Ugolino and his Sons


Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux ( French, 1827 - 1875 )

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General Description

A pupil of sculptor François Rude and an early teacher of Auguste Rodin, Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux holds a central position in the history of French romantic sculpture of the 19th century. Ugolino and His Children is clearly informed by the masterworks of Michelangelo as well as the Hellenistic and Roman sculpture Carpeaux studied during his year in Italy as the recipient of the coveted Prix de Rome in 1854. The dramatic and macabre subject drawn from Dante's "Inferno" is typical of romanticism: Count Ugolino della Gherardesca, the tyrannical 13th-century master of Pisa, has been condemned to starve, and he staves off hunger by devouring his sons. The moment depicted is pregnant with tension and drama: Ugolino is in anguish as his sons desperately plead to sacrifice themselves rather than watch their father suffer. Carpeaux struggled with this exceedingly complex figural group, producing a number of versions. The French academy attacked his emphasis on the male nude as well as the bizarre theme, but in the end accepted a bronze version of the sculpture. The controversy around _Ugolino__ _boosted Carpeaux’s career, leading to a number of prominent commissions and securing an ongoing demand for reproductions of this work. A plaster version of the work is in the Reves Collection at the Dallas Museum of Art.

Ironically the controversy around the Ugolino sculpture boosted Carpeaux's career, leading to prominent public commissions such as The Dance for the façade of the Paris Opera. Meanwhile, demand for the Ugolino group continued. In addition to full-scale versions in plaster, terra-cotta, and marble, Carpeaux executed a smaller-scale model, which was cast in various media in several editions dating from the artist's lifetime until the present.

Adapted from

  • Dorothy Kosinski, "Ugolino and His Sons", in Dallas Museum of Art: A Guide to the Collection,_ _ed. Suzanne Kotz (Dallas, TX: Dallas Museum of Art, 1997), 108.

  • Heather MacDonald, DMA label copy, 2012.

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