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The Modernist

Updated: Oct 18, 2023

Often recognized for sculpting iconic figures crafted by Native American artists, Piccirilli's artistic range extended beyond traditional motifs. He also showcased a notable body of work reflecting modernist sensibilities.


From 1909 to 1923, Attilio Piccirilli independently sculpted a series of seven nude figures, presenting poetic interpretations of the female form. During this same period, he collaborated with his brothers on emblematic pieces such as the lions for the New York Public Library and the sculptures for the Fireman’s Memorial on Riverside. While the New York Library statues embraced the neoclassical style, embodying Duty and Courage, iconic of the American Renaissance, the sculptures at the Firemen’s Memorial, alongside the seven female figures, hinted at a different artistic direction.


Fragilina, one of these captivating nudes, holds an esteemed position at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Notably, the museum also displays "Study of a Head," a bronze piece that Attilio used as a precursor for Duty's visage. Should you find yourself admiring Fragilina at the MET, I encourage you to also pay homage to Daniel Chester French’s "Memory," located nearby. This piece, too, was carved by Attilio, fulfilling a commission by French. Observing them side by side, it becomes evident that temporal distinctions differentiate these works. "Memory" feels as though it hails from a later era, channeling a figure from antiquity. In contrast, Fragilina vividly captures the essence of her contemporary time—a reflection that, in many ways, mirrors our own.


Photo presumably captured at the Piccirilli Studio in The Bronx
Attilio at work on Spring Dream, c.1918

Spring Dream by Attilio Piccirilli, bronze 1918
Spring Dream by Attilio Piccirilli

Attilio Piccirilli: A Journey Through Modernism


The allure of Attilio Piccirilli's modernist approach lies in its reflection of the broader artistic shifts also evident in Europe. Several of Piccirilli's pieces hint at his experimental foray into modernism, even as he continued to embrace and execute projects steeped in historical styles. This duality in his work is strikingly evident in the intricate polychrome and glass murals he crafted for the Rockefeller Center in 1936, as well as in the memorials dedicated to Joseph Stánsky (1936) and Guglielmo Marconi (1941).


The Ensemble of Seven


Between 1909 and 1923, Attilio Piccirilli sculpted a series of female nudes that have come to be celebrated for their beauty and evocative design. This collection includes masterpieces such as "A Soul," "Twilight" (alternatively known as "Crepusculo"), "Flower of the Alps," "Broken Vase," "Spring Dream," "Young Virgin," "Fraginilia," and the "Figure of a Nude Woman," which is reminiscent of "A Soul."


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