Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Spring at Palazzo Fortuny: Avere Una Bella Cera, Wax Figures in Venice and in Italy exhibition.

photograph and copyright Manfredi Bellati

Spring at Palazzo Fortuny: Avere Una Bella Cera, Wax Figures in Venice and in Italy. The world’s first exhibition on wax portraits is on at Palazzo Fortuny, Avere Una Bella Cera, Wax Figures in Venice and in Italy, until June 25.  It analyses a field that has been studied very little by art historians: that of life-size wax figures.  The project was inspired by two fortunate coincidences, the existence of a series of life- size wax portraits in Venice’s public collections and churches, and the centenary of the publication of the “History of Portraiture in Wax”, written by the famous Viennese art historian Julius von Schlosser and the first work devoted to the history of wax portraits. A superb Italian translation of Schlosser’s work by Andrea Daninos, curator of the Venice exhibition, has recently been published, complete with an extensive and detailed critical commentary.

Palazzo Fortuny: Avere Una Bella Cera. The Venetian exhibition is the outcome of more than three years of research and, for the first time, it brings together nearly all of the extant sculptures in Italy, most of which unpublished or never displayed before
.  The rooms of Palazzo Fortuny, considered a major attraction for art lovers visiting Venice, are beautifully transformed with an exhibition project by Daniela Ferretti, into a veritable wax museum, re-creating the fascinating atmosphere that always surrounds such displays.
Above: Andrea Daninos curator of the exhibition and Daniela Ferretti who conceived the exhibition project.

Palazzo Fortuny: Avere Una Bella Cera.  The exhibition has several sculptures by two artists who worked outside Italy, anticipating Madame Tussaud’s famous museum. This section present the portrait of Marie Caroline de Bourbon-Sicile by Joseph Müller-Deym, a mysterious Austrian nobleman who owned a famous wax museum in Vienna in the 18th century, and the works that the Piedmontese Francesco Orso, who opened a similar wax exhibition in Paris during the period of the French Revolution, made for the Savoyard court: the busts of Victoria of Savoy-Soissons (above top c.1780-85), Victor Amadeus III of Savoy and Maria Antonia Ferdinanda de Bourbon (above bottom c. 1780-85).


Palazzo Fortuny: Avere Una Bella Cera. The exhibition itinerary continues with the faces of saints and criminals, two recurrent subjects in the ceroplastic tradition. The former are represented by twelve busts of Franciscans (above), made of wax and with glass eyes and real hair; datable to the 18th century, they are unique in religious iconography made of wax. They will be juxtaposed with a series of twelve wax portraits of criminals modeled in the late 19th century by Lorenzo Tenchini, a pupil of Cesare Lombroso. Three wax busts, the only Italian examples of anthropological portraits, will be displayed alongside them. Depicting a Caucasian, an Ethiopian (above c. 1867) and a Bedouin, they were made by Remigio Lei, a wax model maker from Modena, in the second half of the 19th century for the ethnographic-anthropological collection of the local anatomical museum.

photographs and copyright by Manfredi Bellati

Palazzo Fortuny: Avere Una Bella Cera. The main section of the exhibition is devoted to wax portraiture in Italy, is introduced by two life-size figures of 18th-century Venetian children in period costumes (above c. 1790-95). The two works, cited by Schlosser and Mario Praz (the latter compared them to the leading figures in Henry James’s novel The Turn of the Screw), have long been in the storerooms of the Palazzo Mocenigo and have not been displayed publicly for decades. Their unrivalled craftsmanship and disturbing realism will unquestionably astonish visitors. 

  photograph courtesy Palazzo Fortuny

Palazzo Fortuny: Avere Una Bella Cera. The Bologna School, in which the art of life-size wax portraiture was extremely popular, will be represented by a series of works by Luigi Dardani, Filippo Scandellari and Angelo Gabriello Piò.
Above: Luigi Dardini’s Francesco Zambeccari, 1750 circa Bologna.
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