Vincenzo Jerace (Polistena 1862–Rome 1942) , Radiolarie
Patrick Hari – Merlin James – Tim Rollins and K.O.S Padraig Timoney – Josh Tonsfeldt – Cheyney Thompson
The creation of a form is a gradual process that takes place through the artist’s analysis and sensitivity. It is a process that grows by following intuitions, technical possibilities and studies that arise with the help of scientific discoveries, new technologies and the development of human thought. Sedimentation of the past, or of the referents of previous eras, underpins what experience has been able to prove over time, generating a new vision of reality. Because of their implicit experimental penchant, the arts and sciences have always forged hybrid relationships in an attempt to analyse the truth and its laws, applied to the dynamics of cause and effect. The creation of a new form is determined by an invisible landscape that the artist experiences as an existential and experiential scenario, transforming this into a work and shaping it by adapting it to the content being pursued. The vision of reality and the study of past or new discussions amplify the interests of the artist who, in carving out a specific field of investigation, develops approaches and preferences for materials and personal creative processes. Based on these statements, we cannot exclude the concept of imponderability and causality that has often determined the intuition and birth of new theories or even masterpieces. In the execution, we cannot erase the unpredictability of the results that, through certain experimental or educational techniques, occur during the production of a work. It is in this statement that we may find what is perhaps the most intriguing part of the process the artist expects and seeks, in order to reveal something new or unexpected to himself. This process is an integral part of the work and represents the most interesting part, which leads to the edge of the invisible landscape that the public can perceive in the formal visualization of the work.
This form – inaccessible to the human eye – became visible thanks to the invention of the first microscopes, and it was recorded and studied by Vincenzo Jerace. In 1883, at the Anton Dohrn Zoological Marine Station in Naples, the artist observed Radiolaria (primordial protozoan micro-organisms), setting them down in drawings that, developed over the years, breathed life into incredible forms in the late nineteenth century. Jerace produced archetypal and timeless zoomorphic works in ceramic and bronze. The process phase becomes implicit and present in sculptures – incorrectly defined as vases – of Radiolaria. The objects on display, datable to the early nineteenth century, can immediately be reconnected with the procedural concepts of the research conducted by the contemporary artists chosen for this comparison. Each one analyses and studies – within his own investigation – the methods and dynamics that develop the social and perceptual processes of reality pertaining to contemporaneity. They seek to add a new and interesting contribution to this analysis through visualization of the works. They have been created and chosen based on the type of artistic process that determined them, and they implicate a long and complex development. The works are exemplified in traditional artistic forms such as painting and photography, or they are reinterpreted through the use of the media chosen to execute them. It is interesting to note how the point of contact determining a form – tied to a specific historical and cultural period – can cut across time. And how, in this comparison, all of this is directly connected to the research and investigation methods of the contemporary artists who have developed new projects and engage with the premise of a past that has sought dialogue projected into the future.
Born in Polistena (in the province of Reggio Calabria) on 6 April 1862, he moved to Naples in 1879. His brother Francesco, already a renowned artist with close ties to the Neapolitan art scene, then helped him by getting him enrolled in the Royal Institute of Fine Arts. He studied under Filippo Palizzi, Morelli and then Saverio Altamura, and he initially participated in the naturalistic and realistic climate of the nineteenth-century Neapolitan school. Soon, however, his curiosity and openness towards a European climate that was more experimental and less academic led him to seek a form of expression that better reflected his strong personality. His debut, which caught the eye of judges and critics alike, dates back to the 1880 exhibition in Turin, in which he participated with bronze sculptures and, in particular, L’asinello che gioca con il coniglio, praised as one of the show’s finest works. During this period, he participated in the Melbourne International Exhibition and in 1881 he was at the National Exhibition in Milan. In 1883 he executed an enormous gesso sculpture that he presented at the Roman Exhibition, entitled Il Leone di Aspromonte, inspired by the undertakings of General Garibaldi in Aspromonte. All that remains is the photographic documentation in which the young Jerace is accompanied by the revolutionary sculptor Medardo Rosso. Jerace’s first studies and research date back to the early 1880s, when he started studying amoeboid and zoomorphic forms under the microscope at the Anton Dohrn Maritime Station in Naples. He focused entirely on these sinusoidal and primitive microscopic organisms – Radiolaria – that, in their complex forms, are comparable to the contemporary ones of fractals.
These studies rapidly led him towards what European culture was starting to produce in the Art Nouveau movement and, in sculpture, he would translate this into bronze, marble and ceramic vases in the years following his studies. This research would soon converge into architecture and the applied arts in the concept of the all-around artist working in the various artistic fields, an approach that Jerace would adopt as his modus operandi. This insight would draw him into the discussions and opportunities for a broader vision of art distinctive of the British Arts and Crafts movement, but also the Viennese approach of the Wiener Werkstätte, which he would soon codify in theories of total art in the reinterpretation of drawings of the functional serial object, going on to production of the one-off piece. In 1887 he participated in the National Exhibition in Venice (the Venice Biennale, before it became the National and then the International), and in 1888 and 1890 he was at the Promotrice delle Belle Arti in Naples, where he exhibited the monumental stone fireplace Decus Pelagi (shown in Brera in 1886 and London in 1888, and now part of a private collection in Norfolk), showing the decorative lines of Art Noveau inspired by the artist’s studies of marine flora and fauna at the Neapolitan aquarium, yet also close to the symbolist lines of the Pre-Raphaelites. He would then adopt this approach in his first sanguine drawings executed in 1888, which drew him close to the British movement. He came into contact with this movement during his numerous trips to Europe and in 1920 he designed the studio of the painter Sir Frederic Leighton, overseeing all the details and interior furnishings.
In 1897 he exhibited an initial form of Radiolaria in cipollino marble, again at the Promotrice in Naples, similar to those at the bottom of the marble balustrade of the monumental staircase in the Palazzo Sirignano (formerly the Tirrenia headquarters) that he designed in the early twentieth century. Also in 1887, he was in London with one of his most famous works, Ex cubitor, a symbolic woman-angel-serpent figure, presented again in London in 1888. The artist participated in the Venice Biennale four times (in 1895 with two sculptures and four drawings; in 1897 with two sculptures; in 1910 with two sculptures, Tigre in Agguato, Regina Margherita collection, and Tacchino; in 1928 with a sculpture). He was at the Brussels International Exposition of 1897 with Tigre in Agguato; in Barcelona in 1887 with La Maialina, which won a gold medal; at the Royal Museum of Fine Arts in Antwerp in 1888 and 1896, with various sanguine studies and several Radiolaria vases in bronze and marble, one of which received honourable mention. It was in 1888 that he also moved from Naples to Rome, where he participated in the exhibition of the Society of Amateurs and Connoisseurs in 1885 and 1896, and where he set up a small production of terracotta, ceramic and bronze vases of Radiolaria, which he would continue until the late 1920s.
In 1894 Jerace took part in an exhibition in Antwerp where he represented Italy along with the Chieti-born sculptor Costantino Barbella and the painter Giulio Aristide Sartorio. Here he exhibited fourteen works, including several sanguine drawings – Aurora, Beatrix and Lea – that were purchased by the king of Italy for the Palazzo Reale in Naples, and the famous Radiolaria, a marble vase purchased by the local Museum of Modern Art. He was in Vienna in 1896; Rome for “In Arte Libertas” exhibition of 1902, with seventeen works; Turin in 1908 with two sanguine portraits and a mantelpiece; Rome in 1911, with Dente per Dente; Milan in 1916, with Lonza Dantesca, Tigre in Agguato and Aurora. Invited by Frangipane, he participated in the 1st Mostra d’Arte Calabrese, held in Catanzaro in 1912, with two sanguine drawings and the study of a Calabrian woman; he also participated in the Calabrian Biennale in Reggio Calabria (in 1920 he exhibited La Vigilanza, a goblet and L’Olocausto). In 1928 he took part in the Mostra Silana delle Arti Popolari in San Giovanni in Fiore, with the sanguine drawing Osculater Me, purchased by the Province of Reggio Calabria the following year for 1300 lire.
Jerace undertook the decoration of the Neapolitan palace of the Duke of Guardia Lombarda, inspired by Thomas Moore’s The Loves of the Angels, as well as bronze panels and other Art Nouveau decorations for the Villa Imparato in Castellammare di Stabia and the Villa Pierce in Naples (later owned by Achille Lauro), and a statue of Christine of Savoy for the church of Santissima Annunziata in Sabaudia. For several commissions, he collaborated with his brother Francesco (the monument to Francesco Fiorentino in Catanzaro and the funerary monument to Baron Francesco Compagna in Corigliano Calabro). He was also interested in architecture and completed numerous projects (at the aforesaid London studio of the painter Sir Frederic Leighton in 1920). He executed a number of war memorials (Lamezia Terme – Nicastro, Rossano, Bevagna, Vibo Valentia, Sant’Andrea di Conza, 1924, where the monument is surmounted by a statue dedicated to “Young Italy”) and religious works (a statue of the Redeemer on the hill of Ortobene in Nuoro, 1901; another one at the Polsi Sanctuary in Aspromonte, 1907; a bust of Pius X in the sacristy of the Gerace cathedral; a paschal candelabrum in the treasury of the cathedral in modern-day Pompei; a high-relief stucco at the base of the dome of the church of Santissimo Rosario in Polistena; the Face of Jesus in the cathedral of Reggio Calabria). He received numerous awards and his works are in various museums (Dresden Art Gallery: Faunetta che Allatta; Galleria d’Arte Moderna in Rome: La Figlia Luisa, 1928; Province of Catanzaro: Maternità, high-relief gesso; Uffizi in Florence: Autoritratto, charcoal, 1890) and major private collections (Regina Margherita, Aurora Italica and Re Vittorio Emanuele III).
His sanguine works are fascinating (Rubi, La Pace, Aurora Italica, Ritratto della Moglie, 1888) and this became his favoured technique. Jerace’s symbolist subjects with female figures are highly regarded. At the 2nd Polistena Art Exhibition of 1955, his paintings – Testa di donna, Castello di San Giorgio, Paesaggio, Pino di Cittanova – and a sculpture, entitled Busto di filosofo, were presented at the retrospective exhibition. Over 500 works are present throughout Italy (at the museum in Polistena; in the new parish church in Anoia, which has two sculptures, Innocenza and Penitenza; the municipal library of Reggio Calabria has Il Sogno, a sanguine drawing on cardboard from 1888, and Ritratto di Fanny Salazar, a sanguine work on canvas dated 1897) and around the world, from Canada to Cuba, Paris, England and Los Angeles, where his marble work Sinite Parvulos Venire ad Me is in the monumental park. He was an honorary member of the Accademia di Belle Arti in Naples and was a corresponding member of the Secession in Munich. For a short period he also headed the Suor Orsola Benincasa school in Naples, bringing a breath of fresh air by having the over 400 students draw from life. Jerace also published a scholarly book, La donna nelle opere di Michelangelo, published by Giannini. The artist died in Rome in 1942.