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Orreaga by N. Basterrechea

Basque Sculpture

The sculpture Orreaga by Nestor Basterrechea is displayed in the lobby of Getchell Library at the University of Nevada, Reno. It is on loan to the University from José Ramón Cengotitabengoa and Gema Egaña de Cengotitabengoa.


Informational text done in calligraphy is mounted near the sculpture to explain its meaning:

The sculpture Orreaga by Nestor Basterrechea depicts one of the epic events in Basque and European history—the attack by Basques on the rear guard of Charlemagne’s army as it passed through the Pyrenees. Its historical significance was transcended by its literary importance since it gave rise to the ballad Song of Roland, commemorating the death of the commander of Charlemagne’s troops. “Orreaga” is the Basque word for Roncevaux (French) or Roncesvalles (Spanish), site of the battle. The U-shaped base of the sculpture depicts the canyon in which Charlemagne’s forces were ambushed and trapped. The lower discoid represents the doomed army itself, while the upthrust forms superimposed upon it signify the chaotic cries of the dying men. The suspended discoid is both the avenging Basques and the bird of death descending upon its victims.
Another calligraphic text nearby gives viewers some background information about the artist:

Basque sculptor Nestor Basterrechea is a leading figure in the contemporary art world. His works have appeared in over twenty individual exhibits and as part of over 150 collective ones. Born in Bermeo, Bizkaia in 1924, he was exiled by the Spanish Civil War, living first in France (1936-1942) and then in Argentina (1942-1952).

He began his artistic career as a painter in the South American nation, winning, in 1949, Argentina’s prestigious “Premio Unico a Extranjeros” at the National Salon in Buenos Aires. In 1952 he returned to the Basque Country and was selected to paint the massive mural that adorns the crypt of the basilica of the Monastery of Aránzazu.

By 1960 Basterrechea expanded his artistic horizons, particularly in sculpture. He co-founded the experimental art groups “Equipo 57” and “Gaur.” He became a noted cinematographer, co-authoring Pelotari, Alquézar, and Ama-Lur. He is also a still photographer and writer. His poem, “Karraxix,” was put to music and performed in San Sebastián.

Nestor Basterrechea’s work has been described as an exploration of Basque character, universality, and beauty. His universality resides in the use of modern forms, making his work an integral part of the vanguard movement in Spain. The aesthetic beauty of his works has surprised critics, particularly at a time when beauty in art is often accorded little importance or even shunned. His expression of Basque character is most evident in the “Cosmogenic Series,” which transcend the silence of prehistorical time through Basque mythology expressed in the tangible images of his sculptures. The series is featured in the books about him entitled Nestor Basterrechea and Basterrechea Anthology. He has received considerable recognition in his own land and his sculptured design graces the assembly hall of the Basque Parliament in Vitoria-Gasteiz.

Most recently he was selected as the designer of the Monument to the Basque Sheepherder that has been constructed at Rancho San Rafael Park in Reno.


Copyright © 2000 the Center for Basque Studies, University of Nevada, Reno. All rights reserved. Updated 21 February 2002. E-mail: