By: Amy Fredrickson
Italian sculptor Giacomo Serpotta was born in Palermo on 10 March 1652 to a prominent family of sculptors and stucco workers. Filippo Meli, his biographer, stated that Giacomo Serpotta never left Sicily, but his works demonstrate a clear influence of Roman Baroque art. While the trip was undocumented, scholars believe Giacomo may have visited Rome, which is evident in his style, and particularly in his equestrian statue of Charles II, which was erected in the square of the Duomo di Messina in 1680. Sadly, the statue was destroyed in 1848 and is only known today through drawings. His Ecstasy of Santa Monica also shows Roman influence. Giacomo translated Bernini’s marble sculpture through the medium of stucco—a traditional material used in Sicily.
Together with his brother Giuseppe and his son Procopio, Giacomo established a studio in Palermo that specialized in stucco work. Their workshop adorned various churches in Palermo, including The Oratories of San Lorenzo, Santa Cita, and Rosario di San Domenico. The Serpotta family also decorated the Palermo hospital chapel, the Archbishop’s Palace in Santa Chiara, and the Badia Nuova at Alcamo. In his art historical survey, Rudolf Wittkower stated that “Sicily’s one great boast” of the late Baroque and Rococo period was Giacomo Serpotta, who he called, “a meteor in the Sicilian sky.” Giacomo developed a light and graceful Rococo style that was well suited for the churches he decorated. Giacomo’s fame soon spread from southern Italy to Germany where it proved highly influential to artists of the Rococo period.
Interior view, 1685-90, stucco, Oratorio di Santa Cita, Palermo
Humility, c. 1710, stucco, Oratorio di San Lorenzo, Palermo
Statues of Virtues, 1710-17, stucco, Oratorio del Rosario di San Domenico, Palermo
Ecstasy of Santa Monica , 1711-1729, stucco, Chiesa di S. Agostino, Palermo
Garstang, Donald, Giacomo Serpotta and the Stuccatori of Palermo, 1560-1790, (London, 1984).
Meli, Filippo, ‘Giacomo Serpotta’ in La vita e le opere, vol. 2, (Palermo, Società Siciliana per la Storia Patria – accademia d’Italia, 1934).
‘Serpòtta, Giacomo Nell’enciclopedia Treccani’. 2018. Treccani.It. http://www.treccani.it/enciclopedia/giacomo-serpotta/.
Wittkower, Rudolf, Art and Architecture in Italy, 1600-1750, (Yale University Press, 1999), pp. 458–459.