CARPEAUX, Jean-Baptiste
(b. 1827, Valenciennes, d. 1875, Courbevoie)

Ugolino and His Sons

Bronze cast by Victor Thiébaut, 194 x 148 x 119 cm
Musée d'Orsay, Paris

Literary subjects were held in particularly high esteem by Romantic artists. In the front rank of such subjects were those drawn from Dante. Ever since it was written in the early fourteenth century, the Divine Comedy had enjoyed extraordinary favour in the field of plastic arts. Romanticism breathed new vigour into it, delighting particularly in the association between Virgil and Dante. It saw the former as the very embodiment of the elegiac poet, in contrast to the somber, tormented genius of the latter. Conversely, Neoclassical artists favoured exclusively the Latin poet.

The admiration that the Romantic felt for Dante also extended to the characters of the Divine Comedy. The character around whom all the fantasies and fears of late Romanticism crystallized most effectively during the second half of the nineteenth century was that of Ugolino, as drawn from canto XXXIII of the Inferno. For his final work produced at the Villa Medici, Carpeaux selected from this episode the crucial moment when Ugolino, condemned to die of starvation, is about too give in to the temptation of eating his children and grandchildren as, on the point of dying themselves, they beg him to. The horror of this moment is captured in the tension of Ugolino's body, which is all angles in contrast to the abandonment of children. Ugolino has his fingers in his mouth and one foot set nervously on the other.

© Web Gallery of Art, created by Emil Krén and Daniel Marx.