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In 1984, just a few months after Eduardo Ramírez Villamizar donated his sculpture Custodia Homenaje [Custodia Homage] to the recently restored cathedral in his hometown of Pamplona, he wrote the text now known as “La Catedral y el Arzobispo” [The Cathedral and the Archbishop], which was read on the day of the reopening of the cathedral and the presentation of his work. The text evidences how important religion and the Catholic Church were to Ramírez Villamizar’s development as a person and as an artist. He states throughout the text that the Catholic religion and the Church greatly influenced his life, and he shares childhood memories that attest to the impact of sacred images. Ramírez Villamizar’s sculpture was placed in the Panteón de los Obispos [Pantheon of Bishops] inside the cathedral. Pamplona has been a major religious center in Colombia since colonial times, when it was part of the Viceroyalty of New Granada. Its celebration of Holy Week is famous, and although the population is not large, the city houses more than fifteen churches. It was in this environment that Ramírez Villamizar grew up. His family was very devout and some of his aunts and sisters were members of the Carmelite order. In “La Catedral y el Arzobispo,” the sculptor explains how it was through religious images that he was first drawn to art. “I felt the mysterious stirrings of artistic beauty for the first time in this very cathedral, looking at the saints and the altarpieces and attending moving religious ceremonies where the scent of incense took my breath away. During those ceremonies, I would hear the excellent choirs of the major seminary and the organ playing what might have been a work by Palestrina or Handel.”
“La Catedral y el Arzobispo” by Eduardo Ramírez Villamizar (1922–2004) is essential to understanding this artist’s production as well as his relationship to art. Ramírez Villamizar is considered a pioneer of abstraction in Colombia. Many important articles on his work published in the mid-twentieth century support this assessment, among them “El Arte Clásico de Eduardo Ramírez Villamizar” [doc. no. 1093722] by Casimiro Eiger; “Un Poder Ordenador” [doc. no. 1093674] by Marta Traba; and “El Arte Absoluto de Ramírez Villamizar” [doc. no. 1093770] by Walter Engel. His work is considered self-referential, pure, and removed from any external reference; it is seen as totally rational and focused exclusively on the matter of form. Insofar as “La Catedral y el Arzobispo,” written by Ramírez Villamizar himself, affirms that he had a close relationship with religion and the Catholic Church, it pointedly questions the vision formulated by these major art critics.
Significantly, Ramírez Villamizar’s descriptions of iconography, temples, events, and religious celebrations in this text focus on their formal and material aspects. Clearly, his relationship with religion had a major influence on his relationship to images in general and took shape through the aesthetic of the Catholic Church. Throughout his life, Ramírez Villamizar collected religious art and objects that he used to decorate the places in which he lived. His production includes works with religious themes, such as the paintings: Crucifixión [Crucifixion] (1950), Adán [Adam] (1945), Cáliz y hostia [Chalice and Host] (1960), and Lucha entre Jacob y el Ángel [Struggle Between Jacob and the Angel] (1947); and the drawings: Monjas muertas [Deceased Sisters] (1983), Ángeles [Angels] (1980), and Paraíso perdido [Paradise Lost] (2004); and the sculptures: Custodia (1980), Custodia Homenaje (1983), Catedral policromada [Polychrome Cathedral] (1979), and Brazo de santo [Arm of the Saint] (1963). On the basis of this text as well as some of Ramírez Villamizar’s artwork, it can be argued that at least some of his production is in fact referential, and influenced by concerns beyond the specific realm of art.