Lorenzo Bartolini (1777-1850) was an Italian sculptor who was perhaps one of the most expressive sculptors of the early 19th Century. Bartolini was a student of David and was later befriended by the young Ingres. Bartolini’s work reflected a transition from Neo-classicism to a more naturalistic Romanticism, due to a faithful rendering from the observation of nature. Napoleon I was an important patron who advanced Bartolini’s vocation considerably.
Trust in God, is by far Bartolini’s best-known work, it is ’emblematic of Italian sculpture of the generation after Canova’. H.R. Rookmaaker claimed by the early 19th Century depictions of Venus and other subjects which required nudity were a contrivance to represent a nude, while it is true some 19th Century Venus’ were not much more than a centerfold, the context of Trust in God is evidence that the nude was maintained as a genuine spiritual expression. In 1835 Bartolini was commissioned by the Marchesa Rosa Poldi Trivulzio to create a memorial to her late husband. The piece was such a success that essays and odes were written in praise of it. The art historian H.W. Janson wrote, “The adolescent nude girl kneeling with her hands folded in her lap, is clearly not meant to be a personification of Faith. Halfway between childhood and womanhood, she is too young to be a classical nude, and one senses that the artist has used a live model, even thought the forms have been smoothed over and generalized. The nudity itself is symbolic of what all critics of the time felt to be the spiritual message of the work – the Christian soul entrusting itself to the Lord.” Although I agree with Janson concerning the message of the work, the author’s perspective I believe reflects a present-mindedness since in Bartolini’s day the figure would have been perceived as a young lady.
Bartolini’s sculpture of a woman caring for two children personifies the virtue of Charity (love). Inscribed on the boy’s scroll is the moral: ‘Do unto others as you would have others do unto you.’ Charity is traditionally represented as a nursing mother, so the depiction of her as an educator seems to be an innovation of Bartolini’s. The symbolism of Charity the Educator is quite profound because education without love tends to lead to a one sided rationality which is indifferent to human need, as Ruth Nanda Anshen observed, a mind which ‘knows everything but understands nothing.’
The Nymph and the Scorpion is a good example of how a Romantic artist could bring tension to animate a tranquil subject. The girl’s face shows the signs of pain from the scorpion’s sting. The work was apparently popular since there are a number of copies to be found in various museums around the world.
Bartolini was commissioned to sculpt a portrait of Napoleon’s niece, Napoléone Elisa Baciocchi, daughter of the Grand-Duke of Tuscany. The girl’s nudity may startle some today but in the 19th Century, the nudity of a child in art was understood to emphasized purity and innocence. Sculptures of nude boys representing Cupid were very common at that time, while nude figures of young girls were still rare at the beginning of the century. The work reflects the spirit of Romanticism which extended the range of subjects. While the pet dog add charms to the work, it alludes to Greek mythology, it is a reference to Diana the goddess of the moon and hunt.