The Casa di Ortega project, created by the Zètema Foundation of Matera, was conceived with the dual intention of documenting the presence in Matera of the great Spanish artist Josè Ortega and of encouraging the rediscovery and valorization of the local artisan tradition.
The exhibition areas host the works created by Ortega in the 70s, during his stay in Matera, and entrusted by him to friends of the Circolo La Scaletta. These are twenty polychrome bas-reliefs that make up the two narrative series "Pasaron" and "Muerte y Nacimiento". Ortega executed these panels in collaboration with the master craftsmen of Matera using the ancient papier-mâché technique in an innovative way and it is precisely these pictorial productions that constitute the underlying theme of the project which aims to highlight the importance of the link between noble art and ancient crafts . To underline this fruitful relationship, the rooms, divided according to an ideal domestic use (dining room, bedroom, living room, kitchen), are embellished with furnishings and decorations made by local artisans. These valuable artefacts frame the works of the Spanish master, thus creating a dialogue that stands out in the visitor's eyes due to the harmonious naturalness with which the parts interact. In this perspective, the ceramic-plastic productions of the Matera artisan Giuseppe Mitarotonda, who was a close collaborator of Josè Ortega, play a leading role.
The House of Ortega is located in Sasso Barisano in via San Nicola del Sole, a road axis that follows the perimeter of the ancient city walls.
The palace, dating back to the 17th century, was built on an ancient Lombard fortress in a dominant position of great environmental beauty. In the late seventeenth century the entire building underwent a remodeling work, with the expansion of the rooms located to the east and the construction of the entrance portal and the balcony embellished with worked columns. Following the Sassi redevelopment laws, the property was emptied of its original inhabitants and was uninhabited and unused for over thirty years. In the 70s it was partly purchased by the Spanish artist Josè Ortega and, after his death, his heirs authorized the donation of the building to the Zétema Foundation with the restriction of museum use. Now, thanks to the recovery project, it has been returned to a qualified cultural function and saved from degradation and abandonment.
To create the cycles "Pasaron" and "Muerte y Nacimiento" Ortega experiments with the possibility of giving "three-dimensionality" to his painting through the use of papier-mâché. Together with the master papier mâché makers of Matera, the artist creates terracotta bas-reliefs from which he creates plaster casts in which the paper mixture is moulded. The works modeled in this way are fixed on a wooden scaffolding and, finally, painted. Colors are fundamental protagonists of Ortega's art, bright colours, rendered with clear brushstrokes, which give a traditional, poor and recyclable material an aura of sacredness. The chromatic choices take on a fundamental semantic value: white and yellow, colors of life and spring flowering; the red of passion and tragedy, of the flag and blood; the black of the forces of death and military uniforms; the purple of martyrdom; the blue of the fist and the revolt. The artist translates the teachings of other illustrious predecessors into a unique and unmistakable style: the dark atmospheres of El Greco, some themes of Goya, the anatomical deformations of Picasso, the masses of color and lines of Mirò. The bas-reliefs tell of the conflicts, evil and dictatorship that, in every country and in every era, crush man, whose redemption occurs thanks to passion and struggle, in an uninterrupted succession of cycles of death and birth.