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GIUSEPPE MARIA BONZANIGO: THE ROYAL SCULPTOR

The favourite cabinet- maker of Savoy and Napoleon

It is in Asti that one of the most appreciated ebanist in the world was born: Giuseppe Maria Bonzanigo. Born on September 6, 1745, he was a son of a cabinet-maker from Bellinzona and placed his atelier near the Collegiate church of S. Secondo. Author of furnishings, such as those for Stupinigi and Palazzo Reale in Turin, he became famous above all for the micro-sculptures in the Louis XVI style. As maître sculpteur for Savoy family, starting from 1775 he made furniture for both Prince Carlo Emanuele and the king’s sister, Madama Felicita. He was not only a carver, but a creative director. In 1787 he was appointed royal sculptor of Vittorio Amedeo III, obtaining important commissions and an engagement of 200 lire a year. The fame of the cabinetmaker grew under the Napoleonic regime, but even after the Congress of Vienna, during the Restoration, he maintained the activity of sculptor of the Royal Palaces.

The collection of 62 micro-sculptures kept at Palazzo Mazzetti is the largest after that of Palazzo Reale in Turin and consists of donations from Giovanni Montersino, the lawyer Secondo Pia, Giovanni Battista Longo and General Maggiora Vergano.

The Louis XVI style

Bonzanigo used different types of wood, including pear tree, each of them with its own consistency and color, and worked with the help of very small tools made by himself; sometimes the same work had both wooden and very precious ivory parts. Among the themes present in the Civic Collections of Asti there are allegorical, mythological, floral and funerary ones; they are often refined decorations for snuff boxes, but there are also a mirror and a brooch. Among the mythological subjects, “Selene and Endymion” stands out: a starry night sky is the background of the Goddess of the Moon, accompanied by the lively dog with its head upwards, and by the shepherd Endymion with whom she was in love; the figures are softly modelled and the theme is the same as that reproduced in the fresco dated to1684 situated in the Room of the Alcove of Palazzo Mazzetti, painted as a wish for a long lineage for the Counts.

The self-portrait of the artist that belonged to Guggenheim and the funeral theme

At the end of the eighteenth century Giuseppe Maria devoted himself above all to the realization of micro-sculptures of 8-9 cm, in particular portraits characterized by a “warm and cordial naturalism”; for example the images of Vittorio Amedeo III and Carolina Meynier, kept at the noble floor of Palazzo Mazzetti, and also the self-portrait of Bonzanigo in mature age that belonged to Moisè Michelangelo Guggenheim and that served as model for the commemorative plaque in Piazza Roma realized by the sculptor from Asti Materno Giribaldi. One of the last works of Bonzanigo, before his death in 1820 was the Funeral Monument for Michelangelo created in 1819, while it seems to have been lost the one representing the tomb of the fellow citizen Vittorio Alfieri in Santa Croce.

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