Giovanni Duprè, 19th century sculptor

Do you know the work of Giovanni Duprè (1817 – 1882),  the Italian sculptor?

This year marks the 200th anniversary of Duprè’s birth in Siena, and there is currently an exhibition honoring his work open in Sorano.





Duprè was born in Siena, where his father was a sculptor and young Duprè learned his trade both in his father’s carving workshop and that of Paolo Sani.  They had a steady business in the production of fake Renaissance sculpture in marble.

Duprè was talented and ambitious and entered a contest held by the Florentine Academia di Belle Arti. He won first place with his Judgement of Paris, and later carved a life-size figure of the dead Abel, which won significant acclaim and was purchased by a Russian duchess (it is now in the Hermitage Museum and a bronze replica is in the Palazzo Pitti).
The raw naturalism of the figure of Abel, greeted with shock at the time, presaged the beginning of the end of Neoclassicism in Italian sculpture and earned for Dupré the encouragement of Lorenzo Bartolini.
He followed this with a more classical Cain (1840, also in marble at the Hermitage Museum and in bronze at the Pitti).
Dupre was honored with commissions for the figures of Giotto and Saint Antonino of Florence for façade niches on the Museo Uffizi.

On a trip to Naples he passed through Rome and saw Antonio Canova’s funeral monument to Pope Pius VI, which influenced his style in a classical direction resulting in the brooding and melancholy statue of Sappho of 1857–61, with its Michelangelesque flavour (now in the Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Moderna in Rome); contemporary critics acclaimed it as his best work to date.

Giovanni Dupré - Saffo abbandonata - 3

The sculptor received many commissions and his work can be located in and around Florence, as well as Assisi, Turin and Siena.*** Perhaps his finest work, the Pietà (1860–65), was created for the family tomb of the Marchese Bichi-Ruspoli in the cemetery of the Misericordia, Siena. This group was awarded the Grande medaille d’honneurat the International Exhibition in Paris.




Duprè’s memoirs, Pensieri sull’arte e ricordi autobiografici (Florence, 1879, 2nd ed. Milan 1935), were translated into English by F. Peruzzi (Edinburgh, 1886). His daughter Amalia achieved some reputation as a sculptor.

***Many works of Giovanni Dupre can be found gathered in two particular places in Tuscany. The recently closed Dupre Museum in Fiesole was curated until recently by Dupre’s descendant, Amalia Dupre.

The other significant treasury of Dupre works, featuring plaster molds for many of his most famous marble sculptures including the Abel and two sculptures for the Loggia of the Uffizi is held in the gipsoteca, a secret museum near Siena’s Contrada dell’Onda in via Fontanella 1, beneath the Contrada’s Chapel. This was opened in 1961.


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