Maria Constantinescu

MARIA CONSTANTINESCU, voyage to the land of angels

Although living and working in Romania, painter Maria Constantinescu is extremely appreciated abroad, while in the country it is only the elites who have the privilege of knowing her and of enjoying her exhibitions, which pass almost unnoticed by the great public. The artist declares that, even though for her the experience of art started as a childhood game, it became ever richer and it keeps harnessing cultural, philosophic and spiritual load, but mostly it grows as a thing of the soul, filtered in the magical crucible of creation.

THOSE who are confronted with Maria Constantinescu’s glass paintings feel themselves lucky or privileged due to the sense of delight and wonder these impart to the beholder. The direct encounter with the artist brings them the joy of discovering a beautiful person: elegant and kind-hearted, refined and natural. Like any artist, Maria reflects herself in the art she creates, wherein she has melted the Romanian folk art source together with the byzantine one, while her alchemical talent is of divine extraction, its source going back to the Land of Angels – as the artist calls her own childhood without any exaggeration, a childhood spent until the age of eight in Stoeneṣti, Argeṣ county. In this marvelous place, her soul was nourished by tradition, purity and neighborly love. Later on, she would come to mirror these values in her creations, verifying George Sainsbury’s dictum: “the tradition without modernity is a dead end, while the modernity without tradition is an incredible and total folly.”

The First Guardian Angel

Born on “April Fool’s Day”, Maria Constantinescu was going to manifest herself in her art as in her personal life through authenticity, because, as she confesses, she was guided spiritually by true “guardian angels” who taught her to shun superficiality in all respects.

Her first spiritual guide, in the first years of her life, was grandfather Constantin, her mother’s father, a very wise and faithful man. With her blonde hair, all dressed up in veiled dresses and wearing velvet shoes like an infanta of Velasquez, Maria – who is descended from an old Austrian family on her father’s side (the Heinzes of Viena) – did not look like a peasant girl and the children avoided her. Grandfather at her side used to tell her: “Who does not want you, does not deserve you.” and he would take her by the hand and lead her to the church ever so often, where she stared in fascination at the icons and frescoes that her grandfather told her long stories about. When home alone, she enjoyed sitting on the wide windowsill and have fun finger-drawing on the hazy windowpane angel figures like those in the church hall. “I remember my grandfather used to read to me and to my older brother, Mihai – who was three years my elder and loved me so much that he couldn’t bear to live without me – he used to read to us from the Bible in the evenings before our going to bed and then he would take 100 bows crossing himself each time. He lived for 100 years and he made me believe in God, with the help of icons and church paintings,” the painter confesses. And also due to the grandfather, who would read only “good books”, Maria was raised with Dante Aligheri’s Divine Comedy by her side, contemplating its drawings countless times and learning its text by heart, since she could read from three years old. This is how she found out about the way Heaven, Hell and Limbo looked like, the last one being what life on earth is about, as her grandfather would explain. When she left for Câmpulung – the town where she remained until the graduation of “Dinicu Golescu” Highschool – in order to go to school, Maria took away with her from Stoeneṣti a life-time dowry: the delight of glass painting and memories of a land of angels.

Queen Sophie of Spain, delighted by Maria’s painting

In the year 1998, Stelian Oancea, ambassador of Romania to Madrid, had just presented his accreditation letters for taking up his post and, according to the diplomatic protocol, he had to present a gift that would be representative of his country. He found that a painting of Maria Constantinescu would be the most appropriate gift. The artist herself was present in Madrid, on the occasion of the opening of her exhibition, Blue Myth, in the capital of Spain. In the reception hall from Zarzuela Palace, Queen Sophie of Spain received the painting and, after considering it with a connoisseur’s eye, declared: “Splendid! This is something new! This composition emanates special light and warmth. One can feel the tradition of the Romanian people, but equally the modernity of the artistic touch! Please send my regards to the artist!” The painting she had made at the ambassador’s request represented a zodiac tree with a Capricorn – the star sign of the king of Spain, Juan Carlos, and a Scorpio – the symbol of queen Sophie, that surrounded the Capricorn and carried at the tip of its tail a royal lily, instead of a needle.

The long file of admirers

Thus, the queen of Spain joined a long file of admirers of Maria Constantinescu’s artistic creations. The first to confer upon her the distinction of value had been the art history professor of international reputation, Vasile Drǎguṭ, who had acknowledged from the very first exhibition her achievement of “an essential mutation in the art of glass painting”- by turning glass “from a simple base into a window towards the unknown”, emphasizing the fact that the artist’s paintings are the carriers of a profound and original message. Another landmark of the consideration that she enjoyed at the time of her exhibition debut, belonged to the “wonderful” Nicolae Steinhardt, a good friend who stated in The Lure of Reading: “Everything in Maria Constantinescu’s painting lies under the mark of abundance and miracle.” In his own turn, the Head of the Italian Cultural Institute in Bucharest remarked her due to a painting dedicated to Dante’s Limbo, the one that her mind would not comprehend as a child. It was this very limbo which would open her way towards Italy and international renown, because the Italian manager had proposed that she consider a new exhibition with the topic of Dante’s Divine Comedy. Her exhibition was so concretely successful that afterwards the artist acquired her first car, a “frog” Volkswagen. And additionally, for twelve years – between 1988 and 200, the Italian government funded her art grants to Milano and Rome, and the Cini Foundation sponsored her trips to Venice. In Italy, as in Romania, Maria Constantinescu received the credit of the most important European art critic from the second half of the 20th century, Gian Carlos Argan, dubbed “the Pope of art criticism”.

Also while in Italy, the French director of Romanian origin, Paul Barbǎneagrǎ, became her admirer and friend, as well as his wife, “the wonderful Rosie Barbǎneagrǎ”, as Maria calls her. They both adopted her as if she had been their own child, nicknaming her the “Little Angel” and when she somehow managed to upset Paul Barbǎneagrǎ he only called her yet another endearing nickname as a means of reproof – “Little Devil”. “I was always welcome in their Paris home”, the artist declares. She also recalls having wished to meet the director and that the moment of their meeting came of itself. “I was in Rome, at the Academia di Romania, in the year 1993, where I had been invited by Mrs. Zoe Buṣulenga, to make an exhibition for the Valle Julia Festival, and Paul Barbǎneagrǎ was supposed to arrive for a symposium on Mircea Eliade. I was asked to make a few pieces inspired by Eliade’s work and I worked on the subject of the Sacred. It was then that I met Paul”, Mara recounts. Subsequently, the director would write about Maria Constantinescu: “I must admit I do not comprehend the way she functions as a mythical memory relay between an extraordinarily coherent imagination and the pictorial requirements of the contemporary world. For me she reincarnates a myth.”

Although Maria Constantinescu has never received a prize in Romania, her art was awarded significant distinctions abroad. Her works are found at Cotroceni Palace, Mogoṣoaia Palace, in the Ploieṣti Art Museum, the National Traditional Art Museum in Viena and in the Glass Museum in Venice.

The pleasure of giving

Those who know Maria are familiar with her generosity. She enjoys making gifts, because she is convinced that “by giving you shall receive” and she would rather lose a fortune than fall apart with a relative or a friend. She cannot live with a heavy conscience, nor can she stop herself from being honest. Her gift is to embellish her habitat. She loves to lay out beautifully decorated tables for her friends, with Rosenthal cups sat over Cucuteni and Colibaba plates, in which she knows how to serve rich foods – some of them traditional, some of them invented by herself. She loves to make book covers and furniture pieces with painted glass panels. She is also writing books: she has a volume on the Romanian veiling, dedicated to the memory of her mother, Elena; another one that approaches topics connected to the traditional glass painting; a third volume is about the spiritual hierarchies in the Romanian traditional glass painting – “instead of a PhD”. She confesses being fascinated with the Arbore Monastery, which she saw one night during her student days. She says it looked like “a branch out of the sky”, and she adds that, while history can be forged, the fairy-tales preserve the truth asserting that good always prevails.