Diego Giacometti vs Unkown Etruscan Artist

October 12, 2007


LEFT: Alberto Giacometti, FEMME DE VENISE VII, Bronze, dark green-brown patina, Executed in 1956-57, sold at Sotheby’s for 3,969,500 USD (including buyer’s premium)
RIGHT:Unknown Etruscan Artist, Statuette (of Aphrodite ?) solid-cast bronze, Circa 350 BC


The present sculpture is number seven in Giacometti’s celebrated series of nine standing figures of a female nude, collectively known as the Femmes de Venise. The series originates from a group of 15 plasters which Giacometti had produced between January and May of 1956 in preparation for concurrent exhibitions of his work at the Venice Biennale and at the Kunsthalle in Bern in June of that year. Ten of the plasters were exhibited in Venice as “works in progress,” and the remaining five were shown in Bern as Figures I-V. Shortly thereafter, Giacometti selected eight plasters from the Biennale and one from the Bern exhibition for casting into bronze. The nine bronze versions of Femmes de Venise were each rendered in an edition of six, of which the present work is 3/6.

The Femmes de Venise are direct descendants of the elongated female figures which Giacometti had been working on in the 1940s and precursors of the larger female figures that he would execute in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Created at the midpoint of this artistic development, the Femmes de Venise serve as the summation of Giacometti’s findings in this particular subject. The variations among the nine Femmes, when considered as a group, demonstrate the metamorphoses of Giacometti’s vision of the female form. From a technical standpoint, the differences in height and anatomy suggest that their numbering might not reflect the sequence in which Giacometti produced them. Dr. Valerie Fletcher has suggested that the nine Femmes were randomly renumbered when the artist selected them from among the fifteen original plasters for casting into bronze.

This group of sculptures was created as different states of the same female figure, modelled from a single mass of clay on a single armature. When Giacometti was satisfied with a particular version, his brother Diego made a plaster cast of it while Giacometti continued to rework the clay into a different figure. As Giacometti told David Sylvester, “The last of the states was no more definitive than its predecessors. All were provisional… the standing figure and heads are states” (quoted in Twentieth Century Modern Masters, The Jacques and Natasha Gelman Collection, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1989, p. 265).
Giacometti’s friend and biographer, James Lord, described the creation of the Femmes de Venise: “The famous Women of Venice, so-called because they were executed with the Biennale expressly in mind…were created in a single sustained rush of energy during the first five months of 1956. Working with the same clay on the same armature, as he often did, Giacometti concentrated on a single rigidly erect figure of a nude woman, her body slender, attenuated, head held high, arms and hands pressed to her sides, feet outsized and rooted to the pedestal. She was modelled after a female figure in the mind’s eye, not from a living woman. In the course of a single afternoon this figure could undergo ten, twenty, forty metamorphoses as the sculptor’s fingers coursed compulsively over the clay. Not one of these states was definitive, because he was not working towards a preconceived idea or form … [his] purpose was not to preserve one state of his sculpture from amid so many. It was to see more clearly what he had seen” (James Lord, Giacometti, Boston, 1983, pp. 355-56).

All the Femmes de Venise sculptures display the thin, gaunt proportions for which Giacometti is best known, about which he commented to Sylvester in 1964: “At one time I wanted to hold on to the volume, and they became so tiny that they used to disappear. After that I wanted to hold on to a certain height, and they became narrow. But this was despite myself and even if I fought against it. And I did fight against it; I tried to make them broader. The more I wanted to make them broader, the narrower they got. But the real explanation is something I don’t know, still don’t know. I could only know it through the work that I am going to do” (David Sylvester, Looking at Giacometti, London and New York, 1997, p. 6).

With its disproportionately small head and large feet accentuated by a sloping pedestal, the overall effect of this tall, slender figure is what Lord termed an “ascending vitality” (James Lord, op. cit., p. 356). Reflecting on the impression which the Femmes de Venise make upon the viewer, Lord concludes: “When a spectator’s attention is fixed upon the head of one of these figures, the lower part of her body would lack verisimilitude were it not planted firmly upon those enormous feet, because even without looking directly at them, one is aware of their mass … The eye is obliged to move up and down, while one’s perception of the sculpture as a whole image becomes an instinctual act, spontaneously responding to the force that drove the sculptor’s fingers. Comparable to the force of gravity, it kept those massive feet so solidly set on the pedestal that they affirmed the physicality of the figure as the one aspect of his creativity which the artist could absolutely count on, all the rest being subject to the unreliability of the mind’s eye” (ibid. pp. 356-57).



This statuette, discovered at the shrine of Diana in Nemi, probably represents a goddess – perhaps Aphrodite. It belongs to a category of slender, long-limbed ex-voto figures that were very common in central Italy in the fourth century BC and also depicted devotees and priests. The face, with its regular features echoing classical Greek models, forms a deliberate contrast to the inordinately long, flat body with its scant detail, on which breasts and knees are little more than bumps.

This bronze female statuette was found at the shrine of Diana near Lake Nemi, south of Rome, and is characteristic of an unusual type of long-limbed votive figure that was widely produced in central Italy from the fourth century BC. This particular example was probably made around 350 BC. It represents a goddess – perhaps Aphrodite – wearing a diadem, a long tunic, and shoes with curled tips. Characters other than deities, such as devotees and priests, are also found among ex-votos of this type.

Like all statuettes of this type, the Louvre goddess has an extremely stylized silhouette. Her body is disproportionately long and flat, and there is an almost total absence of contours. Modeling is limited to the bare minimum: the arms, suggested by two deep incisions, hang down flat against the body and are of a piece with the torso, while tiny bumps indicate the breasts and knees. The only indication of the tunic is the slight relief where the lower edge meets the shoes. This choice of style may have fulfilled some magical or religious purpose.

The head is the only part of the statuette which is of normal proportions and has some volume. The concern for naturalism it reveals is inspired by classical Greek statuary, which deliberately accentuates the schematization of the human body. The wavy locks of the hair, like the decoration cut into the diadem, are carefully detailed, highlighting the perfect oval of the face with its regular features and impassive expression.



One Response to “Diego Giacometti vs Unkown Etruscan Artist”

  1. john anderson-dallas, tx said

    article should read “alberto” not “diego” vs ubknown…—otherwise quite informative.

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