The Oarsman







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Silvio CANEVARI

Viterbo 1893 - Rome 1932

The Oarsman, 1929

Patinated plaster, h. 82 cm

Signed: S. Canevari


Exhibitions

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

Literature

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;
Enrico del Debbio architetto, catalogue of the exhibition, Rome Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Moderna, Rome 2006;
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.


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This is a preparatory plaster model for the Oarsman, a sculpture donated by the Province of Genoa and translated into marble by the Morosini firm of Massa Carrara. The statue reached the workshop of the Stadio dei Marmi on 13 December 1930 and was set up alongside the Boxer on 10 January 1931, in one of the two niches on the rear façade of the Accademia di Educazione Fisica. Sixty statues still grace the perimeter of the stadium in the grandiose Foro Mussolini complex built by Enrico Del Debbio in Rome between 1927 and 1933(1), together with others installed in the niches of the Accademia di Educazione Fisica. The statues are by various artists – some of them having carved more than one – and they were selected by a commission comprisng: 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).

In addition to the Oarsman, Canevari produced another five large sculptures of athletes 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 Boxer donated by the Province of Viterbo. The sculptor, who died prematurely, owes a large part of his posthumous renown to the widespread praise lavished by critics on these two statues, which were to be displayed in every exhibition after 1932 when their plaster models were shown at a retrospective promoted by Oppo in his capacity as national secretary of the Fascist Trade Union and by Del Debbio in his capacity as its secretary, in the context of the Third Fascist Regional Fine Arts Trade Union Exhibition for Rome and Lazio(3).
The sculpture was also shown at the Second National Exhibition of Art Inspired by Sport held in Trajan’s Market in Rome in 1940, when Canevari’s “best models” were displayed in a single room in an attempt to “highlight his unquestioned exemplarity”, and it is interesting to note that fully two models of the Oarsman were shown, together with two models of Wrestling, Mercury, Hercules as Young Man, Hercules, the Boxer and the Discus Thrower, the latter for a statue also for the Foro Mussolini but which was ultimately never made.

The introduction to the catalogue rightly emphasises Canevari’s career, describing him as “…one of the pioneers of sporting inspiration in art. If his premature demise had not brought to such a sudden end a career well on the way to producing works destined to people the stadia of Italy now restored to their classical function, he would have earned the right to be considered a ‘master’ on account of the sculptural elegance and sober dynamism that characterise his athletes” (4)

Writing in his work on the history of modern Italian sculpture in 1949, Francesco Sapori mentions Canevari’s athletes and the “rapid, intense career”(5) of the artist, whom he describes 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. The colossi depicting a boxer, an oarsman and an archer are swathed in Olympic composure”. Sapori goes on to voice his regret at having been unable to see the other “extremely noble sculptural goals” that Canevari would undoubtedly have achieved had he lived, and notes that he sought his inspiration in the great Italian sculpture of the 15th and 16th centuries, citing Donatello, Verrocchio and Giambologna(6).
In actual fact, 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, a style it reflects in full.
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(7) 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 most of the statues in the Foro.
The figure was designed to occupy one of the large niches of the Accademia di Educazione Fisica. The oar performs the function of a long axis serving as a pivot for the erect body of the athlete, shown at rest yet mirroring the stance of The Boxer, the statue occupying the niche on the other side of the entrance, with which the Oarsman shares similar sandals and a short chlamys draped over the shoulders – elements making one figure the virtually ideal companion piece for the other.

Notes:

  1. 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
  2. Le statue di Selva per il foro Mussolini, in “Il Giornale d’Italia”, Rome 29 August 1929
  3. 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
  4. Seconda mostra Nazionale d’Arte ispirata allo sport, exhibition catalogue, Rome, Mercati Traianei 1940, p. 46
  5. Francesco Sapori, Scultura italiana … (op. cit.) 1949
  6. Ibidem
  7. Hildegard Schmidt, Silvio Canevari, in Il corpo in corpo, exhibition curated by Bruno Mantura, Spoleto de Luca Edizioni d’Arte 1990

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