographs it as a rich devotional object in its own right. “1624” is about one metre wide and high, which makes the loincloth more or less life-size. Most of the series are (as this one is) Kodalith prints with gold leaf and resin, a few are Kodaliths with silver: rare processes with precisely that same intention of giving richly to God as the original paintings.
I am hazy on the doctrinal implications, but there may be a thought that the loincloth has importance as the garment that Christ was wearing at the time of his death. (A recurring medieval dispute pitted against each other competing owners of the prepuce of Christ, a relic to be venerated as the only part of Christ’s body known to have been removed while he lived.)
González Palma is a contemporary Guatemalan artist, much of whose work has revolved around the strange hybrids of race and culture that make up Latin America. This series was shown at the Venice Biennale in 2005, but has not sold particularly well at auction. That means nothing. I love the twisty way this picture is both a heartfelt religious object and, at the same time, a reflection on the depiction of religious objects. It’s gorgeous, too.
This is part of a series on photography appearing in the FT and in FT Weekend. To see more selections, go to www.ft.com/hodgson
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