‘All is here Created and Transfigured by Me’ – the Gabriele D’Annunzio Collection

Gabriele D’Annunzio (Pescara, 1863 – Gardone Riviera 1938), the genius of poetry and eclecticism was a great collector of fine art objects and therefore also a collector of plaster casts. This accredits more than ever the historic of classical and Renaissance statuary but especially the highly symbolic and expressive value that a cast retains itself.
Already from previous years to furnishing the Villa Cargnacco then called the Vittoriale, from 1910 to 1913, the poet who still living in the Chalet Arcachon in Paris, started to commission some casts to be allocated for his personal collection.
The first purchases were advanced at the Atelier des Moulages du Louvre in Paris and the correspondent was Mr. Rappenean head of the laboratory itself. These first orders concerned the Elgin Marbles, the Mask of the Dying Slave by Michelangelo and a Bust of Homer. The casts of this first period of collection will then also placed in the Prioria of Vittoriale.
The Vittoriale consists of a large villa on the banks of the Garda Lake that the poet first rented and then decided to buy, extending the property with vast bordering land. Here D’Annunzio ‘creates’ his ultimate residence that becomes a very personal and undoubtedly original house representing him in all many personalities and attitudes as poet, dramatist, writer, political, military and lover.
The planning and construction of the villa was assigned to his close friend the architect Giancarlo Maroni, who will become the executor arm of all extroverts requests of the poet.
Very early D’Annunzio he used catalogs (procured by Maroni) to better identify the subjects in the choice and proceed to the order of casts, exactly as it was usual at that time by collectors or art academies and schools.
Since the thirties of the twentieth century D’Annunzio began to significantly increase his collection for furnishing of the Vittoriale. Here in Italy he asked to have the catalogs of the main Botteghe of molding and casting that at the time were the Gipsoteca of Florence and Gipsoteca Vallardi in Milan with the richest collections in their catalog. However, in some cases, it made reference also to the European gipsoteche such as Copenhagen and yet the Atelier des Moulages in Paris.
The architect Giancarlo Maroni as intermediary directly cured all the acquisitions of plaster and took care the making, by his closest workers, of some patinas and gilding on plaster in line with the wishes of the poet.
Over the years the setting up and acquisitions continued with perseverance and D’Annunzio led and followed with heartfelt care the choice and delivery of casts for the various rooms of the house.
[…]  Intanto però ho preso la determinazione di escludere da Schifamondo le
anticaglie, anche le belle. Desidero mettere qua e là i gessi dei più severi
capolavori […] . Cerca di procurarti un catalogo di gessi classici, se a
Milano, a Firenze, a Roma esistono ancora depositi […]. 
Ti abbraccio.
[…] In the meantime, however, I took the determination to exclude from the Schifamondo
even beautiful antiquities. I want to put here and there the plaster casts of the harshest
masterpieces […]. Try to get a catalog of classic plasters, if in Milan, Florence, Rome still exist stores […].
I hug you.
Letter to the architect Maroni of November 4, 1934:
During these years the architect Maroni is the only contact person for all purchases for the furnishing of the Vittoriale.

The positioning of the many plaster casts in the many rooms of the mansion is anything but banal or random. On the contrary, as has happened in the choice of subjects also their placement, including the large amount of ornaments, paintings, draperies and various decorations, follows a highly refined logic and personnel that accompanies and reveals at the same time through the original personality and the refined taste of the poet.

A number of different criteria that animate the subjects’ choices and their use in space. Many casts are used purely for their size and shape, others meticulously chosen for the subject represented and others because it is deeply linked to the experience, to memory or to the poet’s passion for the subject represented.
Most casts are patinated and ‘interpreted’ in an original way, with decorative coloring interventions using black pigment and gilding. Many bases were painted in black and gold. Many casts enriched with delicate gilding for the eyes, hair or headdress. The combination of light ivory patina of the plaster, along with the black and gold reached a chromatic balance of great elegance with clear reference to the colors that often appear in art nouveau and art deco decorations.
Many casts are left to their light ivory color of patina in respect for their predominant classical essence or in an attempt to confirm ‘the noble simplicity and quiet grandeur’ already dictated by Winckelmann, as in the case of the Metope of the Elgin Marbles or the reduction of Nike of Samothrace that dominates in the Studio giving  at this brighter area of the house a clean and airy feel.
Some other casts are enriched by a very strong expressive value simply using a silk cloth as the Dying Slave by Michelangelo reaching a sensual and ethereal beauty in the room of Leda, as well as the Aphrodite Anadyomene. The head of Athena Lemnia that with her hair, the bronze-colored eyes and a necklace with turquoise stones remembers the face of an ancient Trojan queen. The Apollino of Piombino in the Veranda, which has his name, whose bronze original is preserved at the Musée du Louvre, is enriched with various objects such as necklaces, a bunch of wheat and a girdle to cover the pubic areas, searching an amazing realism that is linked to the very dynamic pose of the statue.
The Vittoriale is a House of Artist and, like nowhere else, through the objects and atmospheres created spontaneously we recognize the personality and the soul of those who live and lived there. In the ‘customizing’, in many ways the usual iconography of the plaster casts, D’Annunzio makes them his own, puts them in an exclusive way in his home by tying them permanently to his own person, in intimate key. He extracts and decontextualizes them from the rigid position that they had always, bringing them closer to his nature. Everything is revealed to the visitor, but it would be better to say tot he Guest, in an extremely amazing way.
This is a very rare case, in my opinion unique, of the use of plaster casts for decorative purposes. In  the Vittoriale many casts, with the subject of various periods and various types, contribute greatly to the characterization of the space and especially by assigning a unique flavor to the environments.
However an even more detailed analysis we can see that some plaster casts is attributed the function of outlining specific areas within the room or to characterize their use. The charioteer of Delphi and the Three Graces of Canova, in a image of the early ‘900 show their role as filter between the environments. As explicitly referred by the poet himself: ‘as visual targets of the gaze […] distinguish the hinge points, stopping, the poles around which to coagulate some space situations’. In the rooms of the casts Vittoriale also work as volumetric focus within the overall space and seem to have the function of a lighthouse to the minds of those who live there.
Much we could be say about the value of the chosen subjects and the cultural influences that, through the years, travel and personal experiences, bring the poet to purchase some casts. The great passion for the classic sculpture and also for Michelangelo, but also his eclecticism leads to introduce anatomicals or funerary masks pieces like an engine of this research.
In truth, the most interesting element is contained in the love for the art object itself. The desire to have the object or its meaning, whatever it is, and in all its shape. In this logic the plaster cast excels over everything else, because places itself very close to the collector, kindly, friendly, surpassing that border interdiction so uncomfortable you feel in front of an original.The cast that can be handled, interpreted, somehow lightened from that burden of original work untouchable, leaving more space, it becomes a humble servant of your own taste.
23 Dicembre 1923
Non soltanto ogni cosa da me arredata, non soltanto ogni stanza da me
studiosamente composta, ma ogni oggetto da me scelto e raccolto nelle
diverse età della mia vita fu sempre per me un modo di espressione, fu
sempre per me un modo di rivelazione spirituale, come uno dei miei poemi,
come uno dei miei drammi, come un qualunque mio atto politico e militare,
come una qualunque mia testimonianza di diritta e invitta fede.
Perciò m’ardisco offrire al popolo italiano tutto quello che mi rimane, e
tutto quello che da oggi io sia per acquistare e per aumentare con il mio
rinnovato lavoro: non pingue retaggio di ricchezza inerte ma nudo retaggio
di immortale spirito.


[…]Tutto infatti è qui da me creato e trasfigurato.


Tutto qui mostra le impronte del mio stile nel senso che io voglio dare allo stile. […].


December 23, 1923
Not only every thing from me furnished not only every room from me
studiously composed, but each object I chose and collected in
different stages of my life was always for me a way of expression, was
always for me a way of spiritual revelation, as one of my poems,
as one of my dramas, like any my political and military act,
like any of my testimony straight and unswerving faith.
Therefore I am proud to offer to the Italian people all that I have left, and
all that today I am to buy and to increase with my
renewed work: no fat wealth heritage, but naked heritage
the immortal spirit.
[…] All is here created and transfigured by me. Everything here shows the footprints of my style in the sense that I want to give to the style. […].