Francis Alÿs, Fabiola, vue d'installation | installation view, National Portrait Gallery, Londres, 2009.
photo : Mahtab Hussain / National Portrait Gallery, Londres, permission | courtesy Francis AlÿsFrancis Alÿs, Fabiola, vue d'installation | installation view, National Portrait Gallery, Londres, 2009. photos : Mahtab Hussain / National Portrait Gallery, Londres, permission | courtesy Francis Alÿs

Fabiola is an installation of over 300 portraits of a fourth-century Christian saint collected by the artist from flea markets and antique shops throughout Europe and the Americas. These seemingly identical portraits, including paintings, embroideries and miniatures are all copies of a lost original of Fabiola by the French nineteenth-century painter, Jean-Jacques Henner. 

A majority of the Fabiolas on display are anonymous with limited provenance, and many are in poor condition and unframed. Viewed together, the cohesiveness of the display rests not only in the fact that all the images are of the same subject, but that they all adhere to the same strict iconographic formula – Fabiola is depicted in profile with her head covered in a rich red veil. 

The stylistic differences between the portraits offer a window onto changing aesthetic, social and religious values over the past century. This collection of Fabiolas could be viewed as either an ensemble of academic and amateur copies or a trove of religious artefacts, and as Alÿs has stated, the phenomenon of assiduous copying indicates a different criterion of what a masterwork could be.

Francis Alÿs, Fabiola, vue d’installation | installation view, National Portrait Gallery, Londres, 2009.
photos : Mahtab Hussain / National Portrait Gallery, Londres, permission | courtesy Francis Alÿs
This article also appears in the issue 71 - Inventories
Discover

Suggested Reading