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The veiled sculptures of Raffaele Monti

Sometimes we look at art as something exceptional that has no place in our daily lives. We define it as an extraordinary figure, which we rely on less and less. To change this and make art a part of your everyday life, we will continue to write about some of the most unique statues of all time – veiled ones. Today we aim to introduce you to an Italian icon – The Veiled Vestal by Raffaele Monti, but before that, let’s tell you about the extraordinary life of the author himself.

Raffaele Monti was born in Milan in 1818, although other sources indicate a place of birth as Iseo or Ticino. He knew since he was a child that he wanted to make art. That’s why he followed in the footsteps of his father, Gaetano Matteo Monti, and studied sculpture at the Imperial Royal Academy of Fine Arts with him as a mentor. As a child, Monty won a gold medal for his achievements in art. He later joined the Lombard school. The medal he won from the Academy a few years earlier opened many doors for him.  Monti was invited to study in Vienna, where he spent four years before moving to Budapest to work at the Hungarian National Museum.

In 1842 he returned to Milan but only four years later left for England to fulfill a special order. Raffaelle returned to Italy, instigated by popular uprisings, and became an officer of the Milan National Guard. After the failure of the revolutionary uprisings, he returned to England in 1948 and settled there.

Monti set up his own studio, where he executed orders for tombstones. In 1851, the great exhibition organized at the Crystal Palace brought him fame. There he exhibited various of his works, such as Eve after the Fall, Fishermen, Circassian Slave in the Constantinople Market, Angelica and Medoro, and The Veiled Vestal. The veiled statue was impressive, and critics noticed it, but it was Eve who won the prize after the fall.

However, his ability to recreate figures such as The Vestal and the Circassian Slave did not go unnoticed and placed his name among the best of his time. He exhibited his works at the Royal Academy of Arts in 1853, 1854, and 1860.

Raffaele Monti

The Veiled Vestal is one of Monti’s most popular sculptures. It was created in 1847 by order of William Cavendish, 6th Duke of Devonshire, during a trip to Naples. The sculpture depicts a Virgin Vestal, the priestesses of the ancient Roman goddess Vesta, the goddess of the home and hearth, whose duty is to maintain the sacred fire in her temple in ancient Rome. It is created from marble and continues the trend of sculptures that recreate tenderness and soft textures of solid material. At that time, sculpting veiled figures was popular, and Monti’s task was to create just that. He graduated in sculpture in 1847 and exhibited it in Cavendish.

The Veiled Vestal is a sculpture of a kneeling young woman holding a bowl and a fire burning in it. It is saturated with small details that prove Monti’s professionalism. Despite the massive marble, the sculpture looks like it is covered with a delicate silk veil. The Veiled Vestal is typical of neoclassical art, which seeks and recreates beauty. Monti was really inspired by the Vestals of Ancient Rome, who were trained to keep the fire burning in Rome, a powerful religious symbol. For more than 1,000 years, these six priestesses have defended a sacred symbol in the world’s most powerful empire.

The sculpture was later moved to Chatsworth House, home of the Cavendish family. However, its popularity made it a symbol of a landmark film – “Pride and Prejudice” by Joe Wright, which came out on the big screen in 2005. The sculpture was presented in a prominent place in a scene in which the heroine Elizabeth Bennett visits Pemberley, the house of Mr. Darcy. Critics interpret its use as an image of Elizabeth and her desire. The veil represents the idea that she does not see Darcy “as he is.”

The Veiled Vestal continues to be shown at public exhibitions. In 2019 it was transported to New York to be part of the 12-week Treasures of Chatsworth exhibition, designed by David Korins. The 42 items on display were selected by Peregin Cavendish, 12th Duke of Devonshire, and his wife Amanda.

Monti used the motif of veiled virginity in his sculptures and inspired many generations to come with his work. He became a commercial artist and sculptor and accepted many commissions in the years before his death. However, at the end of his career, he had countless debts and was forced to sell his sculpture tools to pay them off. He died in poverty in 1881 at the house of a German watchmaker in London.