In the Paris of the end of the 19th Century, high society gentlemen were prepared to do anything for a portrait by Giovanni Boldini. But when the painter met the eighteen-year-old Chilean Concha Emiliana de Ossa, he was so fascinated that he himself asked her to pose for him. With the synthetic pastels just out on the market, he painted her on a large canvas “as beautiful as a lover”, fragile and hypnotic, the light passing through a wispy white dress and her translucent skin speckled in pink. It was a huge success - the irresistible femininity of Concha, the technique of Boldini and his rare ability to infuse soul into his portraits triumphed at the World’s Fair in Paris in 1889, winning a gold medal. The artist from Ferrara couldn’t let go of his creation - he gave the Concha family a second version of the painting and kept the original in his study for the rest of his life. Upon Boldini’s death, his widow Emilia Cardona gave the Pastello Bianco to the Italian State which placed it in the Pinacoteca of Brera. Here began a new chapter in the history of the painting. Contrary to the marketing claims of the pastel makers at the end of the 1800s, the pastels used by Boldini were anything but inalterable - the colours soon began to turn to dust, transforming the look of the painting. Only at the start of the 2000s did a delicate restoration return it to its lost splendour, allowing a pastel portrait worthy of Raphael Mengs and Rosalba Carriera to express all the modern and magnetic femininity of the Belle Époque.
The Human Project brings us on an interdisciplinary journey which retraces the story of the relationship between humans and their artificial doubles, from the first automatons to cyborgs, from androids to the emotional robots of today.