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How a 17th century Italian sculptor turned marble into lace: Giuliano Finelli
How a 17th century Italian sculptor turned marble into lace: Giuliano Finelli

Marble portraits Italian sculptor Giuliano Finelli more than one century admire those who saw this miracle. The master managed to give a hard marble block both the tenderness of satin fabrics, and the refined beauty of openwork lace, and the softness of sable fur, which, as it seems, can move from the slightest breath of breeze. It's just incomprehensible. Therefore, it still remains a great mystery: how it was possible in the 17th century to create marble works with such jewelry, when the main tools of sculptors were only a hammer and a chisel.

Unfortunately, not so much is known about the talented Italian master. Giuliano Finelli (1601-1653) was a Baroque sculptor that spanned 1600-1700. He was born in the family of a mason-mason in the city of Carrara, which was famous for the extraction of white marble. However, to this day, the city and the entire province of Massa Carrara is called the marble pearl, where expensive white marble has been mined from time immemorial.

Marble quarries in the province of Massa Carrara. Photo

From a young age, Finelli acquired the basics of marble carving in the workshop of Michelangelo Nacierino, one of the most prominent Neapolitan sculptors. He became a pupil of the master as a 10-year-old boy in 1611, when he accompanied his uncle to Naples.

Apollo and Daphne. Fragment. (1622-1625). Sculptor: Lorenzo Bernini

In 1622, Giuliano left his teacher and moved to Rome, where he began working as an apprentice in the great workshop of the famous Lorenzo Bernini. Over time, Lorenzo, seeing in his student an incredible talent for delicate work, began to allow Finelli to make many of his sculptures. At that time, the novice sculptor showed the highest level of his skill in the famous composition of Bernini "Apollo and Daphne" (1622-1625). Take a closer look at the delicately carved branches and roots that "grow" from Daphne's arms and legs - this is the work of the young Giuliano Finelli.

Apollo and Daphne. Fragments. (1622-1625). (Exquisitely carved branches and roots are the work of young Giuliano)

As time went on, Bernini's more agile students ousted Finelli from the master's workshop. For some time he had occasional orders, which he received through the mediation of the Roman artist Pietro da Cortona. However, despite the fact that the technique of performing sculptures by Finelli was quite high, he could not compete with the bravura and dynamism, as well as the speed of production, with the works of Bernini, which he performed with the help of other masters.

In 1629, Giuliano left Rome and again moved to Naples, where he had his own workshop and a student of Domenico Guidi, his nephew, who later became a famous sculptor. However, in this city, the master found a competitor - the local sculptor Cosimo Fanzago (1591-1678).

"Cardinal Shipione Borghese". (1632). Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Sculptor: Giuliano Finelli

In Naples, Finelli also had a patron, Cardinal Scipione Borghese, whose marble sculptures adorn many cathedrals in Italy, including a bust by Giuliano Finelli. In Naples, Giuliano Finelli made custom-made marble portraits and religious sculptures for the 13th century Cathedral of Saint Januarius.

Bust of Maria Cerri Capranica 1637, Getty Museum, California. Fragments. Sculptor: Giuliano Finelli

Finelli was incredibly meticulous in cutting out tiny details. And it drained him emotionally and physically. The lace collars, ruffles and furs on his busts are so elaborately carved that one cannot even think of them as marble. Until the end of his days, Giuliano Finelli continued to create. In the last months of his life he was in Rome.He died at 52 for an unknown reason, and is buried in the Roman Church of St. Luke and Martha.

The amazing story of one sculptural portrait

Maria Barberini. (1626). Louvre. Paris Sculpted by Giuliano Finelli

Anyone who was in Paris and visited the largest art museum in the world, the Louvre, must have had the good fortune in one of its spacious halls to see the extraordinary beauty and delicate work of a sculptural portrait of the beautiful Italian girl Maria Duglioli Barberini, dated 1621. The author of this masterpiece, as you already understood, is the Italian Baroque sculptor Giuliano Finelli.

This incredible creation became the pinnacle of the work of the Neapolitan sculptor, which still, namely four centuries later, makes the audience gaze with bated breath at the smallest details of the portrait, lace collar and frills. Peer and admire … And although we now understand that modern sculptors can easily create something similar with the help of special power tools, cutters and drills. But the head does not fit at all how it could have been created by hand 400 years ago.

Maria Barberini. Fragment. Sculptor: Giuliano Finelli

Another question also arises: who is this beautiful Italian Maria Duglioli Barberini? And, of course, history has an answer to that. Maria is the native niece of the 235th Pope Urban VIII, lived in the 17th century and died at the age of 21. It was her sculptural portrait in marble that the incredibly talented sculptor of the Baroque era immortalized for posterity.

Could Giuliano and Maria have known each other? Definitely - they could! Historians suggest that the young Giuliano visited Barberini's house, along with his teacher, while living in Rome. At that time he worked on the creation of marble masterpieces together with Lorenzo Bernini, for whom the doors to the house of the Barberini family were always open …

Maria Barberini. Fragment. Sculptor: Giuliano Finelli

Both in 1621 were a little over 20 … And a few months later, the young beauty from a rich, noble and influential family was gone - an early death cut short her life. Now we will never know for sure: whether feelings have flared up, or have just begun to emerge in the heart of a young sculptor for a girl; whether by order of the grief-stricken relatives of Maria, or at the call of his yearning heart, a talented sculptor, five years later, will reveal to the world a truly masterpiece of the Baroque era in the person of young Maria.

Maria Barberini. Fragment. (Brooch in the shape of a bee.) / Family coat of arms of the Barberini family

And one more interesting fact from history. On the chest of the sculptural portrait of Maria Duglioli Barberini, if you look closely, you can see a small brooch in the shape of a bee. It was the bee that was the symbol of the entire Barberini family. There is an old legend according to which:

A beautiful story, isn't it!

Neapolitan Baroque Giuliano Finelli

Returning from Rome to Naples, the sculptor created many more sophisticated sculptural portraits, immortalizing famous Italians of his era, as well as religious figures in marble.

Bust of the Italian poet Francesco Bracciolini. Sculptor: Giuliano Finelli

Take a closer look at the bust of the poet Bracciolini How incredibly realistic the fur cape looks, causing an incredible desire to touch it in order to feel the warmth and softness of sable fur. Or the ruff collar of Prince Michele Damaskeni-Peretti, the so-called "millstone". This incredibly delicate work defies comprehension.

Portrait of Prince Michele Damaskeni-Peretti. Bode Museum, Berlin. Sculptor: Giuliano Finelli Portrait of Giulio Antonio Santorio - Archbishop of Saint Severina. Sculptor: Giuliano Finelli Kardinal Montalto. "Cardinal Montalto". Bode Museum, Berlin. Sculptor: Giuliano Finelli Baroque sculptures by Giuliano Finelli, Cathedral of Saint Januarius Baroque sculptures by Giuliano Finelli. Cathedral of Saint Januarius Baroque sculptures by Giuliano Finelli

And in conclusion, I would like to note that we are incredibly lucky that such works of art have come down to our time and have survived in their original form. And today these creations of human hands amaze and delight connoisseurs of beauty with their amazing beauty and skill of execution, just as they did 400 years ago.

Continuing the theme of the incredibly talented Italian sculptors of past eras, read our publication: How Italian masters managed to create the finest veils from marble.

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