Manuel Ramírez de Arellano
10 1/4 x 4 3/4 x 4 3/8 in. (26 x 12 x 11 cm)
Meadows Museum, SMU, Dallas. Museum purchase with funds from Barbara Wright McKenzie '74 and Mike McKenzie, MM.2019.04
Listen to Dr. Wendy Sepponen, 2018–2020 Mellon Curatorial Fellow at the Meadows Museum, discuss this work (2:02 minutes)
Manuel Ramírez de Arellano (Spanish, 1721–1729)
Our Lady of Solitude, 1769
by Dr. Wendy Sepponen, 2018–2020 Mellon Curatorial Fellow at the Meadows Museum
This sculpture, which represents the lone, grieving mother of Christ after his crucifixion, was modeled in clay by the sculptor Manuel Ramírez de Arellano. Clay, as a sculptural material, is attractive due to its affordability and its ubiquity. It also grants a sculptor a great deal of artistic flexibility, because it can be both an additive and subtractive form of sculpture. You can work the material by carving it away; by modeling and defining what’s there; and, unlike marble, you can also add more to the form, building out the composition as you go.
Note the overall shape of this sculpture. Look at it from all available sides. It is a vertical composition, with the figure’s gestures kept close to the central axis of her body. Her hands are clasped in her lap, and her head swoons back modestly. Do you have a sense of how Ramírez may have developed this figure? Starting with wet, pliable clay, did he take handfuls of it and build up the composition? It’s possible, given the sculpture’s verticality. But look at the shape of the base, which is highly squared off and quite even on all sides. Imagine the clay the artist started with. It’s probable that Ramírez started with a block of clay, the shape of a large, even brick, and relied exclusively on subtractive carving and modeling. He removed material to get the general composition, before using wooden tools to model the material and the form—to add dynamism to the gentle drapery, and to animate her expression with extraordinary detail, such as her parted lips, and even her visible teeth. Once completed, the clay was fired in a kiln, turning it into terracotta, or “baked earth.” The surface was then primed and painted, bringing the mother’s grief to vivid life.