Paolo and Francesca da Rimini

1857 - 1860 | 3rd quarter 19th centurywhite marbleH x L : 73 x 70 cm

This sculpture depicts a scene from a story told by Dante Alighieri in his Divine Comedy (1320), namely that of Francesca da Rimini (c.1255-c.1285) and her brother-in-law Paolo Malatesta (c.1246/48-c.1285). Both were married but fell in love. When Paolo’s elder brother Gianciotto found out about the affair, he killed his wife and brother with a dagger. In the Divine Comedy, the narrator, also called Dante, meets them in the fifth circle of hell. They tell him that they fell in love while reading about Lancelot – whose love for queen Guinevere, King Arthur’s wife, was also adulterous. This is the scene depicted here.

In 1939, by Maurice Schmitz (1882-1968), a Luxembourg resident and at the time president of the Société des Amis des Musées de Luxembourg, donated the sculpture to the Luxembourg State for the soon to be opened museum. A great gift, that was dated to c.1790 and attributed to Antonio Canova (1757-1822), the great sculptor of Neoclassicism.

However, the figures’ appearance and clothing– note Paolo’s hairdo in particular – point to the second half of the 19th century; a period long after the death of the great master himself, which may also have been noticed by our colleagues of that era. But a certain Professor Renzo Canneli of Florence had authenticated the work as an original by Canova, and the opportunity of having a work by such a renowned artist in the collection probably meant that the attribution was not questioned at the time.

In the autumn of 2020, Professor Almerinda Di Benedetto of the Università degli Studi della Campania Luigi Vanvitelli in Naples came to the museum to present her book Tito Angelini. Committenza, produzione e mercato internazionale della scultura nell’Ottocento (Rome, 2020) on the Neapolitan sculptor Tito Angelini (1806-1878). In this book, the author demonstrates beyond any doubt that the sculpture we have been presenting as a neoclassical work attributed to Canova from around 1790 is in fact one of the very best works by this accomplished Italian master and a highlight of Italian Romantic sculpture.

More on this subject: Museomag 2022-03 pp. 15-17

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