These exuberant busts personifying Europe
find strong comparisons in the oeuvre
of Giacomo Serpotta, a central figure in the cultural and artistic life of Sicily in the early 18th century. The diminutive mouths, long, thin noses, high cheekbones, and deep, arched eyebrows are typical of Serpotta's figures. Compare, for example, with the stucco Judith
by Serpotta in the Oratorio di S. Cita, Palermo (1717-18; Garstang, op. cit.
, p. 70, fig. 67). The elaborate, structured headdresses are typical of Serpotta, who savoured decorative costume detail in his sculptural groups. For a typical example, also with the same facial features, see the figure of Wisdom
in the church of Sant'Agostino, Palermo (circa 1720, Garstang, op. cit.,
p. 112, fig. 115).
The attribution of the present busts to Serpotta is ultimately justified by a comparison to his stucco figure of Fortitude
in the church of Badia Nuova in Alcamo, executed 1723 (see Bildarchiv Foto Marburg no. fmb29127_02; Garstang, op. cit.,
p. 119). Compare, in particular, with the present America
. Note the same posture, with shoulders thrust back - as if recoiling - extended slender neck, chin tucked in, and, again, the small mouth and wide open eyes with upward gaze. Like the Fortitude
, the present America
incorporates stylised feathers in the headdress (though smaller). Serpotta reused successful models and the Fortitude
appears as a variant elsewhere. The comparison with the present busts is so strong that an attribution to Serpotta can be justified, with a dating to the 1720s; the artist's late period. The subjects themselves are typical of Serpotta; his oeuvre
is dominated by personifications. Serpotta's marbles are fewer in number than his stucco decorations, for which he is famed, though some of his most prominent works were in marble, see the Madonna
in the Collegio Massimo, Palermo (circa 1689-90; Bildarchiv Foto Marburg no. fmb29019_04). The present busts are therefore rare additions to the oeuvre
of Serpotta, and, by virtue of their subjects, they symbolise the interaction between burgeoning New World and the Old.
Giacomo Serpotta was the most famous member of a Sicilian dynasty of sculptors, founded by his father Gaspare (1634-1670), and continued by his son Procopio (1679-1756). He also worked with his brother Giuseppe (1653-1719). Giacomo Serpotta is celebrated for his elaborate late Baroque stucco decorations for Sicilian Oratories, notably those in the churches of Santa Cita (circa 1685–1718) and San Lorenzo (1699–1707), Palermo. They have been described by Donald Garstang as 'among the most harmonious and elegant creations of 18th-century Italy' (op. cit.). Between 1679 and 1680 he executed the model for the equestrian Statue of Charles II of Spain, which was cast in bronze by Andrea and Gaspare Romano and erected in Messina, but sadly destroyed in 1848.
D. Garstang, Giacomo Serpotta and the Stuccatori of Palermo 1560-1790, London, 1984; V. Abbate, Serpotta e il suo tempo, exh. cat, Oratorio dei Biachi, Palermo, 2017; Garstang, D. (2003). Serpotta family. Grove Art Online. Retrieved 19 May. 2018, from http:////www.oxfordartonline.com/groveart/view/10.1093/gao/9781884446054.001.0001/oao-9781884446054-e-7000077756.