Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux (French, 1827–1875)
11 x 7 1/16 x 5 15/16 in. (28 x 18 x 15 cm)
Purchase, Assunta Sommella Peluso, Ada Peluso and Romano I. Peluso Gift, in memory of Ignazio Peluso, 2001 (2001.199)
Carpeaux demonstrates here an enduring admiration for the plangent heroism of Michelangelo, evinced earlier in the famous Ugolino and His Sons, conceived during his study years in Rome. (The marble, finished in 1867, is now owned by the Metropolitan Museum; 67.250.) The government of Napoleon III kept Carpeaux busy with official projects, decorative sculpture, and portraiture, but it is clear from the evidence of the occasional private moments when he sketched sacred subjects, such as this group, that he would have been one of the most powerful of all religious artists had he been free to exercise this repertory. Mounding the clay pellets and pressing them into shape in mere seconds, Carpeaux focused his entire attention upon the Virgin Mary's maternal embrace, to the virtual exclusion of Christ's legs. A related drawing in the Musée des Beaux-Arts, Valenciennes, is dated 1864.