1902 Encyclopedia > Sculpture > Italian Sculpture - 17th and 18th Centuries.

(Part 26)

Italian Sculpture - 17th and 18th Centuries.

The chief sculptor and architect of the
17th century was the Neapolitan Bernini (1598-1680), who, with the aid of a large school of assistants, produced an almost incredible quantity of sculpture of the most varying degrees of merit and hideousness. His chief early group, the Apollo and Daphne in the Borghese casino, is a work of wonderful technical skill and delicate high finish, combined with soft beauty and grace, though too pictorial in style. In later life Bernini turned out work of brutal coarseness, designed in a thoroughly unsculpturesque spirit. The churches of Borne, the colonnade of St Peter's, and the bridge of S. Angelo are crowded with his clumsy colossal figures, half draped in wildly fluttering garments,—perfect models of what is worst in the plastic art. And yet his works re-ceived perhaps more praise than those of any other sculptor of any age, and after his death a scaffolding was erected outside the bridge of S. Angelo in order that people might walk round and admire his rows of feeble half-naked angels. For all that, Bernini was a man of undoubted talent, and in a better period of art would have been a sculptor of the first rank ; many of his portrait-busts are works of great vigour and dignity, quite free from the mannered extravagance of his larger sculpture. Stefano Maderna (1571-1636) was the ablest of his contempo-raries ; his clever and much admired statue, the figure of the dead S. Cecilia under the high altar of her basilica, is chiefly remarkable for its deathlike pose and the realistic treatment of the drapery. Another clever sculptor was Alessandro Algardi of Bologna (1598 7-1654).

18th Century

FIG. 22 -- Colossal marble group of Theseus and a centaur, by Canova, at Vienna.

In the next century at Naples Queirolo, Corradini, and eenth Sammartino produced a number of statues, now in the chapel of S. Maria de' Sangri, which are extraordinary examples of wasted labour and ignorance of the simplest canons of plastic art. These are marble statues enmeshed in nets or covered with thin veils, executed with almost deceptive realism, perhaps the lowest stage of tricky degradation into which the sculptor's art could possibly fall. In the 18th century Italy was naturally the headquarters of the classical revival, which spread thence throughout most of Europe. Canova (1757-1822), a Venetian by birth, who spent most of his life in Rome, was perhaps the leading spirit of this movement, and became the most popular sculptor of his time. His work is very unequal in merit, mostly dull and uninteresting in style, and is occa-sionally marred by a meretricious spirit very contrary to the true classic feeling. His group of the Three Graces, the Hebe, and the very popular Dancing-Girls, copies of which in plaster disfigure the stairs of countless modern hotels and other buildings on the Continent, are typical examples of Canova's worst work. Some of his sculpture is designed with far more of the purity of antique art; his finest work is the colossal group of Theseus slaying a Centaur at Vienna (see fig. 22). Canova's attempts at Christian sculpture are singularly unsuccessful, as, for ex-ample, his pretentious monument to Pope Clement XIII. in St Peter's at Rome, that to Titian at Venice, and Alfieri's tomb in the Florentine church of S. Croce. Fiesole has in this century produced one sculptor of great talent, named Bastianini. He worked in the style of the great 15th-century Florentine sculptors, and followed especially the methods of his distinguished fellow-townsman Mino da Fiesole. Many of Bastianini's works are hardly to be distinguished from genuine sculpture of the 15th century, and in some cases enormous prices have been paid for them under the supposition that they were mediaeval productions. These frauds were, however, perpetrated without Bastianini's knowledge.


570-1 The Ludovisi group of Pluto carrying off Proserpine is a striking example, and shows Bernini's deterioration of style in later life. It has nothing in common with the Cain and Abel or the Apollo and Daphne of his earlier years.

570-2 In the present century an Italian sculptor named Monti won much popular repute by similar unworthy tricks; some veiled statues by him in the London Exhibition of 1851 were greatly admired.

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