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Adolfo Apolloni

( Roma 1855 - 1923 )


    Adolfo Apolloni

    Adolfo Apolloni, born in Rome in 1855 and from a wealthy family that owned a pharmacy in Via del Corso, was educated at the college of St Apollinare. He then went on to study engineering at San Pietro in Vincoli, but once he graduated, he responded to the strong call of drawing and modelling and enrolled at the Accademia di San Luca, inserting himself with dexterity and naturalness into Rome’s fervent post-unification artistic culture.

    Sculpture and Neo-Hellenism between Rome and America

    The young Apolloni, in his studio in Via Margutta 53 b, began to produce his first sculptures characterised by a verism still linked to academic stylistic features, and later joined Giulio Aristide Sartorio (1860-1932) in the Roman Neo-Hellenic movement, with sculptures strongly influenced by the elegiac sentiment of classicist memory.

    In the meantime, his private life was very active: he was particularly present in the social events of the Roman bourgeoisie, at one of which he met the American John Holt and his daughter Martha, with whom he fell in love. In 1879, he left for the United States, where he found work as a teacher of drawing and sculpture at the Boston Art Institute. He often travelled to nearby Providence to meet Martha and where he soon opened a studio in the brilliant artists’ quarter on Westminster Street. As he had already done in Rome, he immediately became representative of the city’s artistic climate and the Italian-American cultural community, joining the ‘Providence Art Club’, of which he would later become president.

    Active above all as a portraitist and as a designer of monuments of Greco-Roman memory, of cemetery sculptures and as a decorator of buildings, Apolloni achieved a certain success in Providence and Boston with the public and critics, also thanks to his strong ties with the Holt family. He married Martha in 1883 and became part of the American bourgeois elite, but the following year, drawn back to his origins, he returned to Rome with his wife who, unfortunately, died shortly afterwards.

    Apolloni, protagonist of the artistic and political fervour in Rome at the beginning of the 20th century

    In Rome, after facing this great sorrow, he continued to devote himself unceasingly to sculpture, respecting that pro-Hellenic sensibility that characterised his entire production.

    Perfectly inserted in the aesthetising movement of early 20th century Rome, he was an active member of the Circolo Artistico di Roma, organising initiatives and also designing the sets and costumes for the tableux vivants of the Feste Palilie at Christmas in Rome or the witty and bacchic Neronian Vigil.

    He made his mature debut at the Turin Exhibition of 1898 with the classicist sculpture Anacreontica, which combines two different materials, bronze and marble: two boys and a girl, seated at the end of a small hemicycle, naked or covered in elegant drapery, listen to an ode by the Greek lyric poet Anacreon, in a historical re-enactment of great philological attention.

    At the 1899 Venice Biennale he exhibited a Madonna and Anacreon. In 1900, he participated in the Universal Exhibition in Paris with Poet, a sculpture that won him a gold medal. In the same year, he was elected president of the Scuola Artistica Industriale (Industrial Art School) in Fano, his adopted town, a position he held until 1922. In 1903 he was again at the Venice Biennale with Fountain of Youth and Fountain of Silenus and was elected Accademico di merito at the Accademia di San Luca.

    In 1904, however, he returned to America for some time because he was appointed Italian commissioner at the World Exhibition in Saint Louis, while between 1914 and 1915 and 1919 and 1920 he was President of the Accademia di San Luca. With Le grazie and Gioventù vigorosa he took part in the Venice Biennale in 1905, while Tiber appeared at the Milan Exhibition for the Simplon Tunnel in 1906. He exhibited The Grape Harvest at the 1907 Venice Biennale, Mother’s Smile at that of 1909 and Allegory of Sculpture at the 1910 Biennale.

    Particularly active in the field of decorative and monumental sculpture, in 1915 he was responsible, among other works, for the execution of Agostino Chigi’s tomb in Santa Maria del Popolo.

    In the meantime, shortly before the war, he took an active part in the political life of Rome, militating in the moderate and liberated group of Prospero Colonna, a friend of his from his youth. He also became Mayor of Rome in 1919-1920 and Senator of the Kingdom. He died in Rome in 1923, at the age of sixty-eight, at his home in Prati, Via Pompeo Magno 11.

    Elena Lago


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