«Urbano and Simona»


Norah Borges’s life and career were marked by literature from childhood, so much so that her first creations were literary ones, produced while she was still a girl. Coincidentally it was to be her brother, Jorge Luis Borges, who would dedicate his life to literature, while she developed as a plastic artist.

After receiving her training in Europe, Borges’s artistic development went almost hand in hand with avant-garde literature, with her illustrating movements like ultraism. But once she left this aesthetic behind and her return to order came about, Norah Borges continued to look to literature as a source of inspiration and intellectual development. We can therefore see a considerable number of works inspired by classical and contemporary literary publications.

Behind the characters

Her work “Urbano and Simona” depicts the main characters from Ramón Pérez de Ayala’s novels “Honeymoon, Bittermoon” and “The Trials of Urbano and Simona”. These are the first and second parts respectively of The Novels of Urbano and Simona (as both parts together are known), both published in 1923.

The novels tell the tangled tale of two innocent young people who, despite having married, are totally oblivious to everything to do with romantic intimacy, due to having received very little and inaccurate education on the matter. In the first part, the couple are taken to live in the countryside to see if their instincts are awakened once they are removed from everyone and are in touch with nature. In the second part, the story continues with the terrible news that Urbano’s family has fallen into ruin. Urbano, who has understood what marriage involves thanks to the help of a priest, is willing to seduce Simona and make her fall in love with him on a more physical level, while his family tries to annul their unconsummated marriage so that the young man can follow a religious life.

Beyond the main characters in the story, Urbano and Simona themselves, the role of the young couple’s mothers stands out, with the role of Urbano’s mother, Micaela Cano de Fano, being particularly important.
Both novels can be considered an essay on sex education in 1920s’ Spain, corresponding to a period in which the author put aside realism for this caricatural symbolism that characterises them.

The canvas was painted ten years after the publication of The Novels of Urbano and Simona, with a first version being produced in 1923 in the form of an engraving that was published in the magazine Alfar. The fact that Norah Borges chose such a recent work with such revolutionary content gives us a clue that we will find more revolutionary reflections behind its harmonious and calm aesthetic.