Maiastra is a towering sculpture, more than seven feet tall, with four distinct parts. The lower sections are made of limestone and comprise two rectilinear blocks separated by a roughly hewn carving that Brancusi exhibited in 1908 as an independent sculpture, titled Double Caryatid. Perched atop this tower, a marble bird—the magical Romanian fairy-tale creature for which the sculpture is named—is reduced to its defining characteristics: ovoid body, elongated neck, beak, and plume of tail feathers. Maiastra is Brancusi’s first work to feature a bird, a subject to which he would return throughout his career.
As a composite of disparate elements, Maiastra is exemplary of the artist’s practice. Brancusi believed that the base was a crucial component of a sculpture, and in making many of his works he experimented with a variety of bases until arriving at a combination of elements he found satisfying, often documenting the work photographically along the way. In Maiastra the rounded, smoothly polished surface of the marble bird contrasts sharply with both the stark angularity of the limestone blocks and the coarsely textured schematic carving of Double Caryatid. For the artist, this juxtaposition of materials and methods embodied the perpetual dialogue between the spiritual dimension and everyday reality.
Publication excerpt from From MoMA Highlights: 375 Works from The Museum of Modern Art, New York (New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 2019)
Maiastra is Brancusi’s first sculpture of a bird. Its title refers to a mythical creature from Romanian legend. Carved from white marble, the work’s streamlined form accentuates the bird’s elongated neck, swollen chest, and tail feathers, imparting a regal elegance commensurate with the subject on which it is based. Maiastra sits perched on a tall tripartite limestone base, the central component of which began as a freestanding sculpture of two figures bearing a stone on their heads, called Double Caryatid. (A caryatid is an architectural support typically carved in the form of a woman.) Maiastra marks the first time the artist incorporated an existing sculpture into a pedestal, a practice he would continue throughout his career.
Gallery label from Constantin Brancusi Sculpture, 2018