Avere una bella cera

Avere una bella cera

Le figure in cera a Venezia e in Italia

March 10th – June 25th 2012

Palazzo Fortuny

San Marco 3780 – San Beneto, Venice


The world’s first exhibition on wax portraits will analyse a field that has been studied very little by art historians: that of life-size wax figures. This fascinating subject has recently attracted the attention of numerous contemporary artists, but has never had a specific exhibition devoted to it.

The project was inspired by two fortunate coincidences, the existence of a series of life- size wax portraits in Venice’s public collections and churches, and the centenary of the publication of Geschichte der Porträtbildnerei in Wachs (“History of Portraiture in Wax”), written by the famous Viennese art historian Julius von Schlosser and the first work devoted to the history of wax portraits. A superb Italian translation of Schlosser’s work by Andrea Daninos has recently been published, complete with an extensive and detailed critical commentary.

The Venetian exhibition is the outcome of more than three years of research and, for the first time, it brings together nearly all of the extant sculptures in Italy, most of which unpublished or never displayed before.

The rooms of the Palazzo Fortuny, considered a major attraction for art lovers visiting Venice, will be transformed into a veritable wax museum, re-creating the fascinating atmosphere that always surrounds such displays.

The exhibition route begins by examining casts and funeral masks. The first section will feature wax death masks of Venetian doges from the 18th century, the sole examples of the custom of using wax “doppelgängers” at funerals. The cast of the deceased replaced his body, concealed in the coffin, and his effigy thus bore witness to the continuity of power, leaving a realistic and very evocative impression on the public.

The exhibition will also present the only visual testimony we have today of life-size votive figures that no longer exist: Vincenzo Panicale’s Libro dei miracoli. The manuscript from the early 17th century contains a series of watercolours documenting the ex-votos that once filled the sanctuary of Santa Maria della Quercia in Viterbo, and it served as a catalogue of existing waxworks that made it possible to reproduce the statues faithfully if they were damaged or ruined… (continue reading)

Ceroplasta veneziano, Effige funebre del doge Alvise IV Mocenigo, 1779, Venezia, Scuola Grande, Arciconfraternita di San Rocco

Francesco Orso, Vittorio Amedeo III di Savoia, 1780-1785 circa, Collezione Franco Maria Ricci

Ceroplasta veneziano, Bambina (particolare), 1790-1795 circa, Venezia, Palazzo Mocenigo


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