Naples 1852 – 1929
Portrait of Mariano Fortuny, c. 1880
Bronze, 65 x 39 cm
Signed on the left: Gemito
Rome, private collection
Eugenia Querci, Gemito, Morelli, Mancini e il soggiorno a Napoli di Mariano Fortuny Marsal (1874),in «Storia dell’arte», n.133, 2012, pp. 131-151.
The Portrait of Mariano Fortunyby Vincenzo Gemito under discussion in this paper is a cast of very lofty technical and formal quality. In this bust, which he designed while still only a very young man, Gemito reveals both his outstanding talent for vibrant naturalism and his skill in capturing a sitter’s temperament thanks to his mastery of the realistic rendering of his sitter’s facial features.
The figure is deep in thought, his noble profile crowned by the thick, ruffled hair typical of a Romantic, modelled with strong and vibrant chiaroscuro. Every part of the sculpture’s surface conveys the feeling of a living being, communicating a secret inner energy which seems to pervade the bronze thanks to an extremely painterly approach to modelling.
Mariano Fortuny’s head is inclined to one side in an informal pose, but the figure’s nobility confers a lofty dignity on him that saves him from looking casual in any way.
Mariano Fortuny (Marià Fortuny Y Marsal, Reus, Spain, 1838 – Rome 1874) spent the summer of 1874 in Naples, forging fertile ties with the city’s artistic community and basking in the general admiration and enthusiasm of many young artists of the Neapolitan school, such as Antonio Mancini, Francesco Paolo Michetti and Vincenzo Gemito.
Fortuny had acquired international renown in the 1860s thanks to sales that had achieved astonishing prices over the years (the extraordinary sale of his painting entitled The Spanish Weddingin 1870 being a case in point).
Fortuny and Vincenzo Gemito forged a particularly intense bond of friendship. Impressed by the young man’s skill as a sculptor, Fortuny commissioned him to model a terracotta bust of himself, which Gemito carved between October and November 1874. This initial model, with the sitter’s head fully upright, is reflected in a terracotta now in the Museo Fortuny in Venice, and it also seems to have spawned a number of bronzes cast at different times and now in different collections – first and foremost the version in the Museo del Prado, which was probably cast in bronze in Paris in 1875 by “F. BARBEDIENNE Fondeur”, according to the foundry stamp on it, and a version with a double patina now in the collections of the Galleria d’Arte Moderna di Roma Capitale.
Following Mariano Fortuny’s sudden death, Vincenzo Gemito was commissioned by his family to produce a second model of the bust portraying him, which he did in 1879. The bust was placed atop a column in the cemetery of San Lorenzo al Verano in Rome.
Thus the bust on Mariano Fortuny’s tomb reflects a second version of the work. The original funerary monument bust no longer exists in situ, having unfortunately been dispersed. A modern cast has been installed in its place.
Italian public collections contain various exemplars of this portrait bust, Eugenia Querci having drafted a list of the most important ones in a recent work: the Accademia di Belle Arti in Naples has the plaster version with bronze patina that Gemito sent to the Esposizione Nazionale di Belle Arti in Naples in 1877 and the Museo Fortuny in Venice has one bronze and two plaster versions, while the Galleria d’Arte Moderna in Milan has a wax version.
This bust differs both from the Museo Fortuny sculptural type and from that of the funerary monument primarily in the inclination of the head, which in this instance bends downwards and to one side. The most striking similarity between this bust and other versions is with a cast now in Palazzo Zevallos in Naples.