Laocoon Head Plaster Sculpture
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Interview with the youngest member of the renowned Florentine family of sculptors at the head of one of the most ancient laboratories in Europe.
by Laura Ghisellini
A church turned into a sculptor’s studio in the characteristic streets of San Frediano, Florence, at the beginning of the 19th century. Inside, large luminous windows appear in between winches, pedestals, and large statues that recall the history of the Romanelli family and an immense talent passed on over five generations. Pasquale, Raffaello, Romano, Folco and yet another Raffaello preserved and enhanced for two centuries a rich heritage taking it to today. The studio creates limited editions, famous restorations and reproductions of significant art pieces on commission, and organizes a course for young sculptors. We met the last of the Romanelli to learn more about the eternal art of sculpture.
ARTEMEST: Your becoming a sculptor was probably written in the stars, but how did it actually become a vocation?
RAFFAELLO ROMANELLI: Since I was a little boy I lived among sculptures, be it in the studio or the family owned art gallery. I grew up among statues of all sizes and shapes, yet at the beginning I studied something else. I went to what we call the Liceo Scientifico where you mostly study sciences, and then to the Institute for surveyors, before I realized sculpting was my passion and enrolled in the school. When my grandfather passed no one in the family wanted to take on the responsibility of the company, I raised my hand and stepped in.
A: At twenty-five you took over one of the most ancient studios in Europe: what was your strategy?
RR: When I started the business wasn’t doing so great, especially artistically. I tried to maintain and valorize things that worked and give new life to things that didn’t. I opened the studio to the public and to students to recreate the concept of a real bottega.
A: Tell me about your sculptures, how do you make them look so alive?
RR: I love portraits. I try to look inside the person, understand who they are, what’s hidden underneath their physical beauty. I also try to find a complex artistic pose and be precise in recreating the person’s traits. I also have the model talk a lot during the work to have a more natural, true to life approach. When they start talking about their passions their eyes start shining and the muscles on their face take on a positive shape. I try to capture it all and mold the material.
A: What is beauty to you in a philosophical and artistic sense?
RR: Putting aside classic Greeks and modern canons of beauty, a person’s true beauty comes out when they express their real nature. Each their own. It should also be pleasing to other people that’s why I always pick a positive pose rather than a sad expression.
A: What were the most difficult and most rewarding moments of your artistic career?
RR: I feel very responsible to belong to such an important family in the history of sculpture. I have to admit it’s not easy. There are also some very satisfying and less difficult moments. Especially when someone walks into the gallery and gives out a spontaneous compliment on one of my sculptures, or after hours of work I finally find the right pose and start sculpting, I am overwhelmed by emotions.
A: What advice would you give to aspiring sculptors that study in your school?
RR: You have to be open to others. If you close yourself in a studio and never meet anyone, go to galleries see the outside world, your work is limited. If you don’t open up, you might just replicate your own world and your work will not be worth remembering. It’s also very important to have different teachers. Each can teach you something you can use in your work.
A: Which is your favorite tool?
RR: Unfortunately I didn’t inherit anything from my famous great great grandfather, mainly because we use our tools and need to throw them away at some point they become useless. I care a lot about my loop tool, it has particular shapes that adapt well to human features and can be used to shape the corners of the mouth, the nose, and the ears.
A: What is a sculpture worth nowadays?
RR: The emotional value attached changes from one person to the next. Some see it a personal memory, or the memory of the experience itself, modeling in my Florentine laboratory, some see its decorative value and some definitely its economic one. I usually do a few numbers in a series, from six to fourteen pieces, one for each portrait. Their limited number raises their monetary value.
A: Any famous people?
RR: Princes and princesses. The British Royal family, German, the Ferragamo family, the Gran Maestro dell’Ordine di Malta, actors, writers, and a very important bishop. Lately I have been working on Polish model Magdalena Frackowiak’s hand-sculpture.
RR: I am a humble sculptor working in a bottega everyday getting my hands dirty. I want to be known like that.
About the author Laura Ghisellini is a journalist and web content manager. She writes about design and innovation for Rcs publications and Hearst Italia. She also collaborates with an international social campaign agency.
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