Viterbo 1893 - Rome 1932
The Boxer, 1930
Patinated plaster, h. 82 cm
Signed: S. Canevari
III Mostra del Sindacato Fascista delle Belle Arti di Roma e del Lazio, Rome 1932;
Seconda mostra Nazionale d’Arte ispirata allo sport, Mercati Traianei, Rome 1940;
Enrico del Debbio architetto, La misura della modernità, Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Moderna, Rome 2006.
Retrospective exhibition of the sculptor Silvio Canevari, in the catalogue of III Mostra del Sindacato regionale Fascista delle Belle Arti di Roma e del Lazio, Pinci editore, Rome 1932, pp. 16 – 17, pl. n. II;
Seconda mostra Nazionale d’Arte ispirata allo sport, catalogue of the exhibition, Rome, Mercati Traianei 1940;
reproduced work in “Le tre Venezie”, monthly magazine, n. 11 – 12 November – December 1940;
Hildegard Schmidt, Silvio Canevari, in Il corpo in corpo, catalogue of the exhibition curated by Bruno Mantura, Spoleto de Luca edizioni d’arte 1990;
Giorgio di Genova, Storia dell’arte italiana del 900. Generazione maestri storici, Third Volume, edizioni Bora, p. 16;
Maristella Margozzi, Stadio dei marmi. Lo sport attraverso la statuaria moderna, in Maria Luisa Neri, Enrico Del Debbio architetto. La misura della modernità, catalogue of the exhibition, Galleria Nazionale d’arte moderna, 7 December 2006 – 4 February 2007, Rome 2006, p. 419;
Silvio Canevari e il monumento ai caduti di Civita Catellana, Istituto d’Arte Midossi, Civita Castellana 2006;
Giuditta Rigamonti, Le statue dello Stadio dei Marmi, Università degli studi della Tuscia, 2006;
Maristella Margozzi, Lo sport nell’arte degli anni Trenta, in the catalogue of the exhibition “Novecento, arte e vita tra le due guerre”, Silvana editoriale 2013;
Reproduced in “Marie Claire Maison”, Italian edition, Milan, maggio 2016.
This extremely fine plaster model depicting a Victorious Boxer was made by Silvio Canevari for the Foro Mussolini. The sculpture, translated into marble by the Morosini firm of Massa Carrara, was installed on 9 April 1931 in one of the two niches on the rear façade of the Accademia di Educazione Fisica, in the grandiose Foro Mussolini complex built by Enrico Del Debbio in Rome between 1927 and 1933(1).
In addition to The Boxer, Canevari produced another five statues for the Foro: two Hercules, the first donated by the Province of Rome and the second by the Province of Brindisi; an Archer donated by the Province of Rovigo; a David donated by the Province of Pisa; and the Oarsman donated by the Province of Genoa.
The commission for selecting the statues for the Foro Mussolini comprised: Del Debbio in his capacity as an architect and as director of the works; Cipriano Efisio Oppo, secretary of the Fascist Union of Artists; Renato Ricci, the extremely powerful secretary of the Opera Nazionale Balilla; Roberto Parienti, a member of the Accademia d’Italia; Francesco Antonio Boncompagni Ludovisi, governor of Rome; and the sculptor Attilio Selva, who had himself carved four statues by 1930. According to documents in the archives, Selva’s assistant was precisely Canevari, who worked alongside him in the production of large plaster works which were then translated into marble in the quarries of Carrara in or around August 1929 to serve as models for all the other “proud figures”(2) four metres tall that were to be installed around the perimeter of the stadium.
Sixty statues stood around the perimeter of the Foro, while others occupied niches on either side of the entrances to the Accademia di Educazione Fisica, depicting various sporting activities and each one donated by an Italian province. The Boxer carved after this model was donated by the Province of Viterbo.
Canevari, a sculptor “possessed of uncommon modelling skills”(3), never saw Del Debbio’s grandiose project completed because he died very young “when, called on by the confidence of His Excellency Ricci to carve for the Foro Mussolini, he was preparing to produce the kind of large works with which he felt uniquely at home”(4).
All of the Foro Mussolini statues partake of a similar inspiration, which can be generically traced back to Graeco-Roman art and to its subsequent interpretations down the centuries, from Neoclassicism to the so-called “Return to Order” of the 1920s.
In line with the trend that rediscovered the art of the ancient masters in the 1920s, we can detect a variety of sources of inspiration in this sculpture. Its most immediately recognisable precedents certainly include the superb bronze Boxer at Rest now in the Museo Nazionale Romano, a 4th century BC Greek masterpiece on which Canevari based the gesture of the left forearm and the hand, which he depicts encased in a “cæstus”, the ancient forerunner of the boxing glove. The arm rests limply on the thigh, lightly flexed in a soft and sinuous movement in contrast with the more dynamic gesture of the right arm raised in a sign of victory, for which Canevari appears to have sought his inspiration in the figure of Creugas, the boxer who, together with Damoxenos, makes up a marble group by Antonio Canova, also known as The Two Pugilists (1795 – 1801), now in the Vatican Museums. Canevari was undoubtedly familiar with the two sculptures, especially following the debate triggered by the retrospective which Ugo Ojetti devoted to Canova at the Venice Biennale of 1922, heralding art’s return to strict observance of the formal canons of classicism.
The statue under discussion here is a minor masterpiece of balance, of tension resolved between the dynamic and the static. The sculptor dwells on the well-modelled musculature of the athlete, in whom nothing is either arbitrary or superfluous. Indeed the artist strikes a perfect balance in his figure between Classical art and refined naturalism, yet without forgoing his own style dominated from the outset by a strong penchant for the decorative expressed here in the rhythm of the figure’s profile, depicted in every fold of his short chlamys and described in other smaller details such as his sandals and the protective wraps on his hands. These sculptural qualities caught critics’ notice almost at once, and as early as in 1932 the statue was chosen, from among the 33 works on display, for reproduction in the catalogue of the retrospective exhibition held in the context of the Third Trade Union Exhibition in Lazio.
Scholars have tended more recently to dwell on Canevari’s subscription to Winckelmann’s theories on the importance of studying nature in relation to antiquity(5), pointing out the extent to which this approach, in focusing on the harmony of proportions, prompted the sculptor to express the values of “beauty, dignity and grace” rather than the more typically Fascist era values of “strength, nobility and expression” which we find on many of the statues in the Foro.
Nor does this particular aspect appear to have escaped the notice of critics of the time. In fact in 1940, in connection with the nine models of athletes displayed “in a special room” at the 2nd National Exhibition of Art Inspired by Sport at Trajan’s Market (which also included this Boxer), emphasis was laid on the concepts of “sculptural elegance” and “sober dynamism”(6).
Francesco Sapori, in his work on the history of modern Italian sculpture, also describes Canevari as “a sculptor of outstanding talent, who proved capable of moulding the bronze and marble of which he was so fond into the swelling of flesh” and dwells at some length on the huge statues in the Foro Italico – the boxer, the oarsman and the archer – which he describes as “swathed in Olympic composure”(7).
There exists a large plaster model of the same subject two metres in height, in other words half the height of the final statue, which was used for the figure’s translation into marble and shown, together with the model under discussion in this paper, at the Second National Exhibition of Art Inspired by Sport in 1940.
- For the marbles see: Agnoldomenico Pica, Il Foro Mussolini, Valentino Bompiani editore 1937; Alberto Riccoboni, Roma nell’arte, Casa Editrice Mediterranea, Rome 1942; Francesco Sapori, Scultura italiana moderna, La libreria dello Stato, Rome 1949; Il Foro italico e lo stadio olimpico, curated by Memmo Caporilli and Franco Simeoni, Tomo edizioni 1990; Vittorio Sgarbi, Appunti per una storia del Novecento, in the catalogue of the exhibition Scultura italiana del primo Novecento, Castello Estense, Mesola, 2 May – 30 July, Bologna 1992, p. 66; Patrick Sarfati, Stadium, le strade des marbres, Editions Norma, Paris 2002; Il parco del Foro italico. La storia, lo sport, I progetti, Silvana editoriale 2007
- Le statue di Selva per il foro Mussolini, in “Il Giornale d’Italia”, Rome 29 August 1929
- Restrospective exhibition of the sculptor Silvio Canevari, in the catalogue of III Mostra del Sindacato regionale Fascista delle Belle Arti di Roma e del Lazio, Pinci editore, Rome 1932, p. 17
- Hildegard Schmidt, Silvio Canevari, in Il corpo in corpo, exhibition curated by Bruno Mantura, Spoleto de Luca Edizioni d’Arte 1990
- Seconda mostra Nazionale d’Arte ispirata allo sport, exhibition catalogue, Rome, Mercati Traianei 1940, p. 46
- Francesco Sapori, Scultura italiana … (op. cit.) 1949