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Peruvian Artist Explores Renaissance Beauty Through Contemporary Eye

By Jonas Meuleman

In the gallery at the Embassy of Peru, a circular portrait seems to offer visitors a view through a window into a paradise-like setting. In the forefront, a red windflower appears. The round shape of the piece makes it look like a portal you could step through to explore an exotic floral world.

A closer look at the painting provides an even stranger experience: Various painting styles seem to emerge, as if the end result was created by two different artists in two different time periods. An art connoisseur will immediately see where the inspiration comes from. The flower is reminiscent of Renaissance still-life painter Rachel Ruysch, while the Eden-like background seems to be a close-up of another great Renaissance artist, Botticelli.

That is exactly what the artist, Magaly Sánchez, tries to do with her work. Born in Lima, she graduated from the Faculty of Fine Arts at the Pontifical Catholic University in Lima and over the years has presented many individual and group exhibitions in a number of cities, including New York, Madrid, Tel Aviv and Toronto.

The Portrait Magaly Sánchez
"The Portrait" offers visitors a view into an exotic, Eden-like floral world, inspired by various Renaissance artists such as Botticelli. Photo: Embassy of Peru

The title of the exhibition currently running at the Embassy of Peru is appropriately called “Overtime.” Sánchez explained that she started from scratch to create all of the artwork on display.

“When the embassy here in Washington first contacted me, I was honored to receive the invitation, but I wasn’t sure how to produce so many new paintings. So I worked all day and night for months to prepare the exhibition, and that’s why I came up with the name ‘Overtime.’”

Most of Sánchez’s work focuses on the search for beauty through Renaissance theory and geometrical studies, helped by the visual language of pop art and “op art,” which incorporates optical illusions.

She often places details of iconic paintings by Renaissance artists such as da Vinci and Botticelli on backgrounds borrowed from other artists from different art periods. Geometric figures such as cones, triangles and squares then provide a sense of permanence through time and space. The end result is an attempt to balance eternal and ephemeral beauty in one piece that honors some of the great artists of the past — in doing so creating a whole new style of art, not limited in its creative boundaries.

Bruegel Painting Magaly Sánchez
"Bruegel II" is part of a three-set piece that tries to honor the Dutch and Flemish Renaissance artist Pieter Bruegel by portraying different landscape and village scenes featured in his work, accompanying them with contemporary geometric figures. Photo: Embassy of Peru

One of the more striking pieces in the collection is a long panel depicting “Las Tres Gracias,” or “The Three Charites,” which, according to Sánchez, is a combination of three artists. While the anatomy of the bodies and use of light and shadow stem from Raphael’s take on mythological goddesses, the background is Botticelli’s and the geometric shape covering part of the panel suggests Frank Stella’s influence.

Another work is part of a three-set piece called “Bruegel” that honors the epochal 16th-century Dutch and Flemish painter Pieter Bruegel by portraying different landscape and village scenes featured in his work. The paintings are then accompanied by geometric figures to provide a striking contrast between the historic and the contemporary.

But it is not merely the combination of painting styles that is so remarkable about Sánchez’s art. Her choice of canvases that are wildly different from traditional, rectangular-shaped frames is integral to the collection. The use of such circular canvases, called tondos, is derived from Renaissance painting and sculpture as well. Sánchez adds her own spin to it, making the background more apparent than what is usually visible in classical tondos.

Renaissance woman Magaly Sánchez
Part of a two-set piece called "The Woman and the Flowers", inspiration here is as clear as ever, the piece being Sánchez's take on the famous painting "Lady with an Ermine" by Leonardo da Vinci. Photo: Embassy of Peru

“I found the circle format for this exhibition particularly beautiful,” Sánchez said. “Circular frames are not that easy to find, but many people like it either way and I have always been attracted to the circle as a way of portraying a painting.”

Peruvian Ambassador Hugo de Zela praised Sánchez’s work and said that over the course of the next year, the Embassy of Peru will be supporting female artists from Latin America by hosting a number of women-centric exhibitions, including one in February featuring a photographer from National Geographic and another show in cooperation with the National Museum of Women in the Arts in June.

“Overtime” will run at the Peruvian Embassy until December every Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Jonas Meuleman is an editorial intern for The Washington Diplomat.



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