Amid a study taped on the actual painting, and a six point base swiveling seat which personalizes a hushed studio setting, an artist sits absorbed before his work.
We all know the image at heart. Its subject matter is drawn from Roman antiquity, specifically during the time of the persecution of the Christians by emperors such as Nero. Thus, the principal figures are two maidens stripped of their garments and exposed to men leering at them and inspecting them like mere objects or commodities. A cool light falls on the two to symbolize their purity as Christian virgins.
The figures are fully modelled, and their gestures from the left to the right create a chain of movements that rise and fall, ending with the bound feet of the second maiden.
For those not in the know, it’s an image of Las Virgenes Christianas Expuestas Al Populacho, which won a silver medal in the Madrid Exposition of 1884. Like Luna’s Spoliarium, which won the major prize in the same competition, it conforms to the requirements of the European classical academy. But it is not by Felix Resureccion Hidalgo, and our eyes are focused on the everyman doing the work as much as the famed painting itself. So the painting, could have been any other painting of any age, as much as every man painter could have been any famed painter of any era as well. It is the everyman painter in the process of creating — Emil Zola wrote in 1866 ”A work of art is a bit of the creation, seen through the artist’s temperament, which forms an important part of his personality.” Of all forms of artistic self scrutiny, none is more revealing to the viewer than the image of the artist at work. Painters in their studios, studies of the artist working with his model scenes that depict sketching in the open air, all bring the observer closer to the act of creativity.