The masterpiece collection
Gabriel Picart’s Masterpiece, The Urn, is a mesmerizing work as anyone who has had the privilege to stand or sit in front of it, can attest. The technical execution is astounding, with a flawless treatment of illumination adding to the mystical atmosphere of the scene. The textures of the deeply symbolic objects, precious fabrics, firm skins, and the pushing clouds leave one gazing from one perfect detail to the next. Despite the large number of colors and hues used, the painting is far from loud. Rather, it is hushed, with a ringing silence. Though striking at first and literally endlessly impressive for the viewer, the technical mastery is neither the point nor the main attraction of this marvelous work.
The vessel with pharaoh Cleopatra is floating in mid-air, yet perfectly still as a rock, like the center of the universe, or a version of the universe. Amid the golden glow of a setting sun, the vessel and its passengers and cargo seem to advance or be directed toward a solemn destination/destiny. The cornucopia of carefully chosen and placed urns, fruits, statuettes, and goblets lend themselves for many types of readings from specifically Egyptological—a helpful start—to universally symbolic, psychological, and spiritual interpretations. The work also serves a contemporary commentary function on the status of Catalonia, within or next to the Kingdom of Spain, which he hopes can be peacefully and democratically determined through the ballot box (hence the ‘urn’ in the scene and in the title). Given this rich tapestry of interlocking layers, this work is worth an essay and could easily fill a heavy monography. Perhaps the greatest achievement, at least to this viewer, is that despite being so otherworldly, the scene is entirely believable and palpably present.