Curated by: Martina Bagnoli, Federico Fischetti
From 25 October 2019 to 15 March 2020, the Galleria Estense of Modena celebrates the figure of Giovanni Antonio Cybei (1706-1784), great sculptor, spokesman of a versatile language, able to moderate the dramatic Baroque emphasis with more synthetic and graceful formulas , who guaranteed him fortune at the Italian high commission and the courts of Europe and Russia. The exhibition, curated by Martina Bagnoli, director of the Estensi Galleries, and by Federico Fischetti, curator of the Estensi Galleries, brings together, for the first time, the nucleus of Cybei's Modena works, the final interpreter of a season now close to giving way to new aesthetic of Neoclassicism In particular, the two marble busts of two recently restored Modenese historians, Carlo Sigonio and Ludovico Antonio Muratori, commissioned to decorate the Estense Library, alongside their terracotta models, as well as the plaster cast of the equestrian monument of Francesco III d'Este, perhaps the true masterpiece of the Tuscan artist.
Cybei arrived in Modena in 1772, at that time director of the Academy of Fine Arts of Carrara, at the height of his activity as a sculptor. The Municipality had decided to entrust him with the realization of the equestrian statue of Duke Francesco III, to be placed in one of the squares of the historic center. Thus the bond between Modena and the great Estense sculptural tradition that had been seen in the city was reinforced, authors such as Antonio Lombardo, Guido Mazzoni, Antonio Begarelli, Clemente and Gian Lorenzo Bernini, whose works are still preserved in the halls of the Gallery. The choice of the artist depended largely on the dynastic link with the marriage of the son and heir of the duke, Ercole Rinaldo, with Maria Teresa Cybo Malaspina, in turn heir to the duchy of Massa and princess of Carrara. In fact, Modena had acquired an outlet on the Tyrrhenian Sea opening up to new perspectives, not only political but also in the artistic field. Carrara was in fact the center of the mining activity of the precious marble of the Apuan Alps, around which the activities of stonemasons, sculptors and merchants always flourished.
Received a portrait of Duke Francis III, Cybei set to work elaborating ideas matured even in his youth when, assistant to the sculptor Agostino Cornacchini, he participated in the realization of the equestrian monument of Charlemagne for the Basilica of San Pietro in Rome. The marble colossus, divided into three parts, was shipped by ship and after a long journey around the peninsula arrived in Venice, until going up the Po and then the Panaro reached the Modenese canals up to the ducal dock. In the meantime, its definitive seat had been chosen in Piazza Sant'Agostino, where it was installed and finished by Cybei himself and his collaborators on a base decorated with epigraphs composed by the librarian Girolamo Tiraboschi, which celebrated the duke's exploits and reforms. Francis III.
The inauguration, Sunday 24 April 1774, was spectacular and included a horse race, a Roman triumph in costume, the city center lit by thousands of torches and a grand evening ball in the theater. But beyond the rhetoric of the fabulous monument, there were no profound reasons to celebrate: and that day the great absentee was precisely the duke, who lived now far from Modena, between Milan and Varese, powerlessly witnessing the irrelevance of the Este duchy in the political balance, and its inexorable transformation into a sort of province of the Austrian Empire.
Twenty years later, Cybei's masterpiece was destroyed as a symbol of the Ancien Régime to be sacrificed to revolutionary ideals from France.