Hebe, Goddess of Eternal Youth
Research by Hilary Alcock
A large and imposing white marble sculpture of a draped, semi-naked, barefoot female holding a pitcher in her left hand standing on a circular plinth. Her hair is swept back into a clutch of curls gathered at the nape of her neck; she is wearing a diadem on which there is a bird, (possibly a phoenix symbolising long life and rebirth) and drop earrings. A snake armlet wraps around her right arm. Her left hand, in which originally she held a chalice, is now missing.
Almost definitely this is a representation of Hebe, the Greek goddess of the Prime of Life (Roman equivalent: Juventas), the youngest daughter of Zeus and Hera. The donor, Alderman Dawson’s notes describe her as “The Goddess of Eternal Youth”. She was also the cupbearer for the gods and goddesses residing on Mount Olympus, serving them sweet nectar and ambrosia at the heavenly feasts to maintain their youthfulness and immortality. She was a handmaiden to Hera and helped her mother to enter the royal chariot and harnessed her horses.
She was married to the hero, Heracles, who protected Olympus and was created a demi god, and together they had two children, Alexiares and Anicetus. However, as a symbol of everlasting youth Hebe was considered to be a maiden goddess, despite the fact she was married and no longer virginal. The name Hebe comes from the Greek meaning “youth” or “prime of life”. She was also worshipped as a goddess of forgiveness and freed prisoners would hang their chains in the sacred sanctuary at Philius.
The plinth on which she stands is carved with the brush of a fox (fertility), a cow/bull and two children, possibly the twins, Castor and Pollux.
The classical figure of Hebe with her quintessential elegance was popular in the 19th and 20th centuries for European garden sculpture, often taking the form of fountains and temperance fountains. Many famous sculptors such as Antonio Canova, John Gibson RA and the Danish artist, Bertel Thorwaldsen were renowned for their portrayals of her.
A different opinion regarding her characterisation is that this is a representation of the Greek goddess of hunting, Diana.
Rinaldo Rinaldi was born in Padua in 1793, the son of the Italian sculptor Domenico Rinaldi, and Teresa dei Conti Pisani. At the age of eight he began to learn the trade of wood carving from his father and by the time he reached his mid-teens he was carving in stone. At the age of 18 he was sent to Venice to study at the Accademia di Belle Arti under Leopold Cicognara and Pietro Zandomeneghi. Twelve months later he received a stipend to work in Rome, the very heartland of neo-classical sculpture, where he was apprenticed to the great master, the illustrious Canova. He remained in the city after his mentor’s death, and attempted unsuccessfully to take over the studio where Canova had practised for the past 30 years.
In 1849 he joined the municipal council of the Roman Republic, the existence of which was extremely short lived. When the Papal Court was restored, he was briefly imprisoned by the Government on charges of sedition. He was soon released and continued working, completing the monument to the Italian patriot, Pietro Fortunato Calvi, one of the Belfoire martyrs who was hanged in 1855 by the order of the Austrian Emperor, Franz Joseph. This work was unveiled in 1872 close to the ornamental clock tower in Noale, a historic town in the province of Venice. As a result of receiving expert tutoring and his inherent skill, Rinaldi’s works are considered to be some of the finest examples of 19th century Italian marble neo-classical figural sculptures ever produced. Examples of them can be seen around the world: in the Louvre in Paris, the Hermitage in St Petersburg, Venetian galleries and the Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool. There is a fine, statuesque Penelope in the Williamson Art Gallery in Birkenhead and sculptures at Clivedon in Buckinghamshire. At Chatsworth the two Sleeping Lions, that Rinaldi sculpted with Francesco Benaglia, now grace/guard the entrance to the souvenir shop! In 2013 Michael Craig Martin was invited by the present Duke to curate an exhibition of a selection of the sculptures. He chose to place magenta coloured plinths underneath them, including the Lions, maintaining that the incongruity of the colour made the spectator focus more effectively on the sculptures themselves.
In Italy the salons of the Grand Hotel de la Minerve, built in 1642 in the Pantheon in Rome, contain some of his work to this day, including the magnificent statue of Minerva herself which dominates the lobby.
Rinaldi had rich and powerful clients, including members of the aristocracy such as William Cavendish, the sixth Duke of Devonshire, the Tsar Nicolas I and Alexandra, the Tsarina of Russia. Visitors to his studio were many, and included a rather disinterested Florence Nightingale, who when in Rome wrote in her journal, “We went to studios in the afternoon which I can’t abide ……. Wyatt’s and Rinaldi’s ……. I have not the art to appreciate them. At Rinaldo Rinaldi’s however there was a thing called Temps Perdu, a little white girl was trying to rub (with a sponge) a little nigger, which was very nice and funny.”
Rinaldi was invited to show in many prestigious exhibitions including in Ireland. He exhibited two pieces The Repentance of Eve (£240.00) and The Infant Bacchus (£100) at the International Exhibition in Dublin in May 1865. In 1936 his work was included in the largest collection of sculpture ever seen in the UK, alongside work from other contemporary European sculptors. This was held at Sydenham in south London and assembled by the Crystal Palace Company after the burning down of the Crystal Palace in 1936. In the past many of his works have been somewhat undervalued and it is only now that Rinaldi is becoming recognised by the art world for the high quality of his work. In 2007 a marble sculpture with some damage entitled The Pensive Shepherdess (1852), was auctioned in the US. The reserve price was 50,000-75,000 US dollars. In the same year three Scottish divers landed the catch of a lifetime when diving for otter shells in the Clyde, a delicacy in the Far East. They spotted an odd shaped “rock ” which weighed approximately 13 stone; it took all three of them to lift into their boat. It was later found to be the bust of a woman’s head and bore the name Rinaldi, Roma 1869! Art historians think it might have been part of a consignment ship wrecked 150 years ago, as there was fossilised wood in the area around it. It was perfectly preserved in the sand and silt and Sothebys have valued it at up to £45,000.
Rinaldi also worked on the facades of grand buildings such as the Palazzo della Ragione in Padua as well as the pediment of the Villa Torlonia Casino and the San Salvatore Catholic Church in Rome. In the San Bernado alle Terme (1598) he sculpted a sepulchre dedicated to the sculptor, Carlo Finelli (1785-1853). Michelangelo once remarked, “The sculptor’s hand can only break the spell and free the figures slumbering in the stone”. Rinaldo Rinaldi can be remembered for doing that on many occasions, and as time goes by hopefully more people will begin to discover and appreciate the skill of his stunning work.
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