Signed Calvi, Milano and dated 1874
White marble and bronze with a rich dark brown patina
Height: 39 1/2 inches (100cm)
Carved and cast in 1874
Pietro Calvi was born in Milan in 1833 and studied at the Milan Academy. He later went on to study under the renowned sculptor Giovanni Seleroni. It was under Seleroni’s guidance that Calvi developed the outstanding sensitivity and refinement that became the hallmark of his modelling. Calvi relished working in bronze and marble, often combining the two materials to create the most striking and effective results. Many of his works were exhibited throughout Europe and America, most notably at London’s Royal Academy between 1872 and 1883 (the year prior to the sculptor’s death).
The model of Selika was first exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1872 (No. 1525) and depicts the prima donna from the grand opera composed by Giacomo Meyerbeer and first performed in Paris in 1865.
Selika is an example of the 19th century taste for Orientalist tragic heroines, characterised by Puccini’s Madame Butterfly. Much as Calvi depicts Othello at the zenith of the Shakespearian tragedy here the sculptor presents Selika at the sorrowful climax of the Opera.
Selika who had once been a princess, was herself enslaved by the Portuguese explorer Vasco de Gama. Selika eventually fell in love with Gama and married her captor. Tragically at their marriage ceremony Vasco de Gama is reunited with his former lover Inez and he falls passionately in love with her again. Selika is so hurt by the betrayal that she kills herself by inhaling the scent of the deadly flowers of the Manchineel tree.