Arriving aboard a black hearse, the coffin was greeted by a hedge of soldiers in Botero Square, next to the Museum of Antioquia which houses hundreds of paintings and sculptures donated by the artist to the city, AFP found.

Medellin thus begins three days of tributes to the memory of the artist before the burial of his ashes in Pietrasanta (northern Italy), alongside his wife the Greek painter and sculptor Sophia Vari, who died in May.

"Botero forever," cheered a woman in her sixties, dressed in black and draped in a Colombian flag, who watched the event from behind a security fence.

The remains of Colombian painter and sculptor Fernando Botero, who died on September 15 at the age of 91, honored at the Antioquia Museum in Medellin, Colombia, September 26, 2023 © Fredy BUILES / AFP

Hundreds of admirers cheered for a long time as the funeral procession made its way to the museum, where several speeches were given by friends of the maestro, family members and recipients of his donations or scholarships.

"I believe that the most precious thing my grandfather left us (...) is the deep love of work and the importance of finding a vocation that gives meaning to life," said his grandson, Felipe Botero.

"Diplomat of Colombian culture"

The famous master of volume, one of the most sought-after artists of the last 40 years, died on September 15 at the age of 91 in Monaco from pneumonia. The body will remain at the Museum of Antioquia on Tuesday and Wednesday. On Thursday, after a ceremony at the Metropolitan Cathedral of Medellin, the remains of the artist will be cremated and the ashes transported to Italy.

Botero has been a major patron of the arts, with donations estimated at over $200 million. He has donated to the museums of Medellin and Bogotá many of his works and dozens of paintings from his private collection, including Picasso, Monet, Renoir, Miro ...

His many sculptures are also visible outdoors in several capitals of the world, the artist believing that exhibitions in public spaces are a "revolutionary rapprochement" of art with the public.

For one of the master's sons, Juan Pablo Botero, writer and chronicler, his father "created his own original universe (...) populated by hundreds of characters, the vast majority of whom are inspired by his native land. Everything came out of this beautiful and suffering country that is Colombia, tortured by poverty and tormented by violence, which he loved with all his heart until the day of his death."

Anonymous people at the foot of the sculpture "Roman soldier" by Colombian painter and sculptor Fernando Botero, during tributes in Medellin, his hometown, on September 26, 2023 © Fredy BUILES / AFP

In Botero Square, which houses more than 20 bronze sculptures by the artist, dozens of onlookers took the opportunity to be photographed at the foot of the massive works.

"It's like coming to make a gesture of gratitude for everything he has done for the city," said Juan Pablo Gongora, a 20-year-old student.

Between the 1980s and 1990s, Medellin was the epicenter of an urban war involving the powerful cartel of drug trafficker Pablo Escobar. In the 2000s, it was also the scene of a bloody episode of internal conflict that tore the country apart for decades. A violence that marked Botero's work.

For May Perez, retired, Botero "was a diplomat of Colombian culture. He never ceased to depict customs, life, positive and negative things: war, peace, poverty, abundance."

© 2023 AFP