Doctoral Thesis on Picasso’s Iconography

On Monday, November 9, the doctoral thesis ‘Picasso’s Iconography between 1905 and 1907. The Influence of Pompeian Painting’ by Conchita Boncompte, and supervised by Dr. Lourdes Cirlot, was read at the Universitat de Barcelona.

The thesis sets out to demonstrate the influence of Pompeian painting on the work Picasso produced between 1905 and 1907, an influence that was supported by and engaged in dialogue with Picasso’s milieu and his experience of Catalan Romanesque from his stay in Gósol. The highly stimulating presentation of this study, which runs to more than 700 pages, and promises to open up new avenues of research, has already prompted many to wish that it be made accessible to a wider readership.

It would be an impossible task to summarize here the wealth of research and visual information put forward in the session, and we have therefore asked the author herself to give us a brief extract:

The source of my thesis is my discrepancy with respect to the iconographic models to which some of the works of this period have traditionally been linked. The new parameters of interpretation I propose bring a fresh light to the study of this period, and also to a number of later works – The Acrobats (1922), Blind Minotaur Guided in the Night by a Girl with a Pigeon (1934), Raphael and the Fornarina (1968) – and some earlier ones – Decorated Frame (1900-1902).

The research begins with the Seated Nude of 1905 and ends with Les Demoiselles d’Avignon (1907), although the set of works around Nu à la draperie (1907) and The Offering (1908) also fall under the same sphere of influence.

Accordingly, I present the Pompeian ascendant as the leitmotif of the works of this period. I also propose a rereading of the commonplaces (Picasso’s interest in the world of the circus and in ceramics from Gósol) in terms of which these works have been interpreted and argue that the superficiality of the studies has drawn a veil of banality over the pictures Picasso made between 1905 and 1907.

The thesis devotes particular attention to the attributes of the personages and to Picasso’s translation of these by means of everyday objects, and at the same time reassesses details ignored or undervalued by conventional historiography, such as the porró wine jug, for example. It also reflects on how the values supplied by the Catalan Romanesque (from Gósol) to Picasso’s Pompeian project gave considerable coherence to the work of the artist from Málaga.

The methodology employed made it possible to draw out all of the elements that had until now hidden and put forward an interpretation that connects the artist with Pompeii and its values. The rigour of the analytical process has led the process of interpretation and the strict method followed has allowed me to find answers to the questions I set myself at the outset – basically about the influence of Pompeian painting on Picasso’s work – and resolve the enigma from before Gósol to the Les Demoiselles.

Some of the key findings of the thesis are:

– The identification of Picasso’s models with Pompeian models, and the application to these figures of the divine aesthetic of the Romanesque from Gósol.

– A new reading of the Gósol still-lifes.

– The premise of chromatic evolution.

– The importance attached to esotericism and to opium in Picasso’s milieu.

– The relationship between the world of the circus and the classical era.

– The interpretation of Picasso’s own personal system of symbols Picasso based on everyday objects.

– The incorporation of the Romanesque from Gósol as part of an ideological project with which this style is conceptually and formally consonant.

– The use of Barcelona Romanesque models for Les Demoiselles.

I maintain that the dialogue with Pompeian painting between 1905 and 1907 and with the Romanesque from Gósol in which Picasso engages culminate in the profound reflection on Panhellenic values in which he immerses himself in Les Demoiselles.

The thesis explains and documents the Pompeian models and the Romanesque models from Gósol provided Picasso with a vehicle for the expression of a for an artistic project that goes beyond the painting, an investigation that bears witness to his desire to restore the sacral dimension to art.

Conchita Boncompte

The thesis, which is now fully available (in Spanish),  was deservedly awarded cum laude honours.

Our warmest congratulations to the new Dr Boncompte!

Lluís Bagunyà
Institutional Relations


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