Monday is “Grab Bag” day here at Entertainment Legends Revealed, with each Monday featuring a different area of the world of arts and entertainment (that is not featured on the other four days of the week, that is). They’ll eventually repeat, but for now, we’re still on the initial installments of each of the various “Grab Bag” legends!
This is the first in a series of examinations of legends related to sculpture and whether they are true or false.
SCULPTURE LEGEND: A Shakespeare expert was called to rule on the genital authenticity of a statue of a character from a Shakespeare play.
Eric Gill was a widely respected designer of typefaces, and his work can still be seen on some Penguin books and some British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) programs.
He was also a noted sculptor, and in 1931, he was commissioned by the BBC to do a sculpture outside of their offices in London. It seems as though Gill had a decent amount of freedom with his choice of subject, except that it was supposed to have something to do with culture (like based on a novel, a play, etc.).
Gill decided to draw two characters from William Shakespeare’s play, The Tempest.
He decided on the lead character from the play, the banished sorceror, Prospero, as well as the sprite, Ariel (Gill chose Ariel as a bit of a play on words, as the BBC delivered their radio content through aerial transmissions). Gill decided to depict the two almost like father and son.
Here is the statue…
Well, there was a bit of a problem with Ariel’s, well, his penis.
You see, people felt that Gill had drawn the sprite’s penis too large.
The Board of Governors of the BBC objected to the statue because of the penis size and they actually decided to consult with a Shakespearean scholar to get the “definitive” answer – was the penis too big?
He judged that yes, it was too big, so Gill, somewhat surprisingly, gladly agreed to adjust the size of the character’s penis, and that’s what we have today…
Gill was interesting in his ideas on the “rights” of artists regarding their work – he was basically of the mind that the artist did not control the work. He felt that the person who commissions the work should totally control the work. It’s an opinion that not a lot of artists share.
SCULPTURE LEGEND: Auguste Rodin made a mold of a person for the basis of his statue, Age of Bronze.
In a lot of ways, the beginning of Auguste Rodin’s career helps prove the old saying, “Any publicity is good publicity.”
The first 30 years of Auguste Rodin’s life likely brought a good deal of development to him as an artist, but it did not do a lot for his bank account. He dealt with poverty for most of these years. 1870 was a turning point, though, for Rodin, as he moved to Brussels with his boss, artist Albert-Ernest Carrier-Belleuse to do some ornamentation work on a palatial Brussels estate.
Although the two parted ways soon after arriving in Brussels, Rodin managed to get work in various other studios, and over time, he began to save up enough money to travel and study the masters of sculpture in Italy, like Donatello and Michelangelo.
In 1877, Rodin finally burst on to the international art scene with his work, Age of Bronze…
However, the stunningly life-like sculpture also brought a great deal of controversy to Rodin, as he was charged with a major no-no by the rest of the art world. It was said that Rodin made a cast of a model and then sculpted around that cast. That was a major artistic taboo.
It was also not true.
Really, it’s a lot like the way any “out of nowhere” striking artistic accomplishment is treated – people find it hard to believe that this “nobody” could produce such a stunning piece of art. In fact, the work in 1877 was done in plaster because, as I noted before, Rodin did not have a lot of money so he could not afford to cast his work in bronze. So he needed the French Salon to authorize the use of bronze. And they would not authorize it until they could prove that the work was a legitimate piece of art and not just a cast of an actual person.
So for two years, Rodin and his artist acquantinces from Brussels had to prove the work, and eventually, the Salon accepted their arguments (Rodin had photographs and casts that showed his progress of the piece) and in 1880, the piece was cast in bronze and entered into the Salon competition, where it took a third place medal.
However, the controversy over the work was such that people came from all over Europe (and heck, the world, even!) to see this work that such a fuss was made about, and thus, Rodin became an international art celebrity.
He would remain a world-renowned sculptor for the rest of his life.
He is probably best known nowadays for his work, The Thinker…
SCULPTURE LEGEND: Michelangelo had an interesting response to people doubting his creation of the Pietà.
La Pietà is one of Michelangelo’s most famous works.
He was commissioned to do the work in 1497 when he was 22 years old. It was completed and displayed in 1499. The marble statue is distinctive for both its striking beauty AND for the manner in which Michelangelo depicts Mary as being much younger than most artists have drawn her.
Before its final (and current) resting place in St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City, it was first placed at the nearby Chapel of Santa Petronilla.
Now, according to Giorgio Vasari, when the work was installed, Michelangelo would hear people suggest that the work (which was quite popular right from the get-go) was done by various artists (Vasari specifically mentions Cristoforo “il Gobbo” Solari, but I’ve heard a variety of artists mentioned in the story – it’s likely that different people mentioned different artists).
Like Rodin, Michelangelo was a fairly unknown artist (he was still a couple of years removed from the work that would make him immensely famous, the statue of David), so it is reasonable enough that people would attribute the work to more famous artist.
Well, Michelangelo was quite irked by this, so he went and actually added his name to the piece, carving it into the sash worn by Mary…
Translated, that says “Michelangelo Buonarroti, Florentine, made it.”
Michelangelo was embarrassed at his prideful reaction, and vowed to never sign one of his works again (and he did not).
Now, Vasari is an interesting fellow, in the sense that he is the greatest historian we have for Renaissance artists, but he’s also more or less the ONLY notable historian we have for Renaissance artists, so we’re often dependent upon his histories, which tend to be a lot more accurate the closer the events are to his era (I discussed an example of a mix-up by Vasari in this installment of Painting Legends Revealed).
However, Vasari and Michelangelo WERE contemporaries (Michelangelo lived from 1475-1564 and Vasari lived from 1511-1574), so I think we can trust his histories of Michelangelo pretty well. When you add in the fact that the story is extremely reasonable, I think it’s fair to give this one a “True.”
Okay, that’s it for this week!
Feel free (heck, I implore you!) to write in with your suggestions for future installments! My e-mail address is email@example.com