LAPIS SPECULARIS. MUSEO ARQUEOLÓGICO NACIONAL, MADRID. Abril – junio 2019
El lapis specularis, yeso cristalizado de gran transparencia que puede exfoliarse en láminas finas de amplia superficie, supuso una revolución en la vida cotidiana de los romanos. Permitió, en residencias y edificios públicos, cerrar ventanas y estancias o peristila con paneles correderos, así como mantener mejor la temperatura en las termas; protegía además las ventanillas de las literas y se usaba en pequeños invernaderos o en colmenas. Pero participó también en la vida simbólica, como elemento suntuario o mágico, en ritos benignos y malignos.
Las minas de lapis specularis de Hispania, concentradas en torno a Segóbriga y en la provincia de Almería (Arboleas), proporcionaron el mineral más puro, que se exportaba a las grandes ciudades del Imperio. El artista Miguel Ángel Blanco vuelve a hacerlas productivas al utilizar, por primera vez, esa piedra fascinante como material creativo. En un conjunto de libros-caja que forman parte de su Biblioteca del Bosque, ha recreado no tanto sus funciones prácticas como sus usos rituales, con un enfoque más visionario que arqueológico. En la sala del Foro Romano, ha situado un bloque de lapis que toma cuerpo entre los dioses y emperadores y reclama su lugar en la historia, y un tondo que deja penetrar en la sala la luz sobrenatural que procede del subsuelo; y sobre el suelo, como hacían los romanos en los grandes eventos, ha esparcido cristales pulverizados que la transforman en un escenario fastuoso y sobrehumano.
Organiza: Subdirección General de Promoción de las Bellas Artes del Ministerio de Cultura y Deporte
It kept temperature constant in bathhouses, protected the little windows on litters, and was used in small greenhouses or beehives. But it also played a part in symbolic life, as a magical or luxury item used in rites for good or evil purposes.
The lapis specularis or “specular stone” mines of Hispania–concentrated in the vicinity of Segóbriga, which grew and prospered thanks to this mining industry, and the province of Almería (Arboleas)–yielded the purest mineral, which was exported to great cities throughout the empire. Lapis was a highly prized raw material–the mines were worked from the time of Augustus and, more intensely, in the early imperial period (frst and second centuries AD)–but it was eventually abandoned and forgotten for many centuries. In recent years, archaeologists have investigated how lapis was obtained and used, and some of the old mines have been reopened to visitors.
Miguel Ángel Blanco has explored the plastic and poetic properties of this surprising mineral, which had never been used as a creative material before, bringing ancient history into the present. For decades, the artist has been fusing art and nature in a remarkable project called the Library of the Forest. Currently comprising 1,191 box-books, this library contains every natural kingdom and countless experiences, reworked as pages with drawings, photographs or marks and as boxes in which materials from very diﬀerent places fnd a new order to speak to us in the earth’s ancient tongue. After discovering lapis specularis, the artist dedicated a series of box-books to this fascinating stone, in which he has opened windows onto the historical and geological past. To bring this material onto his own turf, Blanco has relied more on its magical and ritual uses than its practical purposes, approaching it from a visionary rather than archaeological perspective.
He was drawn to the rock’s “clairvoyance”, aspects related to seeing through this crystal, its mystical aura. In these box-books he activated and explored the transparency, reﬂectivity and geometry of mineral formations, not only lapis but also other forms of crystallised gypsum, such as selenite or Iceland spar, each with its own characteristics and legends. They are all vehicles for travelling to the moon or the centre of the earth, or for crossing foggy seas; oﬀerings that sink beneath the waves; tools for communicating with the dead and the deities of the underworld. Crystals that imagine orographic reliefs and are used to erect diaphanous temples. The organic and inorganic magically interact around lapis specularis.
Some of the statues that occupy the Roman Forum Gallery at the National Archaeological Museum are eroded or mutilated. Little by little, the sculptures are reverting to blocks of marble, a mass of interlocking calcite crystals. The block of lapis specularis that Miguel Ángel Blanco brought
from the Roman mine of Arboleas has returned one of the most vital industries for Roman Hispania’s economy to the forum, the heart of the museum. But not only that: it also aspires to take shape, become a body and communicate with the deities–Venus, Aesculapius, Apollo, Minerva and Livia as Fortuna–and deifed leaders incarnated in living blocks of gleaming stone.
The Roman Forum Gallery illustrates political power in Rome, but it also references spiritual power in pieces that tell us of the religions practised in the empire. The lapis specularis tondo that the artist has hung between Livia and Tiberius is a window through which an unearthly subterranean light enters the room, and subsequently returns to the ground in a show of ostentation. The lapis powder that the artist has scattered at the emperors’ missing feet was used at major events in ancient Rome to add a touch of splendour. Pliny the Elder tells us that “shavings and ﬂakes” of this stone were “strewn on the surface of the Circus Maximus during the Games to produce an attractively bright eﬀect.” With its brilliance, the carpet of tiny crystals turns this space into a glittering supernatural stage.