Silvestro Barberini was born in Modena in 1854. Together with the painters of his age Eugenio Zampighi (1859-1944) and Gaetano Bellei (1857-1922), he is considered the artist who made the greatest attempt to propose the path of realism in Modena, challenging the Academy, the juries and the collectors who were still very attached to a traditional and provincial idea of art.
If Zampighi and Bellei worked in a decidedly more mitigated manner in the field of painting, Silvestro Barberini immediately distinguished himself in the field of sculpture, reaching the peak of his experimentation in the 1880s.
In 1881, for the Academy’s pensioner’s essay, he decided to present the group Delirium tremens, which was harshly criticised by the commission for its crude realism that distanced itself from the ideal beauty of ancient art. Nevertheless, by continuing along the path of realism, perhaps slightly mitigated by other influences in his mature years, Silvestro Barberini achieved exceptional success in the Modena area until the first decade of the 20th century.
Sculpture in Modena, between realism and Art Nouveau decorativism: from genre subjects to busts and funerary works
Dealing mainly with cemetery sculpture, Silvestro Barberini opened the company “Barberini sculture e marmi”, working mainly in the cemetery of San Cataldo and adapting from time to time to the needs of public or private commissions.
If in his early works, as we have said, there is a sometimes crude verism, as can be seen in the Agazzotti Tomb of 1884, he then moved on to an Art Nouveau style of decoration at the turn of the 20th century, clearly visible in the Raisini Tomb of 1904. The works from the beginning of the century are characterised by a marked eclecticism that is filled with both a neo-Baroque character and references to Renaissance and medieval sculpture, of which there are several examples in Modena Cathedral.
In the meantime, Silvestro Barberini took part in several national exhibitions, including the one in Bologna in 1888 in which he presented again the group Delirium tremens, together with the terracotta bust Claudius. In 1892 he took part in the National Exhibition in Florence with Sunset, Spring and From life, a work that was also exhibited at the National Exhibition in Palermo the same year.
As already mentioned, the early 20th century was characterised by ancient memories rendered through the filter of decoration and Art Nouveau linearism, which can also be seen in the Ophelia and in the couple formed by Boy and girl in old-fashioned clothes, two terracottas made in 1900, in which the vibrant and at times rough material is divided between the realism of the pose and the delightful elegance of the attitudes and small details, elements that are also found in his cemetery production.