In this ongoing series for Fine Art Today, we take a longer look at the history and features of a soon-to-be-available artwork of note. This week: Metello Motelli, “Iris.”
Highlighting Sotheby’s December 14 “19th and 20th Century Sculpture” sale is one of the most important Italian Romantic sculptures to come to auction in recent years. The sweeping sculpture, titled “Iris,” displays the messenger of the Greek Olympian gods emanating from foliage as she raises her veil in an arch above her head. As Sotheby’s correctly suggests, “[the work] epitomizes the ambitious imagination and technical virtuosity of Lombard marble carvers in the second half of the nineteenth century.”
The subject was an ideal one for the Italian Romantic Metello Motelli (active 1851-1894). “With the goddess Iris” Sotheby’s reports, “Motelli chose a mythological subject whose allegorical evocation of nature embodied the Romantic ideal. Appearing as the messenger of the Gods in Homer’s Iliad, Iris also functioned as a personification of the rainbow and was thought to travel land and sea at the speed of wind.”
Motelli’s version of Iris captures many of those qualities with beautiful precision and skill. In a sweeping diagonal composition, the viewer can sense the subject’s movement, as if she’s been caught by Motelli in the midst of her travels. The framing arch of Iris’ veil — found above her head — perhaps alludes to her personification of the rainbow. Sotheby’s adds, “In a gravity-defying tour-de-force, the goddess — personified as a graceful young girl — is seemingly lifted by a torrent of foliage and cloth, which, leaning forward, she suspends above her head as a billowing veil. The purity of the marble enhances the woman’s lithe, sensuous form, while the sculptor’s extraordinary skill is shown in the naturalistic detail of the base, whose wealth of flora and fauna is carved with vigorous finesse. A sculpture that benefits from viewing in the round, the marble exhibits an elegant S-curve in its side view, while its reverse reveals the goddesses’ long, stream-like tresses, which merge into the wave that suspends and supports her figure.”
Auction estimates for the brilliant sculpture are expected to be between $150,000 and $220,000. To learn more, visit Sotheby’s.
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