Changes in the language of plastic arts at the turn of 2 centuries.

Vir Temporis Acti (Ancient man) (1914/1914) by Adolfo WildtGalleria d'Arte Moderna - Milano

Hebe (1796/1796) by Antonio CanovaGalleria d'Arte Moderna - Milano


This sculpture depicts Hebe, the daughter of Zeus and Hera, as she serves nectar to the gods. Its beauty embodies the canonical ideals that experimentalists sought to capture between the 18th and 19th centuries: her ethereal face, the fluid lines of the garments that outline and caress her body, and the graceful gesture of her arm holding the amphora are in harmony with the elegant motion of this young woman, who almost seems to float. The pure white plaster cast from 1798 is considered to be one of the most singular works of Venice-based artist Antonio Canova. It was the original model for the statue and was used to make the first 2 marble figures. These are now kept at the National Gallery in Berlin and the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg. The 2 other 1808 versions of Hebe (one in the Devonshire Collection at Chatsworth House and the other at the Pinacoteca Comunale gallery in Forlì) are different mainly in their support structures, since the artificial cloud has been replaced with a simple tree trunk.  

Vestal Virgin (1818/1819) by Antonio CanovaGalleria d'Arte Moderna - Milano

Vestal Virgin

Starting with his bust of Clio or Calliope in 1811 (at the Musée Fabre in Montpellier), Canova created his idealized head sculpture series in the second decade of the 19th century. Inspired by antiquity, and perhaps the idealization of existing female portraits, the heads are a depiction of beauty, with each expressing a different emotional nuance.  Their creation also required less commitment than full-length statues, and allowed him to manage requests from an almost limitless number of buyers: so much so that, after 1815, they served as gifts to the British, who had helped to recover the artworks of the Papal State taken by the French. In Vestal Virgin, Canova minimizes the details so as to focus on the relationship between the figure's perfect, hieratic face and the drapery. The subject was replicated in 3 marble works: one was sent to Frederick Webb in London in 1819 (today it is kept at the Calouste Gulbenkian Museum in Lisbon); another was delivered to Paolo Marulli d’Ascoli in Naples in January 1822, and is today kept at the J. Paul Getty Museum in Malibu. This one was sold to the Milanese banker Luigi Uboldi in 1819. He left it to the Brera Academy in his will, which in turn sold it to the new GAM in 1902.

Venus (1855/1855) by Pompeo MarchesiGalleria d'Arte Moderna - Milano


Pompeo Marchesi is considered the Lombard heir to the sculptor Antonio Canova, to whom he paid tribute throughout his long career as an artist, with these references and idealist allusions evoking some of the Venetian master's finest works. The 2 met and visited each other during Canova's stay in Rome between 1804 and 1808, when the young artist from Como created Pauline Bonaparte as Venus Victrix, from which Marchesi drew inspiration for his image of Venus. This later work, also known as the "Erotic Venus," is one of the variations of the 1826 Venus Pudica. However, it differs in its more provocative pose and attitude (the bust and breasts were partially concealed by a sheet in the first version) and by the presence of a net. This is a reference to a Homeric episode that describes Vulcan's discovery of Venus' betrayal with Mars, both harnessed to the marital bed by an invisible net that he positioned there in order to catch them in the act.

La leggitrice (Girl Reading) (1864/1864) by Pietro MagniGalleria d'Arte Moderna - Milano

The Reading Girl

This piece depicts a girl reading, captured within the intimacy of a peaceful domestic setting on an old-fashioned chair. The sculpture clearly evokes the model created by Francesco Hayez, taking the strongly accented naturalism of Vincenzo Vela's Morning Prayer (which this work seems to echo) to an extreme. This work represents one of the most significant moments in the Lombard figurative evolution of the 19th century, distancing itself from the academic style to develop a new language: the lexicon of a new generation of artists and of a sculptural school—the so-called Milan School, to which Pietro Magni was a key contributor. It was presented for the first time at the annual Brera Exhibition in 1856, along with the more ambitious and lauded piece, Socrates, and went mostly unnoticed as a result. The more progressive Milan-based critics came out against it, led by Rovani, harshly criticizing the passive reinterpretation of Hayez' model and its overly faithful recreation. However, it was met with surprising success 5 years later at the first National Exhibition of Florence in 1861. There, the artist presented a different version with an effigy of Garibaldi around the girl's neck and a poem dedicated to the hero written on the volume she is holding. The hugely successful, award-winning piece was purchased by the Ministry of Education, which sent it to Turin. It also asked the artist to create a number of replicas, one of which was donated to the Brera Academy, and another of which was sent to London in 1862, before finally joining the collection of the National Gallery of Washington after a series of handovers. Magni did his best to meet the extraordinary demand he received for commissions, based on the unexpected success of the work at exhibitions. It was displayed at a number of major events of this kind, including in Paris in 1867, Vienna in 1873, Santiago in Chile in 1875, and Philadelphia in 1876.

Ishmael Abandoned in the Desert (1844/1846) by Giovanni StrazzaGalleria d'Arte Moderna - Milano

Ishmael Abandoned in the Desert

This sculpture depicts the biblical episode in which Ishmael—abandoned by his mother in the desert so she will not have to watch him die of thirst—faints, having finished all the water in the amphora behind him (Genesis 21, 8–21). Ishmael was modeled by Strazza in 1884, in his studio in the Palazzo Venezia in Rome, where it captured the attention of the city's artistic and cultural circle. However, the sculpture first found widespread success 2 years later, when it was sent to the celebrated Brera Exhibition in 1846. As had happened previously with Giovanni Duprè's Abel, which was produced in 1842 and clearly inspired Strazza, the piece shocked the public with its intentional abandonment of idealized beauty, opting instead for a natural beauty achieved through a realistic study of anatomy. In fact, it was so realistic that it was accused of being taken from a real cast. However, it also received praise from Carlo Tenca and Giuseppe Rovani, who admired the artist's skill and modern approach to rendering psychological detail. The fact that Strazza produced at least 3 marble versions, 2 of which are kept at the GAM in Milan, is a testament to the work's success. The statue was presented at major exhibitions in Italy and abroad: it was sent to the International Exposition of 1851 in Crystal Palace, London; won the medal for sculpture at the first National Exhibition of Florence in 1861; was admired by Domenico Morelli at the Promotrice di Napoli show in 1865; and finally appeared at the International Exhibition of 1883 in Rome.

Lara's Page (1872/1872) by Giuseppe GrandiGalleria d'Arte Moderna - Milano

Lara's Page

This sculpture was presented by Giuseppe Grandi at the Brera Exhibition in 1873, and takes its inspiration from the poem "Lara" by Lord Byron. The museum preserves the original plaster model of this marble statue, which stirred heated debate among critics when it was exhibited. It was admired by the academic Domenico Induno, but harshly criticized by Mongeri: "The first time I saw it, I felt as though I had been transported into one of those disasters of the early geological ages, in a boiling mixture of granite, metal, and gaseous substances." It was also criticized by Boito as a "strained effort. A grotesque sculpture." The well-known architect and writer Camillo Boito declared Grandi to be in clear opposition to the formal perfection of the Milan School and its "soft rasping and industrially smoothed marble." Likewise, he considered the young artist's technique to be artificial, "fiercely chiseled in appearance but weighty in substance and no less disingenuous." His sculptural style did not impress him, even though it resembled the pictorial language of Tranquillo Cremona: "We like Cremona. Grandi, we do not."

Marshal Ney (1874/1875) by Giuseppe GrandiGalleria d'Arte Moderna - Milano

Marshall Ney

This small but striking bronze sculpture depicts Michel Ney, a key strategist of the Napoleonic army. He was condemned for high treason after the Battle of Waterloo, following an unjust accusation of causing the defeat and, as a result, Napoleon's failure. Grandi portrays the last, anguished night before his execution, spent at the Palais du Luxembourg. The military leader is proudly dressed in uniform but browbeaten by the political situation, with the bicorn hat falling across his downcast face and using his sword as a cane. This tragic figure, defeated and destroyed by plots for power, clearly affected the imagination of a generation of artists who took part in the events of Italy's reunification (the "Risorgimento") firsthand, and experienced the bruising disappointments that followed. The drama of the subject is further emphasized by Grandi's sculpting method. He rejects the descriptive narrative tone that was popular in Milanese sculpture at that time to instead open the form up to disintegration, anticipating end-of-century innovations that had yet to occur.

Jean d’Aire (post 1895) by Auguste RodinGalleria d'Arte Moderna - Milano

Jean d’Aire

This compact bronze piece is a small-scale cast of one of the 6 large figures that comprise the monument to the Burghers of Calais. This task was entrusted to Auguste Rodin by the French city's council in 1884 and was erected in 1895. Jean d'Aire was one of the six Burghers of Calais, led by Eustache de Saint-Pierre who, in 1347, during the Hundred Years' War, offered English besiegers the keys to the city, as well as their own lives, in exchange for the safety of its citizens. Impressed by the patriotism of this gesture, the British ruler at the time, Edward III, spared their lives. This sculpture is far from the titanism and gigantism of Rodin's most recognizable works. However, it still demonstrates the artist's innovative and painstaking approach to his material, and his experimentation with the body. In this case, it gives the figure, captured with the keys to the city in his hands, an extreme, almost unnatural stiffness.

The Miner (1888/1897) by Enrico ButtiGalleria d'Arte Moderna - Milano

The Miner

This sculpture was commissioned by Giovanni Azzarini as part of a funeral monument for his father—a wealthy businessman, who made his fortune in Montevideo (Uruguay). The figure of a miner, resting all his weight on a wheelbarrow in a moment of repose, is defined by a solid monumental structure and a careful anatomical study, particularly in the bust and shoulders, which are distorted with fatigue. Despite the tense plasticity of the piece, the bronze offers plenty of opportunities for the interplay of light and shadow. However, it was not enough to win Enrico Butti the Principe Umberto Prize awarded at the Brera Exhibition in 1888. The Miner only came to be considered an example of social art in the following decade, on the strength of works by the Neapolitan sculptor Achille D'Orsi (1845–1929) that were known to Butti, such as "Proximus Tuus" (1880; bronze version kept at the National Gallery of Rome). The Miner was a successful piece that was exhibited several times, including at shows in Budapest, Paris, Palermo, and Vienna. The artist donated this large bronze work to the GAM 9 years after he conceived the original model that he later used to create it. In addition, variations of the male figure were used in the Testoni funeral monument at Varese cemetery in 1913.

Detail of the shoes and pickaxe, which symbolize the subject's social status.

Portinaia (Concierge; Impression d’une concierge) (1883/1884) by Medardo RossoGalleria d'Arte Moderna - Milano

The Concierge (Model of a Concierge)

The Concierge was probably modeled in 1883, as reported by Rosso, or in 1884 at the very latest, as proposed by some 20th-century studies. The artist's muse was Sciora Orsola, the concierge of a building on Via Montebello in Milan, where he lived. Hidden away in her porter's lodge, the artist developed an intense fixation on her.  Rosso made at least 12 replicas of this subject. He considered this sculpture—a reinterpretation of the earlier "Sagrestano"—to be a turning point in his artistry, defining his own unique point of view and capturing a fleeting impression. Made of a blend of very clear wax, this is the only artwork that the sculptor donated to the GAM in Milan, in 1922. The museum records report that the piece was replaced by Francesco Rosso at the end of 1952, as a result of it being "destroyed by significant damage." This may have been caused by it being displaced during the war. In fact, Francesco recovered the damaged work, restored it, and then placed it in the Medardo Rosso Museum in Barzio, but it has since been lost. In exchange for this waxwork, the bronze Ruffiana statue was donated to the Milan museum. This was crafted under his direction, as evidenced by a letter from Costantino Baroni to Francesco Rosso dated November 10, 1952, and by 2 acts of the Municipality of Milan, dated November 17, 1952 and January 1953.

Henri Rouart (1913/1913) by Medardo RossoGalleria d'Arte Moderna - Milano

Henri Rouart

Henri Rouart (1833–1912)—an industrialist, art collector, painter, and patron of Impressionist artists—met Rosso in 1890. Several sources testify to this, although the manner in which they met is still disputed. The only thing known with any certainty is that Rouart bought copies of Frileuse, Niccolò da Uzzano, Gavroche, and "Bambino Ebreo" (Jewish Boy) from Rosso, and that the sculptor's studio was in his factory on Boulevard Voltaire, where his portrait was created. The original plaster was modeled in 1890 and is now found at the Medardo Rosso Museum in Barzio. Another one, made of plaster and including a base, is conserved in Antwerp. The bronze work was eventually cast that same year in Paris, but Rouart never collected it from Rosso's studio, so it passed to his son Louis (and to the Kunstmuseum Winterthur museum in Switzerland today) upon his death. It may have been then that Rosso made the black-wax version now found in the GAM, which was exhibited at the Venice Biennale in 1914. After being part of a number of exhibitions in Milan, and belonging to the Medardo Rosso Museum in Barzio, this piece passed first to the hands of Gianni Mattioli (1903–77) and then Virginio Ghiringhelli (1898–1964). It was finally acquired by the museum in 1953, at a time when it also received a significant bequest in Francesco Rosso's will.

Ecce Puer (Portrait of Alfred Mond) (1906/1906) by Medardo RossoGalleria d'Arte Moderna - Milano

"Ecce Puer" (or Behold the Child, a Portrait of Alfred Mond)

"Ecce Puer" is the last original work crafted by Rosso, who, in the years that followed devoted himself to replicating and creating variants of the works he had molded up to that point. The plaster figure found in the GAM is the original model, of which there are at least 12 different versions. French Prime Minister Georges Clemenceau visited his studio in 1907 and personally selected it for the Musée du Luxembourg, which was dedicated to living artists. Emile Mond, a wealthy industrialist, commissioned the sculptor to create a portrait of his son, Alfred, when the artist visited the wealthy family's London home in 1906. The legend goes that Rosso crafted the piece during a night of fevered work at the London residence, but some critics believe that the portrait was actually modeled at his studio in Batignolles after he returned to Paris, from a mix of sketches and memory. The work was exhibited at the Musée du Luxembourg until 1920, when it was removed and sent to the Musée des Écoles Étrangères (the label with the French reference number still appears on the front). After the artist died, his son Francesco got the plaster figure back in exchange for a bronze cast (today found at the Musée d'Orsay) and brought it to Barzio. It remained there until 1946 when, on the occasion of Medardo Rosso's first posthumous exhibition, it went to the painter Ezio Pastorio, who later sold it to the Municipality of Milan. 

Vir Temporis Acti (Ancient man) (1914/1914) by Adolfo WildtGalleria d'Arte Moderna - Milano

"Vir Temporis Acti" (Ancient Man)

In 1911, the sculptor Adolfo Wildt had left behind 19th-century plastic modeling and was engaged in a complex revival of ancient sculpture, revitalizing it with the most advanced artistic trends of that time. One of his works from this period, which has unfortunately been lost, is "Vir Temporis Acti" (Ancient Man): a figure of a soldier who has struck himself with a staff, as a symbol of self-inflicted pain, and the redemption and nobility of sacrifice. In this artwork, the powerful memory of Michelangelo's sculpture and the ancient nudes that Wildt loved to admire in the halls of the Brera Academy is brought to life, with decorative Secessionist-style details and a sense of lively, expressive pathos. Created for his German patron, Franz Rose, and destroyed during World War II, Wildt used this marble statue to isolate and recreate the details of the face several times (as in this sculpture), to convey an even stronger sense of pain that is at once remotely archaic and utterly contemporary. This work ends the journey through the GAM, forming an ideal bridge to the anxieties of the 20th century.

Credits: Story

The GAM in Milan would like to thank the Google Cultural Institute for the fruitful collaboration between them on this project. We believe that the use of high-definition artworks, which are freely accessible to a global audience, is the next frontier in Web 2.0 communication. Special thanks go to Executive Assistant Dr. Ilaria Gozzi, who supervised each step of the project, and to Ms. Marivanna Torre, responsible for external relations. Particular thanks also go to Dr. Omar Cucciniello and Dr. Alessandro Oldani, curators of the GAM.

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The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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