Will Romania’s National Treasure “The Wisdom of Earth” by Constantin Brancusi be lost in election politics?

What started as an exciting cultural campaign to save a stunning early sculpture by Constantin Brancusi (one of the most important sculptors of the 20th Century) has turned into a political fiasco.

“Cumintenia Pamantului” or “The Wisdom of Earth” depicts a female nude, made in limestone and is typical of the sculptor’s timeless style. Drawing on the mythical, the relationship between heaven and earth and the ancient, the work strongly resembles primitive art, in particular the ancient heritage of Romania – see The Thinker and the Sitting Woman that were found in Romania and are around 7,000 years old from the Hamangia culture.

(The Thinker of Cernavoda and the Sitting Woman, 5,000 BCE Terracotta Sculpture, National Museum of Romania.) 

This artwork’s provenance has not been without controversy. The piece was originally bought by a friend of Brancusi, Gheorghe Romascu, who purchased it in 1911 from the artist. Then in 1957 the artwork was seized by the Communist government and it took an extremely long legal case, for the work to restored to Romascu’s heirs in 2012.

The desire to keep the cultural treasure within Romania is marked by the fact that very few works by Brancusi are in Romania, as the sculptor left to live in Paris when he was 28 years old.

The Government keen to secure the work, were faced with having to raise €11 million to buy the artwork from the Romascu family heirs to try to keep it in Romania. Unable to purchase the work outright with public funds, the government proposed to contribute €5 Million to the purchase and through a fundraising campaign called “Brancusi is mine” they hoped to raise the rest of the funds from voluntary donations from individuals and companies.

A deadline was set for September 2016, but the amount raised from the public fell woefully short, amounting to just over €1 million.

In October, the Government still keen to secure the work passed an emergency ordinance to purchase the work and to look for a financial mechanism to cover the shortfall. The Government then looked to Parliament to approve the acquisition but this approval was not given.

According to the Romania Insider in the lead up to the Presidential elections, the issue of the public fundraising campaign and the government pledge to bridge the gap from the budget had received virulent public criticism. It further became a battleground for criticism and reprisals as the former Romanian PM Dacian Ciolos now faces a complaint filed at the National Anticorruption Directorate by PRU leaders. Ciolos is accused of an abuse of power and deceit for the way in which his cabinet handled the public fundraising campaign. The claim is that the price the government agreed to pay far exceeded its value. PRU president Bogdan Diconu further said “The Ciolos Government has spent €11 million from the Romanians’ money for a work of art that was part of the national heritage anyway, and couldn’t have been taken out of the country.”

A law was passed that stated if the Romanian state did not acquire the sculpture until 21st October, those who had donated money could ask for their money back.

After a meeting with the new Government to understand whether the Ministry of Culture still wanted to purchase the work, according to the Romania Insider, it now seems the sculpture’s owners may now decide to sell the artwork in auction.

This artwork has had quite a journey and it will be interesting to see whether it does come up in auction and what price is realised for this masterpiece. Watch this space.