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Temporary Installation: Nero and Seneca by Eduardo Barrón

2/15/2011 - 9/18/2011

Nero and Seneca is on temporary on display in the Museum’s famous circular gallery known as the “Ariadne Rotunda”. Over the years the sculpture had been displayed and stored in unsuitable conditions. Together with the particularly fragile nature of the plaster of which it is made, this meant that various fragments were missing and that it had generally deteriorated. As a result, its recent restoration at the Museum was a particularly complex operation.

Displayed for the first time next to this newly restored sculpture is a little-known, smaller version of it, made by Barrón and given by him to the politician Antonio Maura in thanks for his help in ensuring the publication of the catalogue of sculptures in the Prado. This smaller version, on temporary deposit from the Fundación Antonio Maura (inv. no. 242), has survived completely unrestored in almost perfect condition. It reveals the original polychromy and the complexity, remarkable use of detail and technical mastery that characterise the making of this work.


Room 74

Sponsored by:
Fundación Iberdrola


History of the painting

History of the painting
Nero and Seneca
Eduardo Barrón
Before restoration

Eduardo Barrón’s plaster and partly polychromed sculptural group of Nero and Seneca won the gold medal at the National Fine Arts Exhibition in 1904. The artist was also the author of the first catalogue raisonné of the Museo del Prado’s sculpture collection and the Museum’s curator and restorer of sculpture until his early death in 1911.

The group depicts Seneca instructing Nero, to whom he was tutor. Barrón emphasises the two figures’ different temperaments and hints at the unjust end of the Cordoban philosopher Seneca: accused of treason, the Emperor obliged him to commit suicide.

All sculptures awarded prizes at the National Exhibitions passed to the Museum where State funding allowed them to enter the permanent collection. This did not happen with the present work, however, which makes the survival of this exceptionally large, original model in polychrome plaster particularly important. It allows for an appreciation of Barrón’s style, exquisite handling and exceptional technical mastery, while the highly detailed classical idiom that he deploys reveals his training in Rome. This work was on deposit for many years in the vestibule of Cordoba Town Hall.

Before restoration

Before restoration
Old photographs that showed the work with the original hand still intact were also consulted. Reconstructed areas that harmonised with the work were retained.

Barrón’s sculpture is made of partly polychromed plaster. After many years of incorrect display it required urgent restoration due to the fragility of the plaster and the unstable conservation and display conditions to which it had been subjected. In addition, earlier restorations had resulted in reconstructed areas of different types, as well as retouchings with different types of plaster and the addition of protective layers applied in a partial manner. The result was a work that had widely differing physical characteristics depending on the area.

Before restoring the group, a process that took two years, the Museum’s restorers undertook a technical study to identify the materials used by Barrón, those added in later restorations, the technique of execution and the state of preservation.

After restoration

After restoration
Old photographs that showed the work with the original hand still intact were also consulted. Reconstructed areas that harmonised with the work were retained.

The principal cleaning was carried out using agar-agar gels, which have a high degree of cleaning power through controlled addition of moisture and absorption of dirt. The treatment was completed with mechanical cleaning processes and, in some cases, very specifically applied chemical cleaning to remove stains and accumulations of subsequently applied material. The entire surface of the sculpture has now recovered a homogeneous appearance and one that respects the natural ageing of the material used to create a work that is now more than 100 years old. In addition, the fingers of Seneca’s right hand have been reconstructed as they were considered to be important for the figure’s expressive powers. These were copied from the original preliminary model (a small-scale plaster now in the Museum in Zamora). Digitally recorded data on the fingers was amplified to the scale of the present work, while further information was obtained from old photographs that showed the original appearance of Seneca’s hand.

For more information on the restoration of this work, see the technical report.

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