Copy-Cats

The two glorious villas in Bagni di Lucca, Villa Fiori and Villa Ada, are also, sadly, two of the commune’s buildings most at risk. These sleeping beauties lie abandoned, unsecured, unloved. Debra Kolkka’s recent post on one of them, the Villa Ada, will give you the current picture. You can read it at: http://bellabagnidilucca.com/2014/11/17/then-and-now-villa-ada/

Nostalgically, I remember both buildings being still in use when I first visited Bagni di Lucca. In 2001 I first got a taste of the area which has now been my home for almost ten years when, for a few days, I became an interpreter for a conference on the voluntary sector in Lucca’s stately palazzo comunale. I visited the BDL area and Villa Ada was still being used as a hydro-therapy centre attached to the Terme. (See also my post at http://longoio.wordpress.com/2013/06/21/webb-post/)

Villa Fiori was used by the local health authority until 2007 when, through lack of maintenance, the building became unsafe and remains cordoned off to this day.

There is still talk in the air of spending a lot of money on a new health centre to be sited on a green-field site in Fornoli since, frankly, the current building it’s located in is too cramped and limiting. If no Russian magnate (as has been rumoured) is willing to conclude a deal to purchase Villa Fiori then why not use the money ear-marked for the new health centre in restructuring this building? It is conveniently located at Ponte a Serraglio and benefits from a well-sunlit spot surrounded by pleasant gardens, ample car-parking and even access via that o-so-underused recently-hung pedestrian suspension bridge across the Lima.

The situation at Villa Ada is dire and becoming direr all the time, especially with the wettest year in Italy since records began. With regard to the villa I felt rather concerned when, yesterday, I received this intriguing email from a friend:

……….I was reading Debra’s post about the statue in Villa Ada, “The Nymph of the Spas“ by Ferdinando Palla, and I am reminded that I came across some information a few years ago that the original sculpture was stolen and the existing one was a poor copy of the original.

I am also pretty sure that the perpetrator of the theft was the British consul (or whoever). It may be that the sculpture was originally commissioned by said Englishman and he just took his property or maybe it’s all hearsay. Anyway, it is of interest and worth a bit of research………..

Bagni di Lucca is a hotbed of rumour, gossip and false assumptions, as any Clochemerle type of environment tends to be, and my friend’s email got me thinking.

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The statue of the nymph of the baths is quite correctly assigned to Ferdinando Palla. But who was this Palla? Ferdinando, who was born in 1852 and died at a ripe old age in 1944, was a famous sculptor and entrepreneur from Pietrasanta, and founder in the 1870’s of an art studio. He became director of Pietrasanta’s school of applied arts and formed a company for the production of high-quality marble statues.

Amazingly, Palla’s company still exists in Pietrasanta and is run by his great-grandchildren Antonio and Amelia. The firm’s web site is at http://www.pallamarmi.it/. You can visit it, as we did some years back.

Today “Pallamarmi” continues the high quality work achieved by its founder and supplies original designs and copies of classical ones to (as you might have guessed) Russian magnates, Arab sheiks, Chinese entrepreneurs and rather rich Italians.

With regard to my friend’s mention of a poor copy, the original having been stolen by (perhaps) the British consul of Livorno who was Alexander Macbean, I do not believe that the statue we have in Bagni is a poor copy . The standard of the statue’s workmanship (which may now be admired in the safety of Bagni di Lucca’s town Hall foyer) is high and, in any case, the firm continues to make high-quality copies of anything one asks them to sculpt.

As is often the case, there is also a relationship between the “nymph of the baths” and classical statues. In this instance, the classical inspiration is that of the so-called “crouching Aphrodite” which was very popular in Greco-Roman times and which exists in various copies. Here is the one in possession of the Louvre:

Crouching_Venus_Louvre_Ma2240

And here is the one in the British Museum which I only saw a couple of weeks ago:

220px-Lely_Venus_BM_1963

It has to be realised that the vast majority of classical statues we admire in museums and art galleries today are Roman copies of Greek originals which were not only made of marble but often of bronze. The Roman copies are of varying quality and, furthermore, have sometimes been questionably restored by neo-classical sculptors like Canova.

In short, very few Greek originals by such great sculptors as Praxilites exist today.

I do not, therefore, believe that there ever existed a superior original to any copy made in Palla’s workshop. There was no Praxilites behind the mystery.

There is a link between the sculptor of the Nymph of Bagni di Lucca and this gorgeously sensuous Galatea, another nymph, this time of salt water, who stretches out her luscious curves in the winter gardens of Avery Hill Teacher training college in South East London where I formerly used to live.

Reclining on a dolphin, Galatea (which word also means milk-white) is carved out of the finest Carrara marble by Palla’s friend, Leopoldo Ansiglioni, in 1882.

Here, too,the copy argument enters since Ansiglioni made a copy of this statue for Hearst, the newspaper magnate immortalised by Orson Wells in his film “Citizen Kane”. (Remember the scene when statues are hauled from transatlantic liners to beautify his new palace’s gardens?) Here is that copy at Hearst Castle:

 87228231.d3omFSJA

The fact is that the Italians are some the best sculptors in the world. Not even the Chinese could beat them in terms of original inspiration and faithful copying. Throughout the world there are Italian-sculpted statues. For example, just to return to our friend Palla, there is even one of his works in the Mission of the Consolation in Ethiopia’s Addis Ababa.

 

 

PS Alexander Macbean took over two renaissance palazzi belonging to the patrician De Nobili family. By adding a couple of hexagonal towers he joined the two sections together. If you look at the villa Ada you can see the different levels of the two formerly separate sections quite clearly. Incidentally, MacBean’s son, Reginald Gambler Macbean also joined the diplomatic service after a banking career (apt middle name?) and became acting consul in Genoa from 1898 to 1908 before being promoted as consul in Palermo.

 

PPS A little snippet of gossip is that the famous Italian film actress, Gina Lollobrigida, wanted to buy Villa Ada back in the nineteen seventies but the conservative Bagnaioli administration, who bought the Villa in 1975, did not wish to sell it to her, partly on the grounds that it might have brought unwanted publicity to the comune! What a pity. I would have loved the chance to have my morning strolls around Bagni di Lucca enlivened by a meeting with Gina who, at the age of 87, still preserves much of her stunningly good looks.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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7 thoughts on “Copy-Cats

  1. it would have been wonderful! what an opportunity BDL missed, although it still seems to have it’s share of famous people, i have seen a very well known bbc newsreader in Bagni and we had lunch one day and there was a very well known tv personality eating in the restaurant.

  2. Why on earth they are just like you and I and probably just want to be left alone to enjoy their well deserved rest in incognito there is nothing worse for a famous or semi famous person to be bothered with the likes of us mere mortals bothering them just as well really!

  3. i would never dream of “bothering” anybody, famous or not! and I have not seen anybody else bothering them, they were left in peace.

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