Rosso’s sympathy towards children is undoubtedly manifested in this wax sculpture. Underneath the plump features, a muted sense of melancholy seeps through the soft grin of the child. The subtle pupils roughly modeled are almost peering cautiously out and upwards, evoking a remarkable sense of liveliness beneath the youthful curiosity. Such vulnerability is vividly captured by Rosso’s deliberate choice of wax as a sculptural medium. This specific medium was considered a novelty during the nineteenth century as wax models had long been used as a transitory medium for bronze casting and were rarely presented as works of art in their own right. Rosso denied such tradition and transformed it into a major part of his modus operandi. He rejected completing his sculptures in round and persisted in creating coarse unrefined surfaces often leaving signs of casting still intact. This is exemplified by Enfant Juif, with the modeled surface of the child’s expression gradually morphing into an undulating wax landscape of dents and ridges that suggest the form of the child’s head and back. It is as if the wax remains malleable and is still in the midst of an on-going process of artistic creation. As Harry Cooper writes, "…insisting on the instantaneous impression, [Rosso] made objects our eyes have to crawl over. Insisting on frontality he left his hands wander over the backs of his sculptures to produce densities and opacities of material that even Rodin never dreamt of. These backs are where Rosso’s absorptive desires and the self-figural impulses of his medium issued" (H. Cooper, "Ecce Rosso!" in Medardo Rosso: Second Impressions (exhibition catalogue), Fogg Art Museum, Cambridge 2003-04, p. 21). Rosso has effectively utilized wax’s fluid physical property to materialize the fleeting movement of a child’s expression as well as focusing on the ephemeral nature of childhood. As a result, Enfant Juif not only demonstrates Rosso’s virtuosity in harnessing the materiality from this sculptural medium but also reflects his interest in transience and motion, a testimony of the artist overturning traditional sculptural principles.
The identity of the portrayed child remains ambiguous and Enfant Juif was the first title used for this model. It was later speculated the young child to be Oscar Ruben Rothschild before Rosso published photographs of the sculpture under a more general title of Head of Child and subsequently as San Luigi in an exhibition of religious art in 1926.
Enfant juif was the first work that the work's first owner, Charles Meek, acquired from the artist in 1923; he would go on to purchase three more on various trips to Milan. Upon his death, it was gifted to St. Mary’s Priory at Princethorpe College in Warwickshire, where his daughter Diana was a nun.
Fig. 1 Medardo Rosso in his studio, early 1890s, with a mold assembly in the foreground, Museo Medardo Rosso, Barzio
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