Epic proportions

Spanish sculptor Manel Alvarez exhibits his series of biblical stories.

Manel Alvarez Working on Moses 311 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Manel Alvarez Working on Moses 311
(photo credit: Courtesy)
When Spanish sculptor Manel Alvarez was looking for a new project, he was inspired by a basalt quarry next to his home near Barcelona. Sunlight caused the basalt columns to flash like lightning.
Since childhood, he has associated lightning and thunder with the Israelites’ exodus from Egypt and other biblical stories involving Moses.
The lightning vision inspired Alvarez to begin a new sculpture series about stories from the Old Testament.
Seventeen of those works are part of an upcoming exhibition, “Inspired: Manel Alvarez on the Bible,” at the Bible Lands Museum Jerusalem. The museum’s first exhibition of modern art in almost a decade runs from April 6 to October 31.
Alvarez, who is not Jewish but studied the Old Testament while growing up in Spain, began working on his biblical collection in 2001, after completing a series of African-themed sculptures. “People always ask me when I’m going to finish the collection, but I feel like I just started,” he said. “I want to show it more than I want to make money from it.”
Alvarez’s biblical sculptures, which are made of bronze, wood, iron and marble, depict figures such as Joseph and his brothers, Moses, Joshua and Saul, and themes such as the Golden Calf and the Tree of Knowledge. The largest sculpture in the exhibition is Alvarez’s depiction of the Tower of Babel, which stands 12 meters high and is carved out of marble from Carrara, Italy. The Tower of Babel piece and a sculpture of the tribe of Ephraim will be displayed in the museum’s entrance plaza; the rest of Alvarez’s works can be seen inside the museum and in its biblical garden.
Alvarez’s favorite piece in the collection is the Tower of Babel because of its size and complexity.
According to Genesis, the construction of the tower angered God so much that the universal language was abolished and people started speaking new languages, which caused humans to no longer understand one another and move to other lands. Alvarez’s sculpture of the tower includes letters from various alphabets and waves of water moving in different directions at the tower’s base.
Alvarez’s sculpture of the Golden Calf, made of black granite and bronze, is meant to depict an idol with a commanding presence. “The Israelites were afraid when Moses left them alone in the desert, and they made this calf to feel protected,” said Alvarez. “Granite is like basalt – it is a powerful stone, and I wanted it to add to the power of the shining golden calf on top of it. I wanted people to understand how the Israelites could feel protected by this.”
None of Alvarez’s biblical sculptures depict themes from the New Testament. “For Christians and Jews, the Old Testament is the same,” said Alvarez. “The Old Testament is universal. The New Testament is limited to Christians because it is more focused on the personality of Jesus Christ.”
Alvarez made two sculptures for the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta, and he has other works on display in the Spanish Royal Household and the headquarters of CNN and Nestlé. He is also constructing a monument that will stand at the entrance to the Panama Canal.
A book about Alvarez’s biblical collection will be available for purchase at the Bible Lands Museum.
The book’s introduction was written by Luis Bassat, one of Alvarez’s Jewish friends and a prominent advertising executive in Spain. Alvarez once asked Bassat if he had any suggestions to help him avoid mistakes while sculpting. Bassat recommended that he read the Bible.
Alvarez hopes to display his biblical pieces in the US when the exhibition ends.
For more information about the Bible Lands Museum Jerusalem, visit www.blmj.org.