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The Prayer is a 1907 work by Romanian artist Constantin Brancusi. While he had produced many works beforehand as part of his schooling, this was his first commissioned piece as a professional artist.
The patron requested it as part of a memorial display for a deceased loved one's grave. It depicts a young woman kneeling on the ground, her head bowed and her arms crossed over her heart. She has slightly textured mid-length hair but seems to be wearing no clothing. As the piece's name suggests, she is clearly praying. The sculpture itself is made of metal and was cast from a plaster sculpt that was prepared separately first. Very soon after it was completed, Brancusi began to drift away from this method of sculpture, making this piece notable among the ones he would later create using direct carving techniques.
The Prayer marks the beginning of Brancusi's evolution away from traditional forms in his sculpture work. While it still depicts a clearly recognizable subject, it does not attempt a fully realistic rendering of a praying girl. Rather, it slightly sharpens some of the areas where smooth curves would exist and incorporates elements of Byzantine art in the rounded and simple shapes of the face. These choices draw attention away from the figure herself and let the viewer focus on her pose and its symbolism instead. The piece's serene, almost angelic silhouette is highly distinct and is perhaps the most important part of its overall composition.
This considered approach is also evident in the relative lack of details that can be observed on the sculpture. The girl's blank expression and nude but simplified body allow the viewer to see her not as an individual, but as a true representation of the sacred itself. The piece's overall appearance is fittingly ethereal considering the its intended purpose as part of a memorial. This stylized yet evocative look would come to be a hallmark of Brancusi's work in the years to follow. Through abstraction, he encourages the viewer to think about his work in terms of high-concept themes. This particular piece is emblematic of piety, depicting a scene of pure devotion.
Brancusi's The Prayer is not just a beautiful grave ornament; because of its striking simplicity and beauty, it has become a popular subject for prints and replicas that you can find in homes and businesses all over the world. It has even been featured on a Romanian postage stamp alongside many of Brancusi's more famous later works. While it may not be as well known as some of the other pieces in this artist's body of work, The Prayer remains a recognizable and well-loved work that has achieved notoriety far beyond its commissioner's intentions.