Giacomo Spalla, portrait of Napoleon I, sculpted marble bust, signed and dated on the left edge “SPALLA SCULPSIT. A. 1806”.
H cm 58 W cm 38
Giacomo Spalla was born in Turin on January 23, 1776. From 1792 to 1798 he spent a period of study in Rome, where he entered into a relationship with Antonio Canova and attended the Accademia di S. Luca, obtaining in 1797 the third prize pattern art. In Rome, he executed a bust of Paris and a bust of Ariadne in marble which, sent to Turin, found a place for a short period in the Royal Palace, like a copy of Michelangelo’s Pietà, received in the Pregadio of the queen: these works would have been sent to Paris in the early years of the French occupation.
Much of Spalla’s activity took place in Turin at the time of the French occupation: Jean-Baptiste Jourdan, who had just become general administrator of Piedmont, appointed him curator of the school of sculpture on August 13, 1801. annexed to the University and, on December 31 of the same year, substitute professor of sculpture; on January 18, 1803, he was finally appointed curator of the Museum of Drawing Arts.
Meanwhile, the production of portraits of Napoleon and his family intended to furnish institutional buildings, initially derived from French models, became increasingly demanding. After a Portrait of Napoleon First Consul intended for the Academy in 1803, the Superintendent of Crown Assets beyond the Alps, Carlo Salmatoris de Roussillon, ordered from Spalla on January 5, 1805 three busts of Napoleon on the model of Antoine -Denis Chaudet in Carrara marble to be assigned to the residences of Turin and Stupinigi, in anticipation of Bonaparte’s visit in May for his coronation as King of Italy in Milan. The commission ended shortly after with the request for three busts of the Empress Joséphine, also by Chaudet, and three reliefs of the same, which were replaced in 1810, by Spalla himself, by as many portraits of the new wife. Maria Luisa, derived from the models of François-Joseph Bosio. The bust of Napoleon presented to the Academy on April 16, 1805 probably belongs to this order, in the repositories of which a fragmentary plaster is kept (file OA 00206578, by P. Traversi). On May 17, 1807, by imperial decree, Spalla was appointed curator of the new museum of sculpture and sculptor of His Imperial Majesty, with the commitment to create the sculptures that would be requested of him.
His sculptural activity in the service of the imperial house continues, numerous are the orders which reach him from the Emperor.
He died in Turin on January 31, 1834.
Our bust is probably one of the three busts ordered from Spalla in 1805 on a Chaudet model. There are many copies of Chaudet both from the Empire period and later, but having come into possession of an autograph bust of Giacomo Spalla, the greatest Piedmontese sculptor of the Napoleonic era, and commissioned by the Emperor himself has immense historical value in addition to artistic value. It fits perfectly into the iconography and style of the Empire: after all, Spalla’s portrait production adheres to a rigorous old-fashioned neoclassical character.
Sources and Bibl. :
Turin State Archives, French Government, bridges 178, 179, 181, 182, 183, 185; Boulogne-Bilancourt, Marmottan Library, copy of Napoleonic documents relating to Spalla from the National Archives;
G. Hubert – G. and C. Ledoux-Lebard, G. S. sculptor of Napoleon;
F. Boyer, The sculptor G. S. and the Napoleonic administration in Turin, in Bulletin d’études napoleoniennes, III (1964);
G. Hubert, Sculpture in Napoleonic Italy, Paris 1964…….