Gilded Figures: Wood and Clay Made Flesh

Polychrome Sculpture at the Hispanic Society Museum & Library

East Building Gallery

October 15, 2021 – January 9, 2022 | Thursday – Sunday: 12:00-6:00pm | Free admission

This splendid exhibition will offer a rare glimpse of a major art form from the Hispanic World 1500–1800: polychrome sculpture. Building on the legacy which Archer M. Huntington left the museum, the institution has added to its holdings of this material so that today the HSM&L boasts the finest collection of these works outside Spain. Until recently, this vivid sculpture went largely unnoticed, but now it elicits enthusiastic responses. Even so, Gilded Figures is the first event in New York to feature this art form in the last 20 years. The over 20 sculptures exhibited will not only attest to the high level of artistic production, but they will also include major works by women artists and show how the stylistic conventions of Spain were adapted in the New World.

Gilded Figures will begin with late Gothic and early Renaissance works by the finest sculptors from Castile. Among these, a superb monumental relief of the Resurrection attributed to Gil de Siloe reveals the dazzling talent of those artists. How decisively Italian models shaped the work of following generations appears in the sixteenth-century reliquary busts by Juan de Juni. The Baroque period witnessed an impressive flowering in which figures like Pedro de Mena achieved effects of stunning naturalism as seen in his St. Acisclus. The exhibition will also draw attention to another consideration — the role of women artists — in a section of pieces by Luisa Roldán and Andrea de Mena. The first of these achieved spectacular success in her lifetime rising to the position of Royal Sculptor (escultora de cámara).

The last section of Gilded Figures will focus on sculpture from Latin America in this period, in works characterized by an impressive range of scale and emotion. A monumental sixteenth-century relief of Santiago matamoros (St. James the moorslayer) from Mexico reveals how Spanish models were transplanted and adapted to the needs of the Catholic church as it embarked on a campaign to convert the indigenous people. In addition to Mexico, Ecuador witnessed a flourishing of polychromed sculpture in which sculptors in Quito produced masterpieces. Painted with a vivid attention to detail, statues like the Virgin of Quito or St. Michael show the powerful effects these talented artists achieved. The exhibition concludes with perhaps the most dramatic display from this school: Caspicara’s Four Fates of Man. In these figures, the sculptor depicts a range of emotions with consummate skill and a delicate touch as part of a theological lesson to inspire people to persevere in their faith.


Visitor Guidelines:

COVID19. The health and safety of our visitors is our top priority

  1. In accordance with the New York City mandate, all visitors to the Hispanic Society Museum & Library must show identification and proof of Covid-19 vaccination, which may include a CDC Vaccination Card (or photo), NYC COVID Safe App, New York State Excelsior Pass, NYC vaccination record, or an official immunization record from within or outside the United States. For additional information, please visit gov.
  2. All visitors are required to wear mask and maintain 6-foot distance between parties. Attendance is limited to 25%.
  3. Visitors who are sick and not feeling well are asked to stay home for the safety and well-being of others.
  4. Please consult the Center for Disease Control and Prevention for up-to-date information on Covid-19, and the New York State Covid-19 Travel Advisory for updated information on travel guidelines.

The Hispanic Society requires all visitors follow these guidelines and reserves the right to ask visitors who do not comply with these guidelines to leave the premises.  Thank you for your cooperation.

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The  exhibition has been possible, in part, by the generous support of Barbara and Jon Landau, Colnaghi, Wolf Constructions Corporation, an Anonymous Donor, as well as the Trustees, Patrons, and Members of the Hispanic Society Museum & Library