Rafaello Monti (1818-1881) is rarely mentioned in standard Italian surveys of nineteenth-century sculpture. It is as though his self-willed exile to London for most of his working career banned him from any recognition in his native country. Yet, he was one of the period's most prolific sculptors, and he continued to portray, in his inevitably sentimental style, themes dear to the Italian Risorgimento.1
Born in Ticino, Monti was brought up in Milan. His training at the Brera Academy introduced him to Pietro Magni and Vincenzo Vela, disciples of the emergent Scuola Lombarda,
or "Modern School of Milan," which developed in the '40s. The group sponsored a realist art steeped in social and political implications which was, above all, dedicated to the overthrow of Canova's influence on sculpture. Whereas Monti, because of his travels to Vienna, Budapest, and eventually England, lacked the group's militant zeal, his works nevertheless were influenced by their greater reliance on baroque devices, heightened realism, and sentimentality.Monti is perhaps best remembered for his veiled figures; in fact, he made them his forte. He revived the eighteenth-century tradition of the diaphanously draped figure,2
and with it the veil's connotations of revelation—sensuous or otherwise—and used both to demonstrate his technical brilliance. As in The Veiled Lady
the marble is carved so ingeniously and thinly as to appear transparent in those parts where it extends over the facial features.The Veiled Lady3
is one of numerous versions executed during the '50s. Clearly alluding to a classical portrait bust, especially in the clean sweep of the lower edge, the bust transforms its prototype by the sensual treatment of stone and subject. The Veiled Lady
(vestal virgin?) captures the perfection of innocence and youth, which, as the dew-fresh morning glories on her crown, will all too soon fade.Endnotes
Referenced Work of Art
- For an account of Monti's career, see Anthony Radcliffe, "Monti's Allegory of the Risorgimento," Victoria and Albert Museum Bulletin (July, 1965), 25-38.
- For examples, see Antonio Corradini's Modesty, Cappella Sansevero di Sangro, Naples, ca. 1750.
- 70.60. Gift of The Collector's Group Fund. Marble, 21 1/2" (h.).
- Rafaello Monti. Italian, 1818-1881. The Veiled Lady. Marble, 21 1/2" (h.). Gift of the Collectors' Group Fund, 70.60.