By Costanza Beltrami

The Neoclassical sculptor Giovanni Maria (or Giammaria) Benzoni was born on 28 August 1809 in Songavazzo, near Bergamo. His parents, farmers of modest means, intended him to learn carpentry in an uncle’s workshop. Working as apprentice carpenter, Benzoni revealed his precocious artistic skill. Impressed by his abilities, the art enthusiast Count Luigi Tadini offered him a place at his Academy of Fine Arts in Lovere, a nearby town. Tadini later financed Benzoni’s move to Rome, where the artist finished his studies at the Academy of Saint Luke. His elegant marble sculptures, clearly inspired by Antonio Canova, were an immediate success in the city. He soon established a studio numbering more than 50 assistants. Overall, this studio produced more than 518 works, including multiple versions of popular compositions. 

Benzoni sculpted allegorical and mythological scenes, but also busts and funerary monuments for contemporary celebrities, for example the composer Gaetano Donizetti, and the philologist Cardinal Angelo Maj. In 1861, he was chosen to represent the Vatican at the International Exhibition in Antwerp, where all his exhibited works were hailed as masterpieces. However, his fame evaporated quickly after his sudden death on 27 April 1873, and he is relatively little known today.

References: Anna Barricelli. “BENZONI, Giovanni Maria.” Dizionario Biografico degli Italiani. Rome, 1996; “BENZONI, Giovanni Maria.” Benezit Dictionary of Artists. Oxford art Online. Oxford University Press.

Innocence Protected by Fidelity, 1852, marble. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, gift of the Estate of Lewis M. Rutherford, 1930. Photo credit: The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Diana Hunting, 1859, marble. London: Victoria and Albert Museum, Dixon bequest. Photo credit: Victoria and Albert Museum.

Zephyr Dancing with Flora, 1870, marble. Detroit: Detroit Institute of Arts, gift of Mrs. Cameron D. Waterman. Photo credit: Detroit Institute of Arts.

The Veiled Rebekah, 1864, marble. Atlanta: High Museum of Art, gift of Mrs. John B. Gordon.

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