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Digital Subscriptions > Italia! > Jul-18 > Fame

Fame

A young Turinese sculptor named Pietro Canonica found fame at the Paris Salon of 1893. Today his oeuvre is kept in Rome’s Villa Borghese

The Paris Salon of 1893, held by the French Académie des Beaux-Arts, was one of the most important art exhibits of its time. Among the entries was a small bronze statue of a teenage girl in nun’s attire, leaning pensively on the back of her chair, chin in hand. It was called Dopo il Voto – After the Vow – and the girl’s rueful awareness of how much she had renounced was so clear that the sculpture became the talk of the show. The young Italian who made it, Pietro Canonica from Turin, was just 24 years old, but he soon began to receive commissions from the international beau-monde.

His portraits were especially valued for his ability to convey emotions in bronze and stone, and for his technical virtuosity.

So, just over a century ago, before the Great War, Canonica became one of the most soughtafter sculptors in the world. The great royal houses of Europe paid him large sums for portraits, memorials, and monuments. Though the world of aristocratic privilege largely disappeared with the First World War and the Russian Revolution, Canonica’s talents remained in demand, supplying, among other things, memorials for fallen soldiers in many an Italian piazza.

One day last winter, in Rome’s Central Park, Villa Borghese, I happened upon a 17th-century palazzo called, historically, the Hen House. (It seems the Borghese family’s poultry-keeper once lived there, if not actual chickens.) Nowadays, the building is the Museo Pietro Canonica.

Canonica settled permanently in Rome in the 1920s and persuaded the Rome municipality to let him renovate and use the building, promising to leave his artworks to the city. He lived and worked there until he died in 1959. The palazzo contains hundreds of works from his long and extremely productive life.

Standing beneath a fourteen-foot high equestrian statue, I looked up to see the stern face of Faisal I, the first Hashemite king of Iraq, his Bedouin headdress nearly brushing the ceiling.

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About Italia!

Making the most of the Italian summer is what the magazine is all about this month, with a zesty mix of inspiring features and beautiful photography to transport you to your favourite destinations.