"The Lady of Elche It has the glory of a queen and possesses the appeal of an angel with the strength of an Amazon. " Salvador Dalí has been one of the artists surrendered to the beauty of this figure. 121 years have passed since the jewel of Iberian art was discovered on a farm in La Alcudia, three kilometers from Elche. Aupada like essence of Spain, as much in the Republic as, mainly, in the Francoism, the idolatry towards this sculpture of the IV century before Christ propitiated "a degree of manipulation such that it even got to move the investigators of its study a time "Says the archaeologist Carmen Aranegui Gascó, professor emeritus at the University of Valencia, who has published to EL PAÍS The Lady of Elche (Editorial Marcial Pons). In this book, he regrets that the Lady "Have been more interested in the sentimental aspects than the study of their context".
That key moment was on August 4, 1897, when agricultural laborers installed irrigation and planted pomegranates on the farm of La Alcudia. The bust appeared as a reused piece inside a wall. After being shown a few days in Elche, "the queen dwells", as the ilicitanos called her, left for Paris. "International archeology had a romantic vision of Spain as an exotic place, of ancient traditions," explains Professor Aranegui, and coincidentally, a French-Spanish scholar, Pierre Paris, who came every summer to Spain, was in Elche and moved quickly. a banker who paid 4,000 francs to the owner of the land, who had already sold other finds, and to those responsible for the Louvre.
On the Spanish side, the archaeologist Pedro Ibarra, chronicler of the discovery, had informed "the Royal Academy of History and the authorities of heritage, but on August 8 the president of the Council of Ministers, Antonio Cánovas del Castillo, was assassinated. that hampered any official response, "Aranegui explains.
The bust ("some have theorized that it was part of a woman sitting or standing, but I defend that it is not") receives in France the name "lady" because "the antiquarians of the time had begun to replace the name of Venus, with which the representations that were baptized were baptized, for something more in keeping with the times ".
The investigations follow one another, like those that have pointed out that the Lady She is a goddess, something that Aranegui, who commissioned a major exhibition about Iberian art in Paris 20 years ago, discards: "I think it is a representation of the values of the elites of that society." It also remembers a known fact, its funerary use. "Its hole was analyzed from the back and it is known that it contained ashes and combustion remains of human bones."
Who made such a wonder almost 2,500 years ago? "A contribution of my book is that when studying the set of the Alcudia it is deduced that there was a workshop of very good sculptors in what was the Iberian city of Ilici. Today, 80% of the deposit is not excavated. " The author of the Lady was meticulous in the details. "It emphasizes the treatment of the face, framed in jewels, but the objective of the artist was to describe the jewelry and the fabrics of the clothes. He was not interested in the language of anatomical expression. "
The Lady's hieratic face remained in the Louvre, despite the fact that Republican Spain demanded its return. "In theatrical productions of Alberti and María Teresa León, Spain was personified as the Lady. And Margarita Xirgu dressed, in exile, as the statue for the Numancia of Cervantes. The negotiations continued after the Civil War. The Spain of the dictatorship and the collaborationist France of Vichy reached an agreement, after a tug of war for the exchange of pieces. "In Petain's difficult equilibrium, he wanted to get closer to Spain so that Franco would be more neutral, less friendly with the Axis, and thought that, by returning the Lady, that would be the case."
The return and his exhibition at the Prado, since June 1941, mark the beginning of the withdrawal of the international bibliography. "The propaganda is displayed that Spain is a civilization without rival in its antiquity." His image is multiplied in stamps, labels, brands …
The block of sandstone, 65 kilos in weight and 56 centimeters in height, remains in the art gallery until 1971, when it is moved "escorted and by taxi" to the Archaeological Museum to highlight a center that needed a star. There he continues with his penetrating gaze. Can you move to temporary exhibitions, as was done, in 1965, to Elche? "The piece is stabilized in its conservation, with precautions does not have to be an obstacle". However, Professor Aranegui fears that in raising this issue will happen as before, "when identity breaks in, the Lady loses".