Even though Wildt’s simplification of form and magnification of emotions heralded modern art in Italy, his work does reference the Italian masters of previous centuries. His use of gilding and spatial arrangement quotes the Italian Primitives and work of such Renaissance painters as Carlo Crivelli. For his images of strength, dolour, and ecstasy Wildt looked at Hellenistic and Baroque sculpture. The pose, truncation, rippling surfaces, and tour-de-force handling of the marble of Vir Temporis Acti of 1911, for example, are taken from the Belvedere Torso and the influence of the Laocoon is felt on such male heads as Il Prigione (1915). Santa Lucia is deeply inspired by Gianlorenzo Bernini’s Ecstasy of Saint Teresa in the Cornora Chapel of the Santa Maria della Vittoria in Rome (1647-1652). The epitome of saintly rapture in the history of marble sculpture, Saint Teresa’s head tilts towards the heavens as she gasps and her eyes roll back. Wildt’s work mirrors Bernini’s famous pose but brings his subject’s agony into focus by eliminating all embellishments, enlarging Lucia’s blinded eyes, and framing the face with a golden halo and a polished square background.
Much like his Baroque counterparts, Wildt tested the limits of his materials and different carving techniques to achieve the daring feats of undercutting and his characteristic luminous and seemingly transparent surfaces. Santa Lucia is carved from the rare and sculpturally challenging Candoglia marble. In his treatise on sculpture, L’Arte del Marmo, Wildt warned the novice sculptor of its challenges: “This marble is as fascinating in its tone of flowers and flesh as it is hard to work due to the hardness of the grain. … I hope that the choice of using this unique and extremely rare material was not simply a whimsical desire, rather it should stimulate a close affinity between the particular origin of this marble and the nature of the work of art you wish to create: an affinity which should be graceful and strong at the same time … Bear in mind that for each stroke on the Carrara marble you will need five on the Candoglia.“ (op.cit., pp. 100-104, 108, 110-112)
Wildt carved the first version of Santa Lucia for the Marquess Raniero Paulucci de’Calboli in 1926 and exhibited a version at the Prima Mostra Regionale d’Arte Lombardo in 1928, the Galleria Milano in 1929, the Bottega d’Arte in Livorno in 1930, and the Prima Quadriennale di Roma in 1931. There are three versions of Santa Lucia: the present, one at the Musei Civici in Forlì, and a third in the Gilgore Collection in Naples, Florida. The inscriptions on the present marble differ in form from those on the Santa Lucia in Forli. Since the present version of Santa Lucia is one of Wildt's very last works, it is possible these differences could be explained by the intervention of his assistants.
A. Wildt, L’Arte del Marmo, Milan, 1921; F. Mazzocca and P. Mola, Wildt. L’anima e le forme, exh. cat. Musei San Domenico, Forlì, Milan, 2012, pp. 228-229, 285, pp. 307-308, nos. 44, 96, 118, and 116; pl. XI, figs. 113-114
*It has been suggested that the signature and inscription may have been added by Wildt's studio.
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