Most probably at the Promotrice di Belle Arti di Torino, 1859
C. Cavelli Traverso and F. Sborgi, "Santo Varni Sculptore (1807-1885)", 1985. A. Panzetta, "Dizionario degli Scultori Italiani dell'Ottocento e del Primo Novocento", 1994, vol. I, p. 277 and vol. II, p. 197, illustrating an old photograph of 'Laura', dated 1858, probably of the present example.
A superb Classical white marble figure entitled "Laura al Bagno" by Santo Varni (1807-1885)
Italian, inscribed Santo Varni F. and dated 1858
Height 85 cm, length 147 cm, width 57 cm.
The son of a silversmith, Santo Varni entered the Accademia Ligustica di Genova in 1821. He initially studied under Bartolomeo Carrea (d.1839) and then under Giuseppe Gaggini (d.1867). Gaggini's influence was profound, from him Varni developed a definitive style, which was ostensibly Neo-classical in expression but also, had purist and naturalistic tendencies. From 1835 to 1837 Varni was employed in the studio of Lorenze Bartolini in Florence where he could enjoy the city's wealth of Renaissance sculpture. In 1838 he returned to Genova to succeed Gaggini as tutor of sculpture at the Accademia and was subsequently appointed its Director as well as Honorary Sculptor to the King of Sardinia in 1842. As public recognition escalated Varni received many important commissions during the 1850's and following decade. These included the monument to Columbus in Genova, 1855-60, the statue of Emmanuele Filiberto for the Palazzo Reale in Torino, 1866 as well as others public statues, funerary monuments and portrait busts. Varni exhibited at the Great Exhibition of London, 1851 and at other international exhibitions during these two decades.
Varni's work often reflected his love of poetry and especially the work of the classical scholars, Dante, Petrarch, Ariosto, Tasso and others. He expressed his admiration for their writings in a series of busts executed in 1857 of 'Beatrice', 'Laura', 'Ginevra' and 'Eleonora', as well as a later group of sculptures, which likewise idealised the female form and paid homage to the great poets. Laura appears to have been among his favourite subjects. It was she who inspired Petrarch's love sonnets. Petrarch first saw her in the church of St. Clare, Avignon in 1327 and despite his wishes that she would become his mistress she remained faithful to her husband. The inspiration for 'Laura al Bagno' comes from the lines "Chiare, fresche, dolci acque - dove le belle membra - pose colei che sola a me par donna". Varni portrays her having emerged from Petrarch's crystal clear waters relaxing naked beside the brook. Beside her lays what should be a songbook but instead Varni inscribes the word 'Petrarch', as tribute to great poet himself.