Roma Man, 1933, bronze, edition 1/6, height: 69 cm
Arno Breker, called the German Michelangelo of the 20th century by Aristide Maillol (1861-1944), was one of the best known but also one of the most controversial sculptors of his time. His commitment to the art of the Third Reich was the cause. The works of Breker, during decades considered like devils by many academics and highly idealized by others, played an influential role in the cultural history of Germany for a few years.
The artist, eldest son of a stonemason, was born in Wuppertal-Elberfeld in 1900. He studied at the Art Academy of Düsseldorf. He lived in Paris from 1927 to 1934. He was an admirer of Rodin, who had a great influence on the works of Breker during this 'French period'. Rodin was an impressionist sculptor. Light was very important to him. His figures are characterized by the irregular surface on which the light causes glare. This brilliance increases the mobility in the sculpture. Breker was fascinated by the work of Rodin and he also played with light in his works. Romanichel, the portrait of an anonymous gipsy, is an example of it. The artist only realized the face, thus only a part of the head. Rodin did the same with the sculpture of L'Homme au Nez Cassé. In some way this gives even more power to the portrait because all the attention goes to the characteristic facial features of the young Rom.
This artwork of Arno Breker is the end of his seven-year period in Paris. He returns to Germany. After winning the Prix de Rome, an encouragement award for young artists, he goes to Italy for a year. Seeing Michelangelo's David in Florence means the turning point in his artistic life. He was fascinated by the great artist in whose work the Classical Antiquity was born again. From now on this rediscovered beauty will feature the work of Breker.
Romanichel is a portrait of a young gipsy, very confident, the head upwards and proud of his origin. The face of the man is characterized by strongly pronounced eyebrows and high cheekbones. In profile he has the looks of an Egyptian pharaoh, the middleman between God and the human being. Many Roma declare they came originally from Egypt. This may well have its origins in the stories of the Roma they told each other. In these narratives are many similarities with the Jewish slave nation that was wandering in the desert after the flight from Egypt. It's like the young Romanichel was remembering one of these stories when he proudly posed for the artist.
In 1933 Arno Breker realized the portrait of a Rom with respect for the gipsy. It is very contradictory that Breker became later the preferred artist of Hitler for whom the Roma had no right to life. Roma, gipsies, partly come from the Balkans and are divided into different groups, based on residence, customs and dialect. The Romanichals mainly live in Britain and North America. The Romanichals, the communists, Jews, homosexuals, Witnesses of Jehova and people with disabilities were target of the urge of destruction of the Nazis. The Nazis believed that Roma are asocial, criminal and non-Aryans. They did not considered them Europeans, therefore unwanted. Through its close collaboration with the Nazis and the many commands he received from them Arno Breker was accused of collaboration after the war. He was condemned to pay 100DM. This was not a large sum but his conviction stigmatized him for life. Breker pretended his art had no political content but was a tribute to the beauty of the divine, perfect human form.
Text: Myriam Geurts, September 2016