Wildt was preoccupied with the themes of faith, the human soul and religion. These interests stemmed from the intense suffering he experienced due to clinical depression in the first years of the twentieth century. His works from the succeeding decades often show an empathy for the plight of their subjects, whether Jesus Christ (Cristo del sepolcro, circa 1919), the Virgin (Vergine, 1924) or Saints (in particular, the martyred Santa Lucia, 1926). Within these groups lies an often complex, sometimes concealed, web of symbolism and abstract narrative which links back to the sculptor’s own inner torment.
L’Anima e la sua veste exemplifies the mystery of Wildt’s symbolism. Its exact resonance is unknown but its title appears to refer to the concept of the soul being clothed within the body. This theme, which relates to Christian teachings, frequently appears in The Divine Comedy, in which Dante uses imagery to expressly assimilate human bodies to garments. Those who have committed suicide describe a lost state in which:
Like others, we shall look for our mortal bodies
But none of us will ever put his on again;
It is not just for a man to have what he takes from himself.
We shall drag them here, and through the mournful wood
Our bodies will be hung, each one upon
The thorny tree of his tormented shade
Dante, The Divine Comedy, 'Inferno', canto XIII
Just as Dante creates an image of unfortunate souls ‘put[ting] on’ their bodies, so Wildt presents the viewer with a vision of the anguished soul seen through the recesses of the crescent eyes and the gasping mouth. The concept is beautifully underscored by the visual metaphor of the hood which cloaks the scalp and thus symbolises the layering of corporeality over spirit. The decorative use of original gilding for the hair, meantime, links L’Anima e la sua veste to the Secessionist movement.
Wildt’s excavation of the eye sockets and mouth lends to the soul a haunted expression, whilst reducing the face itself to an inanimate mask behind which the spirit resides. It is believed that he was inspired by the theatre masks and oscilla of classical antiquity. However, the present model, with its drooping eyes and downturned mouth, is thought to relate to traditional Japanese character masks with their expressive faces (Viraben, op. cit., p. 142). The hollowed out eyes are a defining characteristic of Wildt’s oeuvre. The approach was used to gruesome effect in his harrowing portrayal of Santa Lucia (of which a marble version was sold in these rooms on 16 December 2015, lot 134 for £485,000) who was martyred by having her eyes gouged out, and serves to emphasise the sculptor’s technical virtuosity.
Wildt had explored the corporeality concept several years prior to conceiving L’Anima e la sua veste, when he created the Janus-like Carattere fiero - Anima gentile (1912). Here, the duality of body and soul is expressed by the head of a stern man with furrowed brow and closed mouth [the body], delicately connected by a system of nerve-like strands to the opposing face of a wide-eyed young woman with parted lips [the soul]. In this work, Wildt conveys a more hopeful idea: that behind a hard exterior can lie a gentle inner being. The young woman, Anima gentile, anticipates L’Anima e la sua veste, with the head set upon a block of marble.
The likely Christian signficance of L’Anima e la sua veste is given credence by a comparison with one of Wildt’s drawings, entitled Maternita, in which an angel couriers an infant to the arms of a young woman who bows reverently, her head covered by a similar hood seen in the present sculptural group (an obvious Marian portrayal). The triangular face, enveloped by cloth and bordered by a band of striations, looks forward to the mother in La concezione (1921, a work which represents the Immaculate Conception) and the Vergine (1924). The link was made explicit by Giuseppe Chierichetti who displayed his version of L’Anima e la sua veste alongside Gaetano Previati’s Madonna dei gigli (1893, Galleria d’Arte Moderna, Milan).
The present marble, is very rare. One gesso and three marble versions are recorded in the 2015 Paris and Milan exhibition catalogue. The gesso was formerly in the Guido Marangoni collection. Of the three marbles, one (10C) is illustrated in the 2015 catalogue and is recorded as coming from the collection of Giuseppe Chierichetti and is now in a private collection. Another (10B) was formerly with the Wildt heirs and is now in a private collection; this is illustrated in Wolbert and Mola, op. cit., pp. 70-71. A third (10D) is recorded as being in the Scaioli collection, Alessandria. The present marble appears to be a fourth, rediscovered, version. It is this very same marble that Wildt exhibited in 1919 at the Galleria Pesaro, Milan. Its authenticity as Adolfo Wildt and Workshop has been kindly affirmed verbally by the renowned Wildt expert Dr Paola Mola.
K. Wolbert and P. Mola, Adolfo Wildt: Ein Italienischer Bildhauer des Symbolismus, exh. cat, Mathildenhohe, Darmstadt, 1990, pp. 70-71; F. Mazzocca and P. Mola, Wildt: L'anima e le forme, exh. cat. Musei San Domenico, Forlì, 2012, pp. 168-169, nos. 15a-b; P. Zatti et al., Adolfo Wildt (1868-1931): L'ultimo simbolista, exh. cat. Galleria d'Arte Moderna, Milan, and Musées d'Orsay et de l'Orangerie, Paris, 2015, p. 140, nos. 10A-C
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