Casale Monferrato (AL)
1859 - La Loggia (TO) 1933
1875, thanks to a scholarship awarded by the Municipal
Council of Casale, Leonardo Bistolfi enrolled at the
Brera Academy in Milan where he attended courses in
drawing and sculpture. During his stay in Milan he was
influenced by and joined the late Scapigliatura Lombarda
movement, incorporating some of its artistic ideas into
his work. Towards the end of 1879 he enrolled at the
Albertine Academy of Fine Arts in Turin to attend
courses held by Odoardo Tabacchi, and in 1881 he opened
his own atelier.
In 1883, the Academy commissioned a bust of Fontanesi
from him and this led Bistolfi to begin a fruitful
commemorative portrait business that would continue for
the rest of his life.
From 1890 onwards, he was increasingly part of the
artistic world in Turin and the recognised leader of
Piedmontese pictorial sculpture. In this period he was a
regular member of the intellectual set meeting at the
home of Lombroso, associated with painters in the
Divisionist group (Previati, Pelizza da Volpedo,
Segantini, ..) sharing their Socialist, humanitarian and
idealist ambitions, and struck up a particular
friendship with the writer Giovanni Cena a follower of
the political and aesthetical ideas of Morris and Ruskin.
From the mid-1890s he actively devoted himself to
funerary sculpture, producing La "Sfinge" (Sphynx) for
the Pansa tomb in Cuneo (1892), which endorsed him as a
In 1895 his art underwent a complete stylistic change
with the creation of the tombstone known as "Le spose
della morte" (Death’s Wives), in which he combined
Pre-Raphaelitism, Symbolism and Liberty.
From this year too he began taking part at the Venice
Biennale and the following year actively contributed to
the organisation of the Triennial Fine Arts Exhibition
in Turin. In 1902 he was one of the major promoters and
vice-president of the International Modern Decorative
Art Exhibition and, on this occasion, was also
co-founder with Davide Calandra, Enrico Thovez, the
goldsmith Ceragioli and the architect Reycend of the
magazine, "L’Arte Decorativa Moderna", programatic
manifesto supporting the ideas of the Liberty (Art
Nouveau) movement. The exhibition permitted Bistolfi to
strike up relations with illustrious foreign artists and
to become known outside Italy too.
As Rossana Bossaglia says, "exponents of European
modernist criticism began to recognise this Italian
master, who was approaching maturity, as a highly
capable and intuitive interpreter of the symbolist
concept of art and an inventor of novel forms, that
would later be stylistically classified as Art Nouveau.
In those years, Bistolfi’s sculpture had almost no
rivals in Europe, no one was as able as he was to
capture an image without weighing it down with
descriptive characteristics, on the contrary maintaining
the fluidity of a dream". Dreams are one of the
dominating themes of Bistolfi’s aesthetics, and he
himself often used expressions such as "my dream", "my
lovely dream", "my painful dream" to describe the mental
processes leading to his works.
In 1905 with Alfred East, Ludwing Heterich, Giorgio
Belloni and Giuseppe Romagnoli he was a member of the
acceptance jury for the sixth Venice International
Exposition and he was the first Italian sculptor to be
offered the honour of a one-man exhibition, at which he
exhibited a number of drawings and 22 sculptures,
winning the Grande Medaglia d’Oro for sculpture.
In the following year he applied without success for the
Sculpture chair at the Albertine Academy in Turin, which
had become vacant upon the death of Odoardo Tabacchi and
was assigned to Zocchi. His exclusion aroused endless
controversy since Bistolfi was considered to be the
greatest living Italian sculptor.
Having become a specialist in works for sepulchral
monuments, in March 1908 due to "distinguished fame" he
was entrusted with creating the Carducci monument in
Bologna which took him over 20 years to complete.
In 1909 he opened an atelier at La Loggia, a small rural
community near Turin, where he continued his work,
completing numerous civil and public monuments to be
erected throughout Italy. In 1923 he was made Senator
and at the same time President of the 1st Decorate Arts
Biennial exhibition in Monza, an office that he held
until 1925. As from 1930, his gradually began to work
In summary, as Panzetta says, "after a debut close to
Lombardy pictorialism and verismo, starting from the
sepulchral works of the 1890s he became increasingly
more fascinated by the international brand of symbolism.
From around 1905 onwards, in the wake of Rodin’s works
and "Michelangelism", his attention focussed on the
human body, complicating the symbolism and accentuating
the linear and decorative sense that was innate in him.
Thanks to his followers, this style was to become
typical of official celebrative monumental sculpture in
Italy in the 1920s."
The Bistolfi collection of plaster casts at Casale
Monferrato contains a large proportion of his
Sculptures and posters