The story of Pisan traitor Ugolino della Gherardesca, imprisoned with his sons and condemned to starvation, is told in Dante’s Inferno (canto 33).
Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux shows the anguished father resisting his children’s offer of their own bodies for his sustenance. The composition was cast in bronze in Paris in 1862. This Saint-Beat marble now resides in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.
What is most striking about this composition and most other works by Carpeaux is the influence of Michelangelo. You can see the influences of the High Renaissance in every detail of this masterpiece.
When you are viewing this piece, it is almost as if you are being visited by the specters of the High Renaissance Masters. The work is handled very classically and traditionally.
When you contrast this work with sculpture by Auguste Rodin, who was working in marble and clay at about the same time as Carpeaux, you can see the strong differences without a moment‘s hesitation.
In his sculpture, Rodin takes the road of the Impressionists, pushing the boundaries of his art toward the future modernist movements. Carpeaux, however, retreats backward to the older, more tried and true approaches. He forgoes the modern in his work for the traditional.
Does Carpeaux succeed in his attempts to mimic the Old Masters? Carpeaux is not Michelangelo, that can be said with certainty. But his work is astounding. He clearly deserves his place in the annals of art--even if it is in the shadow of Michelangelo.
His pieces live and breath and tell their stories well.
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