Gods among the ruins: Igor Mitoraj at Pompeii

A pantheon of Igor Mitoraj’s mythological figures is currently presiding over Pompeii, finds Annunciata Walton

Should you find yourself in Italy (or anywhere near it) this year, we recommend a trip to Pompeii—if you’ve been before, you might not recognise it. The hauntingly well-preserved Ancient Roman town, which was covered in the volcanic ash of Mt Vesuvius in AD79, is itself a worthy attraction and, until January 2017, its empty streets, temples and houses will be adorned with statuesque bronze sculptures by Igor Mitoraj (1944–2014).

The posthumous exhibition, arranged by ContiniArtUK, is a rare occurrence at Pompeii, a World Heritage Site that, as described by UNESCO, ‘is without parallel anywhere in the world’. Mitoraj’s monumental works will inhabit some of the site’s most sacred ruins in a display that typifies his profound, artistic relationship with both Classicism and contemporary culture.

During his lifetime, Mitoraj famously exhibited a collection of mythological figures and busts in the 5th-century BC Valley of the Temples, Agrigento, Sicily, the fragmented shapes echoing the presence of a long-lost civilisation.

More confined locations were also exploited successfully, such as with the powerful Luci di Nara (Lights of Nara), installed outside the British Museum in 2002, and, in 2014, Mitoraj became the first living contemporary artist to exhibit in the famous piazza by the Leaning Tower of Pisa, in a show that featured more than 100 of his sculptures in bronze, marble and iron, as well as paintings and plaster casts.

In the UK, he exhibited at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park and at Chatsworth, Derbyshire; elsewhere, his commissions included great bronze doors for both the Basilica di Santa Maria degli Angeli e dei Martiri in Rome (2006) and the Jesuit church of Matka Boża Łaskawa in Warsaw (2009).

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At Pompeii, the grand figure of Daedalus currently dominates the sacred Temple of Venus and Ikaria, imagined by Mitoraj as the sister of Icarus and Daedalus, is placed within the Temple of Isis—they are just two of the 30 imposing bronzes on show.

The strategic placement of the sculptures is down to the artistic direction of Luca Pizzi, who worked with Mitoraj as his assistant for the 20 years before his death in 2014. To have his works shown in the archaeological ruins of Pompeii was a great ambition of Mitoraj’s and it seems a true testament to his artistic legacy.

‘Igor Mitoraj at Pompeii’, until January 2017 (www.continiartuk.com)

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