Sunday, 7 November 2010

New Sculpture: The Abarbanel, Escapee of The Inquisition

Firstly, I will introduce you to the background of such an important hero character who escaped the Spanish inquisition, which I have made a sculpture of. Then, you can see the stages in the process of making the work, style and costumes.

This seems to be the only image I could find of the Abarbanel which made me somewhat unhappy. I believe this to be an artist's interpretation of the man, however I somewhat doubt its genuine portrayal of the man who as you will find out, was in the courts of various different kingdoms, in the presence of Royalty. I believe he would have dressed far more to the times.

Isaac ben Judah Abrabanel, (Lisbon, 1437 – Venice, 1508), also spelled Abravanel or Abarbanel, commonly referred to as The Abarbanel, was a Portuguese Jewish statesman, philosopher, Bible coomentator and financier.

He was born in Lisbon, Portugal into one of the oldest and most distinguished Jewish Iberian families, the Abravanel family, who had escaped persecution in Castile during 1391. A student of the Rabbi of Lisbon, Joseph Chaim a/k/a Yosef ben Shlomo Ibn Yahya, poet, religious scholar, rebuilder of Ibn Yahya Synagogue of Calatayud (a descendant of Hiyya al-Duadi who was great-grandson of Hezekiah Gaon), he became well versed in rabbinic literature and in the learning of his time, devoting his early years to the study of Jewish philosophy. Abravanel is quoted as saying that he included Joseph ibn Shem-Tov as his mentor. At twenty years old, he wrote on the original form of the natural elements, on religious questions and prophecy. Together with his intellectual abilities, he showed a complete mastery of financial matters. This attracted the attention of King Alfonso V of Portugal who employed him as treasurer.

Notwithstanding his high position and the great wealth he had inherited from his father, his love for his afflicted brethren was unabated. When Arzila, in Morocco, was captured by the Moors, and the Jewish captives were sold as slaves, he contributed largely to the funds needed to free them, and personally arranged for collections throughout Portugal. He also wrote to his learned and wealthy friend, Vitale (Yehiel) Nissim da Pisa, on behalf of the captives.

After the death of Afonso he was obliged to relinquish his office, having been accused by King John II of connivance with the Duke of Braganza, who had been executed on the charge of conspiracy. Abravanel, warned in time, saved himself by a hasty flight to Castile (1483). His large fortune was confiscated by royal decree.

At Toledo, his new home, he occupied himself at first with Biblical studies, and in the course of six months produced an extensive commentary on the books of Joshua, Judges, and Samuel. But shortly afterward he entered the service of the house of Castile. Together with his friend, the influential Don Abraham Senior, of Segovia, he undertook to farm the revenues and to supply provisions for the royal army, contracts that he carried out to the entire satisfaction of Queen Isabella.

During the Moorish war Abravanel advanced considerable sums of money to the government. When the banishment of the Jews from Spain was ordered with the Alhambra decree, he left nothing undone to induce the king to revoke the edict. In vain did he offer him 30,000 ducats ($68,400 nominal value). With his brethren in faith he left Spain and went to Naples, where, soon after, he entered the service of the king. For a short time he lived in peace undisturbed; but when the city was taken by the French, bereft of all his possessions, he followed the young king, Ferdinand, in 1495, to Messina; then went to Corfu; and in 1496 settled in Monopoli, and lastly (1503) in Venice, where his services were employed in negotiating a commercial treaty between Portugal and the Venetian republic.

Several times during the mid-to-late 15th century, he personally spent large amounts of his personal fortunes to bribe the Spanish Monarchy to permit the Jews to remain in Spain. It is claimed that Abrabanel offered them 600,000 crowns for the revocation of the edict. It is said also that Ferdinand hesitated, but was prevented from accepting the offer by Torquemada, the grand inquisitor, who dashed into the royal presence and, throwing a crucifix down before the king and queen, asked whether, like Judas, they would betray their Lord for money. In the end, he managed only to get the date for the expulsion to be extended by two days.

He died in Venice and was buried in Padua next to Rabbi Judah Minz, Rabbi of Padua.

After reading this man's history, I decided I would research into costume. I managed to borrow some costume books from a friend called Laura Sara Wolfisz who is a musician and a costume designer.

This is the image I actually decided to base the work on, but the next series of photographs show my research and interest in that period of costume in general and importantly from Spain during the inquisition.

So here is the start of my documentation which highlights how I made the sculpture of the Abravanel.

First off I started with two long straight stick/twigs from the garden. I sawed them down to what lengths they needed to be and began to build tissue onto their skinny legs using paper and tape.

I pinned a toothpick through them to add extra support and found a way of balancing them up temporarily. Of course when making support it is important to think about how freestanding sculpture can remain upright. I devised the idea of using the sword in some tripod action which we will see later on.

Here, I've moved onto the head. I wanted to work away from the original image of the Abarbanel at the top of this post, and more into something younger and more spanishy, less chassidish or romantic.

Here you can see without eyes.

Here I have added the eyes and created texture for the beard and moustache!

A lovely picture of us together :)

Here it's visible to see how I create hands. If you have followed in previous posts, I explain that I make each finger and join them onto the base of the hand and this is also my same method when working with cardboard newspaper and tape on larger bodies.

Here you can see the body is made from Newspaper and tape. At this stage it is important to feel the sculpture with your eyes to see the kinks and bumps and how it will look like with the modroc already before you have put on the modroc.

Notice now that the tripod stabiliser actually seems to become an important part of the work as the sword and so a vital element in supporting it upright blends in quite smoothly. Spanish swords were very long and dainty, thin and sharp.

Here you can see the body covered now with modroc and is looking a little nobly which I like! By the way, the sword is made from two old cheap plastic paintbrushes that I had from a packet of loads. I pulled out the brissles and popped one brush into the other. Since they are quite bendable I could make a sword handle and tape it into place before later sprayed it and applying white gaffer tape to strengthen it.

Here I fastened the head onto the shoulders and added a collar which also secures the head making sure it should not pop off and is quite tight. Since the Abarbanel escaped execution, I don't want any mishaps to happen to his head here!

Next up, I added his hands to his arms. Here he is holding a book which I think is important for him being a philosopher and biblical commentator. The other hand not viewable in this photograph was meant to be holding the helm of the sword but I changed my mind after. It was customary in those days for noble men to wear swords.

Here is a full shot of him without the sword propped up, I have added a cloak to cover him. This was an important stylistic/fashionable addition I gave him.

And here they are, two figures, one a hero the other pretty villainous.
Both are ready to paint at a final stage which will come later on.

Until next time. Hope you like it!

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