Signed Calvi, Milano
White marble and bronze with dark brown patina
Height: 36” (91 cm)
Conceived and carved circa 1870
Chatham Family, Florida USA.
T.Boone Pickens, Dallas Texas
Pietro Calvi was born in 1833 in Milan, where he studied at the Milan Academy. He later went on to study under the renowned sculptor Giovanni Seleroni. It was under Seleroni’s tutelage that Calvi developed his outstanding sensitivity and refinement, which became hallmarks of his modelling style.
Calvi relished working in bronze and marble. He often combined the two materials to create visually striking works. Many of his sculptures were exhibited throughout Europe and America, most notably at London’s Royal Academy between 1872 and 1883. Highlights of his exhibitions at the Royal Academy included Selika and Othello in 1872, Lucifer in 1879, and Ariadne and Lo Zio Tom (Uncle Tom) in 1880. Three years later (the year before his death), he presented a stirring minstrel curiously entitled Oh Goodness Gracious Me!.
Calvi’s works were so successful that several were repeated on occasion in order to meet the high demand. The sculptor was renowned for choosing subjects from great works of literature, particularly stories by Shakespeare. He modelled busts of Ophelia, Hamlet, Graziella, Zuleica and Aida, using his adept infusing of bronze and marble to create a remarkable contrast of colours, highlights and gilding. Calvi also worked in tandem with Constantino Corti – another Milanese sculptor – on numerous figures in Milan Cathedral, including a statue of St Valeria, which is positioned in one of the side windows next to a figure by Giuseppe Grandi.
Calvi’s fascination with Shakespearean characters led him to create one of his most well-known and beloved works circa 1870: a timeless marble and bronze bust of Othello. In Shakespeare’s famous tragedy, Othello was a respected Moor and a high-ranking official in the Venetian forces. After marrying Desdemona, the beautiful daughter of a senator, Othello was posted in Cyprus to defend the Venetian army. It was there that he promoted one of his offices, Cassio, which infuriated Iago, another officer wanting promotion.
Scorned by this perceived insult, Iago decides to take his revenge on Othello by convincing the Moor that his wife, Desdemona, is having an affair with Cassio. The scheme involves Cassio unwittingly coming into possession of Desdemona’s handkerchief – a love token from Othello. His jealousy already aroused by Iago’s insinuations, Othello is finally convinced of his wife’s affair after seeing Cassio with the handkerchief. Driven wild by rage, Othello strangles Desdemona as she lies in their bed, before ordering Cassio to be killed. Iago’s wife later reveals to Othello that it was all a fabrication. Traumatised by his actions, Othello stabs himself and dies next to the body of his beloved wife.
Calvi’s Othello has been modelled from the moment Othello realises Iago’s deception and Desdemona’s innocence. Othello stares grief-stricken at the handkerchief in his hand, a single tear falling down his face in a moment that is both intense and tragic. Calvi’s exceptional detailing around the figure’s eyes and brow captures the Moor’s heart-wrenching despair. His head and hand are finely modelled in dark bronze, while his robes and Desdemona’s handkerchief are carved in white marble. Calvi’s skill at combining the two materials places even greater emphasis on the handkerchief, the catalyst for this classic tragedy.
Ira Aldridge (1805-67) was the first black actor to play Othello. He made his debut in a small London theatre in 1826 and was the inspiration for Calvi’s masterpiece. Othello was Calvi’s most popular sculpture, prompting him to produce several examples. Each variation, however, is unique in the carving of the marble. This current example is the most ornate and detailed of any other researched by the gallery. It possesses extra detailing in the drapery, with additional tassels and the most ornate of handkerchiefs. This work also has an added detail in the form of a bronze sculpture of the symbol of Venice and the Venetian Empire, the Lion of St. Mark, affixed to the socle.
Alfonso Panzetta, Dizionario degli Scultori Italiani dell’Ottocento e del primo Novecento Vol.1 (Milan: 1990), pp. 44, 71.
Alfonso Panzetta, Dizionario degli Scultori Italiani dell’Ottocento e del primo Novecento Vol. 2 (Milan: 1990), illus. p. 193.
Alfred de Champeaux, Dictionnaire des Fondeurs, ciseleurs, modeleurs en bronze et doreurs (Paris: 1886), p. 225.
Clara Erskine, Clement Waters, Laurence Hutton, Artists of the Nineteenth Century and Their Works: A Handbook (Cambridge: 1879), p. 116.
Emmanuel Benezit, Dictionnaire Des Peintres, Sculpteurs, Dessinateurs et Graveurs, Vol. II (Paris: 1976), p. 471.
Michael Forrest, Art Bronzes (Pittsburgh: 1988), illus. p. 437, p. 463.
P. A. Corna, Dizionario della Storia dell'Arte in Italia, Vol.1 (Roma: 1930), p. 167.
The J.Paul Getty Museum, The Colour of Life. Polychromy in Sculpture from Antiquity to Present (Los Angeles: 2008), pp. 160-161.
Vincenzo Vicario, Dal Neoclassicismo al Liberty (Lodi: 1994), p. 227.