Daylight is waning here at Museum Quick Bites so today we’re embracing the darkness and taking a closer look at Raffaelle Monti’s, Night (1862). On display at the Detroit Institute of Arts, this lovely sculpture features a veiled, windswept woman floating above a sleeping baby. Leaning into the blustery wind, this personification of night lifts her cloak and veil high above her head. Is she attempting to protect the child from the storm? A nightmare? Or is something more menacing afoot? With arms curled beneath its head, the baby is blissfully unaware.
Night is a lush, breezy masterpiece that shows off Monti’s skill with a hammer and chisel. Look closely and notice how he has fashioned Night’s veil and gown to appear sheer, and how her cloak, gown, and long curly hair billow and flap. Monti’s creation is so realistic I can almost feel a soft breeze. Can you?
Raffaelle Monti (1818-1881) was born in Iseo, a region just outside of Lugano, Switzerland. His father, Gaetano (1776-1847) was an Italian sculptor known for his monuments and religious works in northern Italy. Raffaelle first learned to sculpt in his father’s workshop. A gifted student, he enrolled in the Accademia di Belle Arti di Brera in Milan, where he received accolades and awards. After completing his studies, Monti took a position in the Viennese court, carving busts of the Austrian Royal Family. However, after several years of working for the royals, Monti returned to Milan.
Of Note: The spelling of Raffaelle’s first name gives this writer pause. There are a dizzying amount of variations. Here is what I’ve uncovered… Raffaelle, Raffaele, Raffaello, Rafaello, Raffealo. It’s unclear if this is due to the superfluous spelling of his name (so many fs and ls!) or the artist’s inconsistency in signing his name. Notice he provides no first name on his portrait (on left). I’ve chosen to go with Raffaelle, the version printed on the DIA’s Night (1862) placard. Funnily enough, the DIA’s art collection webpage uses a different spelling, referring to the sculptor as Raffaello Monti.
In 1846, man about town, William Cavendish (1790-1858), the 6th Duke of Devonshire, stopped by Monti’s workshop. The duke had heard of Monti’s reputation and commissioned him to create a veiled lady sculpture. Once popular in 1700s Italy, this style of work required superior skill. Monti assured the duke he was up to the task and after several months produced the Veiled Vestal Virgin (1846-1847). The statue was a hit and eventually kicked off Monti’s veiled ladies career.
But trouble was brewing in Northern Italy. Italians chafed at the Austrian occupation and in an interesting plot twist, Monti joined the Italian rebellion against his former employers. After a crushing Italian defeat at the Battle of Custoza (1848), Monti fled to London. He set up shop and word of Cavendish’s Veiled Vestal Virgin, prompted London’s rich and famous to seek out Monti’s services for veiled ladies, as well as portrait sculpture.
In 1851, Monti took a job with the Crystal Palace Company. In addition to helping with the installation of art, Monti created multiple pieces for the first Great Exhibition in London. This royal show featured over 14,000 exhibits from all over the world and boasted 6+ million visitors, further launching Monti’s career as a premier sculptor.
Life was good and Monti was living high on the hog, until it eventually all came crashing down. By the 1870s, Monti was buried in crippling debt and in 1881, he died a pauper at the age of 73. If you’d like to learn more about Monti’s encounter with the bachelor duke, William Cavendish, click on this, Secrets of the Veiled Lady link, courtesy of the Minneapolis Institute of Art.
Fun Arty Fact: The Veiled Vestal Virgin (1847) is featured in the 2005 film adaptation of Pride and Prejudice. The scenes inside Pemberley’s sculpture hall were shot at Chatsworth House, a manor estate belonging to 16 generations of Cavendishes, including William. Chatsworth House currently belongs to the 12th Duke of Devonshire, Peregrine Cavendish (b. 1944). Click on this Pride & Prejudice at Chatsworth House video clip link for a behind the scenes look-see.
That wraps up our look at Raffaelle Monti’s Night. I’ll be back next week with more Museum Quick Bites. In the meantime, be safe, be kind, and take care 🙂
Cover photo by Mirzet, courtesy of Pixabay.