Nero e Sêneca – Museo del Prado

Nero and Seneca (after restoration). Eduardo Barrón. 1904. Madrid, Museo Nacional del Prado

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.

Nero and Seneca, by 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.

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