Fausto de Lima 

Surreal Caricatures of Church & State


Madrid 1923 – 1994 Alcalá de Henares

Fausto de Lima y Arias was born in Madrid in 1923, son of the linguist Antonio de Lima Conde and Maria Josefa Arias Macías. His family originated from the city of Vigo in Galicia, on the North-Western coast of Spain. The family name, not familiar in Spain, possibly derives from the river and town Lima in the Northern Portuguese province Minho, just 40 km south of Vigo. He was of noble birth and as a young man fought with the royalistst against Franco in the Spanish Civil War. After the war was over they, like all other aristocratic families, were deprived of their belongings and titles by the regime of dictator Franco.

In the Spanish capital Fausto de Lima studied at the Superior School of Fine Arts. Although he had his first personal show in Madrid (Galleria Kebos) as early as 1942, he dedicated himself to writing children’s books and working as an art critic (foreign correspondent for radio and television) for nearly two decades until around 1960. He again took up painting seriously in the late 1950s and participated in an exhibition in Palma de Mallorca (Galleria Ateneo) in 1958, where he won a price with a painting of a young woman with a sombrero, for which his wife Maria Jose Sanchez-Ocaña de los Reyes may have posed. She was the daughter, one of twelve children, of a high-ranking officer of the military junta. A year later their daughter Beatriz was born. He then ended his work as a writer and journalist altogether and for the rest of his career devoted himself solely to painting. Between 1961 and 1964 he had personal shows in galleries in Saragoza (Galleria Libros, 1961), Cordoba (Galleria Céspedes, 1962) and Madrid (Galleria Fortuni, 1962; Galleria Forum 1963, 1964).

In these years Spain was in turmoil, the political upheaval in the 1960s with frequent public protests against the repressive fascist regime of the ‘generalissimo’ Francisco Franco (1893-1975), in which his father-in-law served as a high-ranking military officer, was a source of inspiration for his paintings and perhaps also the reason to spread his wings and sell his paintings abroad. In addition, personal problems have played a role. Fausto felt caught up in a marriage arranged by families, from which it proved difficult to escape. The fact is that he alienated from his family.

It was the Galleria d’Arte ‘Arno’ in Florence, Italy, which hosted his first show outside Spain in 1964. This gallery, run by Wanda Bartolini-Papini, was to remain Fausto’s stronghold abroad for the next twenty years. Many visitors of Florence who walked through the Via della Vigna Nuova (no 73 rosso, now no longer there) and were not distracted by the fabulous Renaissance architecture of Leon Battista Alberti’s Palazzo Rucellai (1446-51) opposite the gallery, would stop at the gallery’s window and gaze at the magificent paintings by Fausto on display. Inside the art gallery one would find more of his work and, intoxicated by the smell of fresh paint, one would be puzzled by the fantastic imagery of the paintings, his use of the brush and pallet knife on fine linen canvas or rough sackcloth, his remarkable sense of colour. His usual subjects were surreal caricatures of the Church and State, but also ordinary people – torreadores, clowns and carnivalesque figures – with an often complex hidden iconography, which is another fascinating aspect of his work. Prices were very reasonable at that time and once under the spell of Fausto’s paintings it was difficult to resist the temptation of purchasing one (or more). However, Fausto de Lima did not make many paintings in Florence, where he had a room in the house of friends. Most paintings were done in his studio in Madrid, at the Calle del Marques Santillana 4, near the Parque de Berlin.

As soon as he started exhibiting abroad, Fausto had immediate success and his paintings sold well, especially to an American clientele. In August of 1967 he wrote from Tarragona, where he usually stayed during the Summer, “I am too busy to write a real letter. You can’t imagine how I am preoccupied; the orders for new paintings rain over me”. Although his work was being mainly marketed through the Galleria ‘Arno’ and – during the first years – the Galleria Biosca in Madrid, Fausto traveled to other cities to participate in shows. In 1965 he had shows in Cortina d’Ampezzo (Galleria Hausammann) and Paris (Tailleur & Fils).

The following year his work was exhibited in Milan (Galleria 32), Madrid (Galleria Fortuny), London (Portal Gallery) and again in Paris (Tailleur & Fils). In 1967 Fausto crossed the Atlantic Ocean and had personal shows in Mexico City, New York (Lord and Taylor Gallery) and Beverly Hills (LA), returning in 1969 for a show in Sarasota, Florida (F. Oehlschlager Gallery) and in 1972 for one in New York (Lord and Taylor Gallery). In 1970 he had two shows in Munich (Spanish Cultural Institute) and Hamburg (Galerie am Klosterstern).

The next years Fausto traveled to and fro between Spain and Italy, with occasional long trips further away, like a long stay in Australia in 1976/77. But by then his production had significantly decreased and the ‘Arno’ gallery was mainly trading old paintings which had been returned by customers, especially Italian. Not much was heard from Fausto de Lima since that time. He appears to have stayed in Madrid during his last years, deprived of his sources of inspiration since the death of Franco and the restoration of the Spanish monarchy in 1975, as well as the diminished role of the Catholic Church. It seems that the artist, also alienated from his family, went through a personal and artistic crisis from which he did not fully recover. The few paintings that came up for sale in auctions in Madrid since are not of the same standard as his capolavori of the 1960s and early 1970s. They often failed to sell, even at minimum prices. His old clientele had moved on, had grown old, had lost contact. But many of them continued to love the paintings they had bought once, in the good old times, Fausto’s best works, passing them on to next generations not aware of the identity of the artist who created them. The candle of Fausto’s fame burnt down and went out, silently and unnoticed. Thus only one of his paintings can be found in a public collection: the Museo de Vigo.

Criticism of the Spanish church and state during the Franco regime

Fausto painted his first surreal caricatures of the Church and State already before he came to Italy. It may have been criticism in his native country and his longing for artistic freedom that made him move abroad. As a matter of fact, criticism of Franco’s regime was regarded as treason and intellectuals were either silenced by censorship or forced into exile. However, Fausto was always careful and never gave explicit titles to his paintings, just summary descriptions, leaving the interpretation to others. This aspect is one of the major charms of Fausto’s art. He created his own personal iconography, using standard symbols to criticize the worldly and ecclesiastic powers that joined hands denying individuals rights and freedoms. Unfortunately, Fausto’s intellectual message, his pictorial but silent criticism, expressed on many canvases, now scattered around the world, was not easily recognized by those who bought them. Fausto de Lima’s paintings are part of Spain’s national cultural heritage, yet he is virtually unknown, he has passed into oblivion. Now, more than 40 years after his decline and 25 years after his death Fausto de Lima’s life and work should be given fresh attention and awarded its proper place in Spanish and Italian contemporary art history. It is high time for a reappraisal.

Now let’s put you in the picture, so to say. The three following paintings are highlights from Fausto’s so-called Yellow Period, in which he generally depicted representatives of the Church. Fausto called these caricatures ‘cardinals’, although they are not dressed in red but in yellow, reddish purple or white. Their outfit is distinctively clerical, long robes and flat hats. The distinctive mozzetta, an elbow-length shoulder cape, and the broad-brimmed tasseled hats (galeri) were worn by bishops and cardinals only. Perhaps, in this case, the two figures are of even superior ecclesiastical rank. Yellow is the heraldic substitute for gold and together with white – heraldic for silver – the colours of the Vatican. Moreover, white is the colour of purity and goodness, yellow is the colour symbolizing betrayal and evil. The painting illustrated here was given the title Due cardinali, but they are not recognizable as such, because their hats do not have the distinctive cords with tassels. The traditional red cardinal’s hat or galero, an ecclesiastical hat symbolizing the title of Prince of the Church, had two cords with five rows of tassels each (30 in all). The bishop, lower in the hierarchy, wore a purple galero with two strings with three rows of tassels each (12 tassels in all). The galero was first introduced by Pope Innocent IV in 1245 and was abolished by papal decree in 1969 as a result of the Second Vatican Council (1962-64), around the time that Fausto was at the height of his creative and imaginative powers. Since then, it is only used in ecclesiastical heraldry. In this painting the two figures are dressed in a white and a yellow robe, pointing fingers as if accusing eachother. The composition is symmetrical and the two figures seem to be one, but depicted in split characters. They both have anonymous faces looking like potatoes, but the yellow figure has particularly mean eyes; moreover, his facial colour as well as that of his hands is green, as if expressing envy. They may also be a functional twin, two persons representing the same office. The left person, clad in white and holding a trefoil in his hand, is possibly a caricature of Pope John XXIII (1958-1963), the much respected and beloved benevolent pope, who ruled only five years but lead the Roman Catholic Church into the modern era. The figure on the right, clad in yellow and with a daisy in his hand, is perhaps a caricature of Pope John’s predecessor, the authoritarian and unpopular Pope Pius XII (1939-1958), whose political attitude during and after the Second World War, unwilling to condemn war crimes and the persecution of the Jews, was generally criticized. The two popes are literally and figuratively each other’s opposites. Fausto was thus covertly criticizing the Catholic Church, avoiding giving such an explicit interpretation himself and preferring a simple descriptive title, if a title at all.

The painting Cardinale e bimba (Cardinal and little girl) shows a bearded old man, leaning on a large pumpkin. He is easily recognized by his dress and galero as a high-ranking cleric, either a bishop or a cardinal, symbolizing the Roman Catholic Church, although he tries to remain anonymous by wearing a carnival’s mask. He is seated at a table covered with a white cloth, resting his left arm on a pumpkin, his right arm embracing a little girl, only her head rising above the table, with her chin on the table edge. She is fascinated by a snail with a yellow shell, slowly creeping in the direction of the pumpkin, or rather the fold in the tablecloth serving as a finish line. The meaning of this scene is probably criticism of the Catholic Church which tries to lure ordinary people (symbolized by the innocent child) to the Faith, a process of patience and years slowly passing by (symbolized by the snail). The pumpkin, though without a face carved in it, makes one think of Halloween, the night before All Saints Day, when children use to dress up. Here not the child but the cleric is dressed up, attired in his yellow (golden) cloak. Probably, the painting symbolizes the Church making easy converts. Actually, this was Fausto’s most popular theme, depicted over and over again, each time with other creatures and in different settings, but always with clergy, whether cardinals or bishops, dominating the scene.

Another painting from Fausto’s Yellow Period seems to be a mere depiction of a naked child playing hopscotch in front of two clerics looking on, sitting at ease on the ground. A snail again symbolizes the time slowly passing by, also stressed by the burning candle on its shell, when the child hops from her first year to the following years. In fact the nudity of the little blond girl symbolizes her innocence, which is further accentuated by the arcade in the background (Fausto seldom painted backgrounds, so he had a good reason to do so here) which is reminiscent of Filippo Brunelleschi’s famous Ospedale degli Innocenti, the 15th-century foundling hospital in Florence (he used this motif a few years earlier, see previous ill.). The Church is represented by an ordinary cleric dressed in black and an evil cardinal or pope in full clerical dress. The meaning of the painting is, probably, that ignorant children can easily be converted to the Faith, but it is not all gold that shines in the Catholic Church.

Fausto started making paintings of this nature when he was still in Spain and continued to do so after he came to Florence in 1964. These paintings belong to what may be called Fausto’s Red Period, preceding the just discussed Yellow Period. The painting on the right – La gallina del cardinale  – at first sight seems to be abstract, as the purple-red dominates. It shows a cleric in outmoded dress, recognizable as a bishop not only by the colour of his cassock and mozzetta, but also by the heraldic string with six tassels in three rows, forming a triangle, hanging from his galero. His reclining figure fills the composition almost entirely. With his monstrous left hand he holds a gray hen (an ignorant creature, easy to be dominated and fooled), trying to seduce it with a pink rose in his bony left hand. Like in other paintings with clergy the bishop has a potatoe face. His arms are as thin as matches. His ears stick through his hat like the devil’s horns. The meaning of this painting is the same as the previous three.

In Fausto’s opinion the Catholic Church played a too dominant role in ordinary life, taking much but offering little to nothing. The magificent and imposing architecture of the cathedral, the cardinal’s ‘home’, stands out in ominous red – the devil’s colour – in the night. Two beggars, one of them crippled, stand in front of it, having no shelter, being left in the cold. In this case Fausto also gave a summary title, though with a little hint, La leggenda di Notre Dame.

In an another painting from Fausto’s Red Period a red cathedral is likewise depicted. In front of it hoovers a child accompanied by a ghostly figure on a broomstick with a ram’s scull, their backs turned to eachother. The little girl is naked, symbolizing her innocence, spreading her arms in admiration for the imposing cathedral in front of her. A church though, that has nothing to offer, being empty, birds flying in and out through the windows without glass. The battering ram, from which the painting derives its summary title L’ariete is not needed to get access to the House of God, as there are no doors, it is in ruins. The ghastly figure  in a white shroud on the right is turning his back on her. 

Il guardiano di Oche (The Gooseherd), c. 1970
Oil on canvas, 74 x 148 cm. Private collection

The Gooseherd is Fausto’s largest and most ambitious painting. The symbolism is well hidden; a thorough knowledge of Italian art – and a well-developed imagination – are required to recognize it. The painting is a homage to the famous eighteenth-century Venetian painter Giambattista Tiepolo, who spent the last eight years of his life at the court of the King Charles III in Madrid. The figure on the far right was copied in mirror image from Tiepolo’s large painting The Adoration of the Magi, made in 1753. It is now in the Alte Pinakothek in Munich, where Fausto probably saw it in 1970 when he had two shows there. This is also the clue to the meaning of Fausto’s painting, which is a ’translation’ of Tiepolo’s scene into his own artistic idiom: like in Tiepolo’s painting the richly dressed moor is King Balthazar, looking on in amazement. The four white geese – stupid creatures in Fausto’s figurative language – are probably the Virgin Mary, Joseph and the two other kings. The black goose, like the proverbial black sheep, is Jezus. The flock of geese is on its way to the sacrificial altar on the left, reminiscent of the altar on which Joseph rests his left hand in Tiepolo’s painting. It goes without saying that Fausto would have provoked general rebuke when giving this explanation to this painting. It would have been considered heretic, especially in Spain, less in Italy. He therefore gave it a descriptive title, quite innocent, and left the interpretation to the beholder, as he often stated when asked about hidden meanings. The relation to Tiepolo’s painting also seems to be stressed by the large dimensions of the canvas and the 1:2 ratio, Tiepolo’s measuring 425 x 211 cm in standing format and Fausto’s 75 x 150 cm in horizontal format.

to be continued


Albert J. Elen
(republished online 2019)