Inventory Number: 2412
The Contemporary Art Department of the Vatican Museums wants to preserve two of the most important works of renowned Italian sculptor Medardo Rosso. Rosso was born in Turin where his father worked as a Railway Station manager. He began developing his talent as a stone carver when his family moved to Milan. At the age of 23, after serving in the army, he enrolled at the Brera Academy where he learned to draw classical statues and completed several models in stucco. Rosso had a rebellious nature, however, and did not like normal academic art lessons that focused solely on classical statues. He demanded instead that live models be used for the drawing classes. Eventually, Rosso left the Academy for Rome, where he lived in poverty. In his 1889 almanac of living artists, De Gubernatis describes Rosso:
(He) rebelled at each school with each method, with each Academy, abhorring anything that smacks of trade, of artifice, soon found himself alone, without support, without master, without counselors, and with a bunch of captive and envious colleagues who tripped him when he tried to demonstrate his abilities, his ingenuity.
Despite his rebellion against classical art, Rosso developed his talent and conceived of his own artistic style. In 1882, he produced his first impressionistic sculptures: the Street Singer and Lovers under the Lamplight. In 1884, some friends arranged an exhibition for him in Paris, where he was living at the time. In that same year, he also put on an exhibition at the Salon des Indépendants where he met Edgar Degas and Rodin. The sculptor and teacher Jules Dalou allowed Rosso to work in his Paris studio.
In 1885, Rosso returned to Milan although he stayed in close touch with friends in Paris. In 1886, the writer Émile Zola bought a bronze by Rosso, bestowing on him a considerable amount of celebrity. Rodin offered to exchange a sculpted torso of his own for Rosso’s recent head of a laughing woman. It is worth noting that Rosso’s works were much more popular in France than in Italy.
Rosso always tried to render the transitory effects of light into solid sculpture. He achieved this effect by using wax instead of marble or clay. This technique allowed him to spontaneously model and manipulate light and shadow so as to produce the effect of color. In this process, the distinctive characteristics of his material played an increasingly important part. A paraphrase of Gubernatis’s description states:
The rules of art, knowledge, culture, will help you to better understand the proportions of a given work …but will never tell you anything, or yield the most applause… or reveal the soul, the expression, the moment with the same truth that is presented to us at that time, under the impression given in the real world. Rosso’s much loved and publicized Bersagliere at the Paris Salon is a successful head: there is truth, there is expression, there is color. For the artist, it all lies in choosing the right moment to characterize the subject, and this divination, this deep feeling mixed with some knowledge of the individual is the main talent of genius, the hallmark of his work. For an artist to be truly worthy of that name, he must first be original. Having ideas about art or attending one school rather than another does not say make you an artist. The important thing is to derive from your mind its first impression of a subject, and to then render it as you feel. Medardo Rosso is a realist, but a realist who portrays the enchanting beauty of nature, of feeling, of the heart, representing the vices and virtues, the beautiful and the deformed.
Rosso was able to maintain a studio and hold a number of exhibitions in Paris. In 1896, he had an exhibition at the Goupil Gallery in London and also successfully exhibited in New York. Toward the end of his life, he suffered from diabetes and developed cancer in one foot. Sadly, he died shortly after the turn of the century after the amputation of the cancerous leg was ineffective. He continued to sculpt until his death.
The Vatican Museums were fortunate to obtain the two works by Medardo Rosso, Sick Child and Aetas Aurea. They are splendid examples of the results achieved by a master sculptor in the art of shaping the wax.
Aetas Aurea is one of the three versions of a portrait of his wife and son, Judith Wells and Francis, that Rosso created. He chose to model this sculpture off of another of his works, Motherly Love, which was completed in 1883 when he started to use wax.
This sculpture is centered around a mother kissing her baby. Rather than creating a sculpture in the round as is traditional, Rosso chose to sculpt only the front of the figures, leaving the back, so as to focus on the effects of light and shadow on the surface. The faces blend into one another, accentuating the intensity of the relationship between mother and child; the diagonal position of the composition gives the image a dynamic, life-giving contact between the two.
Sick child, also called Enfant à Laborisière Mourant or Impression, belongs to Rosso’s series of portraits of children. It is believed that he completed this work at the hospital Laborisière of Paris, where he was being treated in 1889. Almost completely devoid of facial features, this sculpture shows that Rosso has surpassed the simple intention of a realistic rendering of the subject’s face. The figure preserves only a vague memory of the subject’s appearance, but instead has a psychological depth that goes beyond the physical appearance. These pieces are expected to return on display in the Contemporary Art Galleries.