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Dupré, Giovanni

Category: Artist and sculptor


Giovanni Dupré was an extremely eminent sculptor, born of remote French ancestry in Siena, 1st  March 1817.  He died in Florence on the 10th January, 1882.   

During his forty years as a sculptor, he executed about a hundred works in the round and in relief, including a considerable number of busts and statuettes. Of these, perhaps the most important are:

The statues of Cain and Abel; the group of the Pietà in the cemetery of Siena; the large bas-relief of the Triumph of the Cross on the façade of the Church of Santa Croce in Florence; the monument to Cavour at Milan; the Ferrari monument in San Lorenzo, with the angel of the resurrection; the Sappho; and the pedestal for the colossal Egyptian Tazza, with its alto-reliefs, representing Thebes, Imperial Rome, Papal Rome, and Tuscany, each with its accompanying genius.  There are also the statue of St Francis; and the Risen Christ.

The Tazza, the Pietà, the Triumph of the Cross, and the Risen Christ, were selected by him out of all his works to send to the French Exposition of 1867, and it may therefore be supposed that he considered them as the best representatives of his genius.


During his life, honours were showered upon him at home and abroad.  “Honours well deserved and meekly borne”.  He was made a knight and counsellor of the Civil Order of Savoy, a member of the Institute of France, a knight of the Tuscan Order of Merit and of the Legion of Honour in France, an officer of the Brazilian Order of the Rose, a commander of the Order of the Corona d'Italia, Mexico and Guadaloupe, an associate of the Academy of St Luke, and of various other academies in Italy and elsewhere.

In front of the house where he was born in Siena, the municipality placed this inscription:
"This humble abode, in which was born Giovanni Duprè, honour of Art and Italy, may teach the sons of the people what height can be reached by the force of genius and will."  A similar memorial tablet was placed over the house where he lived for twenty plus years in Florence, where he is described as “the great sculptor, glory of Italy and of Art”.  There is a bust of him in the Parrocchial Church dell'Onda (in Siena) executed by his daughter Amalia.

His beautiful sculptures alone would merit a place on this site, but Giovanni was also ‘guided’ by voices – one of which saved his life. 

Triumph of the Cross

The deeply held beliefs of Giovanni Dupré

Giovanni Dupré was a Catholic, and an intensely devout, humble man.

Letter to Professor Giambattista Giuliani

"My excellent friend,--We also, Amalia and I, wish you truly from our hearts, now and always, every good from our blessed God--perfect health, elevation of spirit, serene affections, peace of heart in the contemplation of the beautiful and the good, and the immortal hope of a future life, that supreme good that the modern Sadducees deny--unhappy beings!"


"I am most happy," he said in his reply to the authorities of Assisi, who gave him his final commission, "that the Commission has thought of me,--not so much on account of what little talent I may possess, as for the love I bear to religious art."

One of the interesting comments – criticisms -  that was made about his work, was that he was not able to portray evil all that well.  The subjects which he chose in preference to all others were of a religious character, and his works are animated by a spirit of humility and devotion. His piety--and he was a truly pious man—“narrowed the field of his imagination”, he was a good man unable to portray evil.

There is one set off works that show this well.  His Cain, almost alone of all his works, breathes a certain spirit of defiance and anger, but it was not in harmony with his genius; it is forced.  Furthermore in natural expression it falls so far below his statue of Abel, that it was epigrammatically said that his ‘Abel killed his Cain’!

There was undoubtedly a certain truth in this criticism, for though the Cain is 'vigorously conceived and admirably executed', the heart of the man was not in it, as it was in the gentle and placid figure of Abel. In mastery of modelling and truth to nature, this latter statue could scarcely be surpassed.

Thoughts on Art and Autobiographical Memoirs of Giovanni Duprè - Giovanni Duprè [Translator: E. M. Peruzzi] - INTRODUCTION TO NEW EDITION.

Giovanni Duprè (1817-1882) - Buste of Giotto

Within the bounded domain of thought and conception which his religious faith had set for him, he worked with great earnestness and devotion of spirit. … His artistic honesty cannot be too highly praised. He spared no pains to make his work as perfect as his powers would permit. He had an accurate eye, a remarkable talent for modelling from nature, and an indefatigable perseverance. He never lent his hand to low, paltry, and unworthy work.

Art and religion went hand in hand in all he did. He sought for the beautiful and the noble--sought it everywhere with an inquiring and susceptible spirit; despised the brutal, the low, and the trifling; never truckled to popularity, or sought for fame unworthily; and scorned to degrade his art by sensuality. As the man was, so his work was--pure, refined, faithful to nature and to his own nature. He pandered to no low passions; he modelled no form, he drew no line, that dying he could wish to blot; and the world of Art is better that he has lived. The whole stress of his life as an artist was to realise his favourite motto, "Il vero nel bello"--the true in the beautiful.


New Advent Catholic Encyclopedia - Giovanni Dupré


Dupré was in youth a woodcarver, and taught himself the art of sculpture. In a contest opened by the Academy he won first prize with his "Judgment of Paris", took his rank as a sculptor with the life-size recumbent figure of the dead "Abel" in marble (c. 1839), Pitti Palace, Florence, and followed this with the "Cain" (1840), also in the Pitti, the "Giotto", "Pius II" for the Church of S. Domenico, Siena, and the "S. Antonino", Florence.

A period of ill-health was followed by renewed vigour, which resulted in the brooding "Sappho", considered one of his best subjects (1857), the so-called "Tazza", surrounded by figures in relief; the Ferrari monument in S. Lorenzo, Florence (1859); the "Putti dell'Uva" (the Grape Children); the "Addolorata" for Sta Croce, Florence (1860), and the much discussed relief of the "Triumph of the Cross" over the entrance to the same church.


In 1863 Dupré touched high-water mark with the noblest of all his creations, the "Pietà", for the family tomb of the Marchese Bichi-Ruspoli in the cemetery of the Misericordia, Siena.

This group was awarded the Grande medaille d'honneur at the International Exhibition in Paris. The "San Zanobi" for the façade of the Duomo, the "Risen Christ" for the Dupré memorial chapel, the Cavour monument in Turin, the bronze bust of Savonarola in his cell at the monastery of S. Marco, Florence, and a number of minor works complete the list of Dupré's productions.

Saint Francis

His last work, the "St. Francis" inside the Cathedral of S. Rufino, Assisi, was finished by his eldest daughter and pupil, Amalia.

Time failed him to execute the crowning figure of the Madonna for Sta Maria del Fiore.

The sculptor left a volume of memoirs of great interest to artists and critics:
"Pensieri sull'arte e ricordi autobiografici" (Florence, 1884-1906), tr. by F. Peruzzi (Edinburgh, 1886).

The resulting statue itself is very simple, and informed by a deep religious sentiment. It is clothed in the dress of the order which St Francis founded, the hands crossed over the breast, the cowl falling behind, the head bent, and the eyes cast down in an attitude of submission and devotion.  In some ways this statue defines him.

One of the more fascinating aspects of Giovanni is that his ‘life’ as a separate description is hardly worth recording.  In 1836 he married and as we can see from the above he had a very talented daughter, but his life was his work:

Thoughts on Art and Autobiographical Memoirs of Giovanni Duprè - Giovanni Duprè [Translator: E. M. Peruzzi]


This book contains the record of the life and thoughts upon Art of Giovanni Duprè, one of the most eminent sculptors of the present century in Italy.

It was written by him from time to time, during the latter years of his life, in the intervals of work in his studio, and given to the public about three years before his death.

Those three years, of which it contains no account, were assiduously devoted to his art. Every day had its work, and it was done faithfully and joyously even to the last. "Nulla dies sine linea." Within these years, among other works of less importance, he successively executed a basso-relievo of the Baptism of our Lord, a portrait statue of Pius IX for the Cathedral of Piacenza, one of Victor Emmanuel for the public square at Trapani, one of Raimondo Lullo for a chapel in the island of Majorca, and one of St Francis of Assisi which now adorns the front of the Cathedral at Assisi. This was the last statue which he ever made. The model he had completed in clay and cast in plaster, and had somewhat advanced in executing it in marble, when death arrested his hand. It was finished by his daughter Amalia, who had for years been his loving and faithful pupil, and who had already won distinction for herself as a sculptor.

 Il sono dell'innocenza

Giovanni did not sculpt because he wanted to make a living, he sculpted because this was his life, everything that was him.


Thoughts on Art and Autobiographical Memoirs of Giovanni Duprè - Giovanni Duprè [Translator: E. M. Peruzzi] - INTRODUCTION TO NEW EDITION.

In his last work [saint Francis] he found a peculiar attractiveness, and his heart and hand were earnestly given to it. …………..The statue had not only deeply interested all his feelings and sympathies, but in its treatment and sentiment he seems to have been satisfied.

Bacchus, Giovanni Dupré, 1856

A singular presentiment, however, came over him as he was showing it to a friend upon its completion. "It will be a triumph to you and a glory to Assisi," said his friend.

 "Ah," he answered, "who knows that it may not be the last!" So indeed it proved. But a few days after this conversation he was seized by an attack of peritonitis. From this, however, he recovered, as well as from a second attack, which shortly afterwards followed.

As he was recovering from this second attack he wrote to Monsignore Andrea Ulli: "The doctor has no doubt that I shall get well, and in a few days I hope he will allow me to return to my studio. But how I have suffered!--doubly suffered from having been deprived of the occupation that most delights me. This is my joy and my life. What a happy day it will be when I am permitted to put my foot again into my studio, and to resume my work and my St Francis."

His hopes, however, were fated to be disappointed. Although he sufficiently recovered to go to his studio, he was able to do but little work; and shortly afterwards--on the 1st of January--he was again prostrated by a third attack of the same disease. His death, he felt, was now certain; but he met its approach with the courage, resignation, and piety that had always characterised him, looking forward with certainty to a reunion with the dear ones who had gone before him--Luisina, his daughter, whose loss he had so bitterly felt, and his wife Marina, his steadfast help and loving companion for so many years, who had died seven years previously.


One regret constantly possessed him during these last days, that he should not be able, as he had projected, to model the statue of the Madonna for the Duomo at Florence, upon which he had set his heart.

One day when he gave expression to this feeling, his daughter Amalia sought to console him by saying, "But you have already made her statue, and it is so beautiful--the_addolorata for Santa Croce."

 "Ah!" he answered, "but I desired to model her as Queen of Florence." This apparently was the only desire that haunted him during his last attack. In regard to all other things he was resigned; and after lingering in almost constant pain for ten days, he expired on the 10th of January 1882, at the age of sixty-five.

The announcement of his death was received everywhere in Italy with the warmest expressions of sorrow. It was felt to be a national loss. His life had been so pure, so conscientious, and so animated by high purpose--his temper and character had been so blameless and free from envy and stain of any kind--he had been so generous and kindly in all the varied relations of life, as a son, as a husband, as a father, as a friend,--and he had so greatly distinguished himself as a sculptor, that over his grave the carping voice of criticism was hushed, and a universal voice of praise and sorrow went up everywhere. All classes united to do him reverence, from the highest to the lowest. Funeral ceremonies were celebrated in his honour, not only in Florence, where a great procession accompanied his remains to the church where the last rites were performed, but also in Siena, his birthplace, in Fiesole, where he was buried in the family chapel, and in Antella and Agnone. The press of his native country gave expression to high eulogiums on him as an artist and as a man.

 Abel, Giovanni Dupre. Hermitage Museum, Saint Petersburg


The autobiography is available free from Project Gutenberg

Thoughts on Art and Autobiographical Memoirs of Giovanni Duprè - Giovanni Duprè [Translator: E. M. Peruzzi] - INTRODUCTION TO NEW EDITION.


 It would be difficult for any autobiography to be more simple, honest, frank, and fearless. The whole character of the man is in it. It is an unaffected and unpretending record of his life and thoughts. He has no concealment to make, no glosses to put upon the real facts. He speaks to the public as if he were talking to a friend, never posing for effect, never boasting of his successes, never exaggerating his powers, never assailing his enemies and detractors, never depreciating his fellow-artists, but ever striving to be generous and just to all. There is no bitterness, no envy, no arrogance to deform a single page; but, on the contrary, a simplicity, a ‘naïveté’, a sincerity of utterance, which are remarkable. The history of his early struggles and poverty, the pictures of his childhood and youth, are eminently interesting; and the story of his love, courtship, and early married life is a pure Italian idyl of the middle class of society in Florence, which could scarcely be surpassed for its truth to nature and its rare delicacy and gentleness of feeling.

His descriptions of his travels in France and England; his criticisms and anecdotes of artists and persons in Florence; his account of his daily life in his studio and at his home,--are lively and amusing. Altogether, the book has a special charm which it is not easy to define. In reading it, we feel that we are in the presence and taken into the confidence of a person of great simplicity and purity of character, of admirable instincts and perceptions, of true kindness of heart, and of a certain childlike naïveté of feeling and expression.



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