Mattia Jona, Master Drawings and Prints, Japanese Prints - Piazzetta Guastalla 5, 20122 Milan, Italy, tel (+39) 02 8053315

Vincenzo Gemito, small head of Medusa


This bronze is a fine example of Gemito's work in the last part of his life, when he resumed sculpting after recovering from the mental collapse which cut off his activity for almost two decades. The gold patina, the great attention to the quality of the cast and the masterly chisel-work, especially in the hair, suggest the refinement of a goldsmith; and, in fact, Gemito's rebirth as a sculptor in the beginning of the 20th century was marked by his fascinations with the goldsmith's together with the themes of the classical art. However, the attention to detail and refinement of craftsmanship do not affect the skill of the great sculptor; if we look indeed at the volumes of this small head we can see a creation full of power and dynamic flow.
We have directly compared our bronze with the two waxes of the same subject which are at the Museo dell'Ottocento, in Milan. One of them is the original wax modeled by Gemito (inv. GAM  6538), the other one has been cast from the final plaster cast (inv. GAM  6535). Our exemplar shows elements from both versions and at the same time is different from both. The bronze has almost the same hair and wings as the original wax (but they are extensively chiseled) conversely the neck is very similar to the one of the cast wax, but with just one snake instead of two.
Our bronze compares well, for the masterly chisel-work, with some beautiful sculptures in the neo-hellenistic taste exhibited in Naples, at Villa Pignatelli, in 2009. See, for example, the Medaglione raffigurante Alessandro Magno and, especially, the Coppa con Medusa. See D. M. Pagano, Gemito, exhibition catalogue, Naples, 2009; for the Coppa pages 190/191, cat. no. 68; for the 'Medaglione' pages 216/217, cat. no 86.

Alessandro Salamone

Vincenzo Gemito, one of the premier Italian sculptors of the 19th century, was essentially self-taught. Discovered on the foundling hospital's doorstep and adopted by a poor artisan, Gemito got work in a sculptor's studio when he was a boy. In his youth, he worked for two local sculptors, Emanuele Caggiano and Stanislao Lista, but neither seems to have had much stylistic influence on him. Gemito's realistic representations of Neapolitan street life marked a dramatic shift from earlier artists' sentimentalizing. His sculpture was so immediately alive and strong that he became famous at a very early age. Gemito sold a statue to the city of Naples when he was sixteen years old; and he was only twenty-one years old when he was commissioned to model the portrait of Giuseppe Verdi. Gemito's Pescatorello (Neapolitan Fisherboy) brought him acclaim at the 1877 Paris Salon, and he stayed in Paris for three years.
Gemito was also an immensely gifted draughtsman. After completing an important public commission, the portrait of Charles V, in 1887, he suffered a mental collapse and gave up sculpture almost entirely: he withdrew to one room, concentrating on drawing and seeing few friends. Around 1909 Gemito resumed sculpting, incorporating Hellenistic influences into his work, inspired by the works of art that the diggings of Pompeii and Herculaneum had brought to light and which were exhibited in the Archeological Museum in Naples. His sculpture demonstrated a delicate sensitivity and detail that ultimately derived from his drawings.


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