The Bimba Dormiente by Carlo Marochetti : A Funerary Portrait

1. Carlo Marochetti (1805-1867)
Bimba dormiente, 1844
Marble - 30 x 90 x 47 cm
Turin, GAM
Photo : GAM, Turin

The Bimba dormiente or Bimba addormentata (ill. 1 and 4), a work by Carlo Marochetti (1805-1867) belonging to the collections of the Galleria Civica d’Arte Moderna e Contemporanea (GAM) in Turin had remained a mystery until now.
Acquired in 1902 by the Museo Civico, the forerunner of the current GAM, the work, which came from Cagliari, Sardinia, was purchased from an industrialist by the name of Ercole Antico [1]. It was thought by some to have been the portrait of the sculptor’s daughter, Giovanna, who Marco Calderini [2] says, in his monograph on Carlo Marochetti, died at the age of eight (1836-1844), a fact which all of the biographical entries on the artist have since then faithfully repeated.

Two observations are needed here. Seen as a funerary portrait (a half-nude child, resting on a bed atop a cushion ornated with braided trimmings), the work seems to represent a very young child, of about two and not a young girl of eight. Also, if the artist had wanted to portray his dead daughter, we might wonder why the work does not appear as part of the estate nor in the inventories [3] related to the family’s assets.
We therefore have to first verify the information concerning Giovanna or Jeanne Marochetti. The Archives départementales of the Yvelines department [4] tell us that she was born on 10 April 1836 and died on 17 November 1852, at the age of sixteen years and seven months, not at eight. The sculptor had produced the medalion portraits of his first three children, Giovanna [5], Maurizio and Filiberto. These portraits and their patinated plaster casts (ill. 2 and 3) have not left the family residence.

2. Carlo Marochetti (1805-1867)
Medallion Portrait of Giovanna Marochetti
Patinated Plaster - 46 x 45 x 7.5 cm
Private Collection
Photo : C. Hedengren-Dillon

3. Carlo Marochetti (1805-1867)
Medallion Portrait of Maurizio et Filiberto Marochetti, 1849
Patinated Plaster – 45 x 37 x 12 cm
Private Collection
Photo : C. Hedengren-Dillon

Giovanna Marochetti (1836-1852) (ill. 2) can therefore not be the Bimba dormiente.
However, we find two mentions in the press of that period citing a work produced by Carlo Marochetti for the famous tenor Mario de Candia, Giovanni Matteo de Candia (1810-1883), a native of...Cagliari, Sardinia, thus coinciding with the provenance of the work acquired by the GAM in Turin. The musician lived in Paris at the time.
In the journal L’Artiste [6] of 30 March 1845, Bartolo informs us in fact in the column "Annales frivoles de l’hiver" [Frivolous winter annals], that Mario de Candia "had a princely residence built rue d’Astorg." and that "two art works attract the eye in the main salon : a full standing portrait of Giulia Grisi, painted by Bouchot [7] (ill. 5) ; across from it, a pretty child carved in marble by Marochetti’s chisel ; it is the son which Mario lost a few years ago and whose likeness he paid the author of Emanuele-Filiberto 10,000 francs [8]." Bartolo, by giving the precise amount paid to the sculptor, is expressing a criticism often leveled at Marochetti, that is the high cost of his work.

4. Carlo Marochetti (1805-1867)
Bimba dormiente, 1844
Marble - 30 x 90 x 47 cm
Turin, GAM
Photo : GAM, Turin
This marble portrait and the painted portrait (ill. 5)
faced each other in the salon of the rue d’Astorg in Paris

5. François Bouchot (1800-1842)
Portrait of Giulia Grisi, 1840
Oil on Canvas - 129 x 94.5 cm
London, Royal Academy of Music
Photo : Royal Academy of Music
This portrait and the marble portrait (ill. 4)
faced each other in the salon of the rue d’Astorg in Paris

The press stirred up a controvery soon after the artist produced his Parisian masterpiece, the main altar of the church of the Madeleine (poorly received at the time), reproaching the artist the price demanded but also the misuse of the marble made available to him for this work : "(the minister) gave M. Marochetti all of the white marble available at the time in order to execute a pitiful work ; there was enough for an entire master altar, statues, base, including ornaments, even if this master altar were half as big. But, alas, Mr. Marochetti has only, in this immense block, found the means to make the heads, arms and legs of his Mary Magdalene and his angels. He was unfortunate enough to have his assistants work during a heat wave ; the marble, obviously, must have melted under their fingers. It is said that this melted marble ended up in the form of busts, a reclining child, and a statue. [9]".
We of course can see that the reclining child mentioned in this acerbic piece of criticism is the work in question, although there is no mention of the patron who commissioned it.
However, a previous issue of the Journal des Artistes (28 July 1844) definitely erases any doubts. We read indeed that "Mario de Candia lost, some time ago, a dear child ; Mr. Marochetti has been entrusted by him to bring the child’s features back to life in marble. Lying on a velvet cushion, the child is sleeping. There is nothing so gracious as this pose, as is the young figure [10]."
This description provides a faithful image of the work acquired in 1902 by the GAM in Turin and there is no need to read the end of this bitter diatribe [11] to find it sufficiently convincing.
In the biography written by Elizabeth Forbes on Mario de Candia and Giulia Grisi [12], we find mention of a young Marie-Jeanne-Catherine [13], the couple’s first child, who was born in June 1842, died on 22 January 1844 and was buried at the Père Lachaise two days later. Bartolo, in his "Feuillets perdus" of 28 January 1844 commented on Giulia Grisi’s absence at the musical evening organized at Frédéric Soulié’s the previous Wednesday : "Norma was grieving for her dead daughter [14]". The same Bartolo seems to have forgotten this episode when describing in 1845 Mario’s private residence on rue d’Astorg and speaks of "the son whom Mario lost". Obviously, this is the same child.
The exact date of the death of the young girl (22 January 1844), as well as the first mention of the work in the press (Journal des Artistes, 28 July 1844), allow us to place the production of the Bimba dormiente by Carlo Marochetti between these two dates, in the studio (ill. 6) adjacent to his castle in Vaux [15].

6. Louis Laurent-Atthalin (1818-1893)
Sketch of Mr de Marocquetti’s Studio (sic)
in the Castle in Vaux, June 1843
Graphite, Watercolor, White and Ink Heightenings – 26 x 35cm
Private Collection
Photo : C. Hedengren-Dillon

We can assume that Mario, when leaving France for England, perhaps even during his brief visit to his mother in Cagliari in 1848, had the Bimba dormiente shipped to Sardinia. A guide of Cagliari [16] (first edition 1856), also asserts that Mario had furnished and decorated the family home "while away" ; this residence had been purchased and extended in 1846, with all sorts of antique and modern art objects arriving from abroad, turning the palace into a veritable museum.
Furthermore, a later statement confirms the identity of the Bimba dormiente by Carlo Marochetti. In fact, we know that the work was exhibited in Turin in 1898 [17]:an article appearing in the journal L’Arte all’Esposizione del 1898 [18] gives a detailed description and tells us that the work was sent by Stefano Roych. Now, it turns out that this Stefano is Mario de Candia’s nephew [19], since Mario’s sister, Teresa, had married Francesco Roych [20].
Stefano Roych no doubt sold the sculpture to the industrialist Ercole Antico who in turn offered it to the Museo Civico in 1902 before leaving Sardinia to settle in Rome.

7. Carlo Marochetti (1805-1867)
Bimba dormiente, detail
Turin, GAM
Photo : C. Hedengren-Dillon

The theme of sleep, underscored by the presence of the cushion and the bed, reinforces the idea of a morturary souvenir. However, when looking at the work (ill. 7), we have the impression of seeing a young girl full of life and grace, surprised while asleep. This is exactly what the sculptor wished to present to his patron, a very live memory of his child.

8. Carlo Marochetti (1805-1867)
Sleeping Angel
Marble - 16.5 x 33 x 32 cm
Private Collection
Photo : C. Hedengren-Dillon

9. Carlo Marochetti (1805-1867)
Sleeping Angel, detail
Marble - 16.5 x 33 x 32 cm
Private Collection
Photo : C. Hedengren-Dillon

Two works by Carlo Marochetti, both in white marble, can be associated with the Bimba dormiente. The first is the Sleeping Angel (ill. 8).
The child represented here appears to be Riccardo [21], Carlo Marochetti’s youngest son, who died in England in 1855, at the age of three [22]. The head, with wings on either side, represents the child, dead at a very early age, as a baby angel, a traditional representation of an innocent soul rising directly to heaven. The sculptor’s intention is very different from the one found in the sculpture of Mario’s dead child. Here, he worked under great urgency in order to better capture the features and the expression of the son he had just lost. The common point of both the works, however remains the cushion, decorated with tassels on all four corners and, for Riccardo’s, Tudor roses (ill. 9), the symbol of England, where the child was born and died.

10. Carlo Marochetti (1805-1867)
Funerary Monument of Lady Margaret Leveson-Gower
Marble – 47 x 196 x 74cm
Castle Ashby, Northamptonshire, Church Sainte Marie-Madeleine.
Photo : C. Hedengren-Dillon

The grave of Lady Margaret Leveson-Gower [23] (1830-1858) (ill. 10) also presents several similarities with the work we are discussing.
The young woman is lying on a long cushion trimmed with twisted fringe, raised by two pillows decorated with tassels. Lady Margaret seems to be sleeping peacefully, her head bent to the right. Like for Mario’s daughter, the sculptor wished to soften the impression of death but in this case, we have a grave and not a funerary souvenir. The stiff feet protruding past her robe attest to her death.

With the tasseled cushions, Carlo Marochetti repeated the iconography of the sculpted figures or "gisants" of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance [24]. It is surprising to see that this detail has not been taken into account concerning the Bimba dormiente. "This is a moment in life seized with freshness and originality", [25] wrote the Italian art historian and critic Anna Bovero, who had devoted her dissertation in 1938 to Carlo Marochetti, about our Bimba dormiente in 1942. Although the funerary aspect of the work seems to have eluded her, she paid a fine compliment to the sculptor since, indeed, life seems to have triumphed over death in this work, just as the artist had planned.

Version française

Caroline Hedengren-Dillon, mercredi 27 juin 2012


[1] Acquisto da Ercole Antico, Cagliari, 1902. GAM, Collezioni/Opere non esposte : Bimba dormiente, (Bimba addormentata). Inv. S/55.

[2] Marco Calderini, Carlo Marochetti, monografia con ritratti, fac-simile e riproduzioni di opere dell’artista, Torino (etc.), G.B. Paravia & Co., 1928.

[3] Private archives.

[4] Parish and public registry offices, Vaux sous Meulan, Cotes 1134373 and 1134374.

[5] The medalion of the young girl (ill. 2) was identified after checking the civil registry record for Giovanna. Date : between 1849 and 1852.

[6] L’Artiste, 4th Series, Tome 3, Paris, 1845.

[7] François Bouchot (1800-1842). This portrait of 1840 (ill. 10) representing the famous singer born in Milan, is now at the Royal Academy of Music in London. Giulia Grisi (1811-1869), also known as Giulietta Grisi, was already living with Mario de Candia at this time but would marry him later. They formed a celebrity couple and had international careers. François Bouchot had married the daughter of the singer Luigi Lablache ; we should also remember that he was a friend of Carlo Marochetti, who had "put at the painter’s disposal his wallet and his studio" in order for him "to execute a large study" of Marceau’s Funeral, a painting done in 1834 which established his reputation (cf. Bathil Bouniols, the article on Bouchot in Journal des Artistes, 1846, Nouvelle Collection, tome 3, p. 23).

[8] This refers to the equestrian statue of Emanuele-Filiberto of Savoy which stands in the Piazza San Carlo in Turin, the sculptor’s home town. This statue made him famous and earned him the title of baron (1838).

[9] Journal des Artistes, 2nd part, 26th delivery, p. 29, Paris, 1847. We underlined the passage underscoring our assertion.

[10] Journal des Artistes, 2nd series, tome 1, 18th delivery, p. 156. Paris, 1844.

[11] "Unfortunately the execution in no way corresponds to the thought. It would be difficult to spoil any further a more touching motif." Ibid.

[12] Elizabeth Forbes, Mario and Grisi, A Biography, London, Victor Gollancz Ltd., 1985, pp. 57 and 65.

[13] The child’s first name is in French as it appears on the burial permit, a document filled out in France. The couple’s five other daughters who were born between 1849 and 1855 had Italian names. The child’s name would thus have been Maria Giovanna Caterina de Candia. She bore the first names of both her grandmothers : Giovanna Grassi, Giulia’s mother, and Caterina Grixoni, Mario’s. Giulia and two other daughters, who died at an early age, were also buried at the Père Lachaise cemetery in Paris. Their grave is across from that of Molière.

[14] L’Artiste, 3rd series, tome 5, fourth delivery, p. 63, Paris, 1844.

[15] Vaux sur Seine, Yvelines (formerly Vaux sous Meulan, Seine et Oise).

[16] Canonico Giovanni Spano, Guida della città e dintorni di Cagliari, Cagliari, 1861.

[17] Danilo Eccher (a cura di), Galleria Civica d’Arte Moderna e Contemporanea. Collezioni, vol. II, Torino Allemandi 2011, p. 388, text by Monica Tomiato. We would like to express special thanks to Virginia Bertone, curator at the GAM in Turin, for providing us, under excellent conditions, access to the work which is currently in storage, and for forwarding this text by Monica Tomiato, thus allowing us to confirm our hypothesis.

[18] "Una statua del Marochetti all’Esposizione" in L’Arte all’Esposizione del 1898, n° 11, Torino, Roux Frassati e C°, p. 86. In this article, the child is presented as a young girl, "fanciulla".

[19] Elenco ufficiale delle famiglie nobili e titolate della Sardegna (1902).

[20] On the question, see the biography written by Cecilia, one of Mario’s daughter’s, The Romance of a Great Singer, a Memoir of Mario, by Mrs. Godfrey Pearse and Frank Hird, London, Smith, Elder & Co., 1910, p. 52.

[21] When the sculptor died, the marble (ill. 8) and its plaster cast were both in the family collections.

[22] The works representing Carlo Marochetti’s children are evoked for the first time in one article.

[23] Castle Ashby, Northamptonshire, England. Church of Saint Mary Magdalene. The sculpted figure, placed in a niche, lies under a large bas-relief depicting an angel flying up to heaven, a work by Carlo Marochetti as well.

[24] Carlo Marochetti, who produced a replica of the Three Graces for the fountain at Hampton Court Palace, admired Germain Pilon, whose influence is also visible at Count Broxnlow’s tomb, John Cust, 1st Earl Brownlow (+1853), in Belton, Lincolnshire, England. We should remember that Queen Victoria turned to Carlo Marochetti for the commissioning of the sculpted figures on the graves of Prince Albert and her own in Frogmore.

[25] Anna Bovero, "L’Opera di Carlo Marochetti in Italia", in Emporium, 1942, n°5, p. 193 : "E un momento di vita colto con freschezza e originalità".

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