Curated by Sergej Androsov – Massimo Bertozzi
June 13-October 4, 2015
Encompassing a period from the end of the 18th century to the middle of the following century, the exhibition focuses in particular on the transition from neoclassical to verist sculpture, thus underscoring a precise change of season, where the transition is determined from an institutional and academic status, even in indicating reference models and style, to a prestigious patronage, especially in terms of quality of taste, as well as fame and economic availability, capable of launching marble and sculpture to new fortunes.
And all this relying not only on the historical legacy of a centuries-old tradition, but on the qualities of sculpture itself, for how statues that are collected to be exhibited to the public, became instruments of aesthetic knowledge and taste formation, combining together education in the poetic and spiritual quality of images and the recognition of the value of a material and the skills of a craft.
On this occasion, 16 marble sculptures from the Hermitage Museum, 7 plaster casts owned by the Academy of Fine Arts in Carrara as well as a copy by Lorenzo Bartolini kept at the Massa Art Institute will be on display: these are exemplary works of the collecting taste of Tsar Nicholas I, a lover of modern sculpture housed at the New Hermitage, related to the Carrarese School and its major protagonists.
At the end of 1845 Nicholas I, Tsar of all the Russias, visited Italy, and he did so privately, swelling the ranks of that singular artistic pilgrimage, called the “Grand Tour,” which was at once a path of education and an exotic discovery of the Mediterranean world.
During his stay in Rome, where he arrived on December 13, the Tsar not only visited the city’s landmarks and principal monuments, but was also accompanied to the ateliers of the principal sculptors established in Rome, including those of Pietro Tenerani and Luigi Bienaimè from Carrara.
Nicholas I looks and acts like a collector: his purpose is actually to purchase or commission works for the Modern Sculpture Hall, which he intends to set up in the New Hermitage, Russia’s first imperial museum, being built right next to the Winter Palace.
Marking the path and connotations of the exhibition are indeed sculptures by a forerunner such as Giovanni Antonio Cybei, who was the first director of the Academy of Fine Arts in Carrara, by Lorenzo Bartolini, who directed the Institute during the Napoleonic period, and by Antonio Canova, who had not only the important contribution of an extraordinary and unique material from Carrara but also some outstanding pupils.
Above all, the exhibition points out the branches in Italy and Europe, of the sculptors who trained in Carrara and then determined the new directions of sculpture after the neoclassical period: beginning with Lorenzo Bartolini himself in Florence, Pietro Tenerani, Luigi Bienaimè and Carlo Finelli in Rome, Christian Daniel Rauch in Berlin, the Triscornia genius in Petersburg, and to some extent, in the wake of Benedetto Cacciatori, Carlo Finelli again in Milan.
On this occasion, therefore, prestigious sculptures, appreciated from their first appearance and then codified as the mirror of an era by art history, return to Carrara, and it will suffice to mention Antonio Canova’s Orpheus or Lorenzo Bartolini’s Trust in God, Pietro Tenerani’s fainting Psyche, Luigi Bienaimè’s Love with Pigeons or Carlo Finelli’s Venus in the Shell.
The Hermitage sculptures are flanked by, seven plaster casts, with precise references to the works in the exhibition, kept at the Carrara Academy, and a hitherto unknown copy of Trust in God, kept at the Massa Art Institute, following a path that starts with a sculptor founding a school, where from the very beginning artists destined for schooling were trained, reviving the activity of workshops and laboratories, where the daily immanence of the most aristocratic of art subjects is renewed: Carrara marble.
Antonio Canova (Possagno 1757 – Venice 1822)
Universally considered the greatest exponent of Neoclassicism, Antonio Canova was one of the foremost sculptors of any era, soon to be called “the new Phidias” for this reason.
His training and apprenticeship took place entirely in Venice, where he made his first sculptures and won his first awards.
At the age of twenty-two, he moved to Rome, where he won a leading role in the last season of European prominence in Italian art.
An absolute singer of ideal beauty, devoid of affectation, condensed in groups of figures, such as the Three Graces or the two different versions of Cupid and Psyche, in such absolute masterpieces as the Italic Venus and Pauline Borghese, Antonio Canova had a decisive influence in determining the character and quality of European sculpture between the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.
Lorenzo Bartolini (Prato 1777 – Florence 1850).
After his Florentine training, he moved to Paris in 1799, where he attended David’s studio and came to general attention.
Thanks to the interest of the imperial family, he was appointed professor of sculpture at the Academy of Fine Arts in Carrara in 1807 and became the official sculptor of the Bonaparte family.
From 1815 he returned to Florence, where it was not easy for him to make people forget his recent political ties and especially to profess his now decidedly anti-classical artistic ideas.
However, he found several admirers in the foreign colony settled in Florence, and the qualities of his sculpture were soon recognized in Italy and abroad.
Among his best-known works, at least Trust in God and the Scorpion Nymph, praised without half-measures by Baudelaire when it was presented at the Paris Salon of 1845, should be noted.
Carlo Finelli (Carrara 1782 – Rome 1853)
Carlo Finelli began his artistic training in Florence, then moved to Milan, and from there to Rome, where he attended Canova’s studio, and immediately gained wide appreciation, so much so that as early as 1814 he was appointed academician of San Luca.
He began from this time an intense production of works, mainly on mythological subjects, to meet the needs of a wealthy international collector, especially English and Russian, producing among other things his masterpiece, the Dancing Hours in the Hermitage in St. Petersburg.
Despite widespread recognition, from the 1930s onward Finelli moved completely away from mythological subjects, which were too closely linked to the neoclassical season, to deal with themes of religious intonation, in accordance with an interest that was becoming increasingly widespread in purist circles, especially in Rome.
After studying at the Academy of Fine Arts in Carrara, he moved to Rome in 1814 to specialize with Antonio Canova and Bertel Thorvaldsen, and then embarked on an independent career, soon gaining wide acclaim and great recognition.
His works were soon sought after by the most prestigious collectors; his portraits, transfigured in his particular sense of the real, were highly coveted by the most famous personalities throughout Europe; some of his subject sculptures were replicated over and over again, to accommodate increasingly numerous and demanding requests.
Among the subscribers to the manifesto of Italian purism, he became in 1856 president of the Accademia di San Luca, then in 1858 president of the Capitoline Museums, and finally from 1860 director of the Vatican Museums.
Christian Daniel Rauch (Arolsen, 1777 – Dresden, 1857)After training with Johann Gottfried Schadow, Rauch, like many European sculptors of his generation, carried out a long period of further training in Italy, supplementing his long stays in Rome with frequent visits to Carrara, where he made important monumental sculptures, such as the cenotaph of Queen Louise for the Charlottemburg mausoleum.
One of the leading figures of the so-called Berlin School, Rauch contributed to the formal renewal of German sculpture, and with his extraordinary activity as a portrait painter, to direct the taste of the German aristocracy toward a more natural classicism that was less conditioned by antiquarian-style idealism.
Giovanni Antonio Cybei (Carrara 1706 – 1784)
After proving his youthful predisposition by following in the footsteps of his uncle, the sculptor Giovanni Baratta, Cybei completed his training in Rome, following Agostino Cornacchini, with whom he collaborated on the equestrian statue of Charlemagne in St. Peter’s.
Returning to Carrara, and inheriting his uncle’s workshop, Cybei updated his style to the new canons of European sculpture, connoting it with his own neoclassical approach.
After making sculptures and monuments in numerous Italian cities, and placing works at major European courts, in 1789 Cybei was appointed to organize as director the newly founded Carrara Academy of Fine Arts.
Luigi Bienaimè (Carrara 1785 – Rome 1878)
Having attended the Accademia di Belle Arti in Carrara, he moved in 1818 to Rome, where he entered the studio of Bertel Thorvaldsen, to remain there, as a helper and then as director, until the Danish master’s death.
In this capacity he executed by his own hand numerous copies of Thorvaldsen’s sculptures, not neglecting the creation of his own works of invention, which, although influenced by the master’s style, denote a charge of sentiment, entirely alien to the Danish master’s style.
Highly esteemed by Tsar Nicholas I, Louis Bienaimé worked extensively for the court and aristocracy of St. Petersburg, a city in which numerous copies of his most famous sculptures are preserved.
Upon Thorvaldsen’s death, he also inherited his post as a member emeritus at the Academy of St. Luke.
Paolo Andrea Triscornia (Carrara 1757-1833)
A professor of sculpture at the Academy since 1803, he produced during the Napoleonic period a long series of portraits of the imperial family, including Pauline Borghese and Joseph Bonaparte, which he executed in the government workshops of the Elysian Bank.
Beginning in 1817 his workshop worked almost exclusively for the tsarist court, where he executed mainly copies from the antique, of particular significance and monumental layout, including the life-size copy of the Laocoon, that of the Medici Lions, for the Ministry of War, and the large-scale copy of the Dioscuri del Quirinale, for the Manege.
In the work done for St. Pietruburg he was joined by his son Alexander, who stayed in Russia for about a quarter of a century.