Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux
b. 1827 Valenciennes - d. 1875 Paris
Ugolino and his Sons
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City

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Carpeaux and the Ugolino sculpture
Other important works by Carpeaux
Selected on-line resources
Dante: Inferno, canto 33. On Ugolino
Notes on the images

Carpeaux and the Ugolino sculpture

Ugolino dell Gheradesca, whose story is told in Canto 33 of Dante's Inferno, was an Italian nobleman in the Guelph party who was made podesta of Pisa in 1284. In a conspiracy contrived by the Ghibelline Archbishop Ruggeri, Ugolino was accused of having betrayed his town by being negligent in battle. The Archbishop condemned him for his treasonous activities and had him locked up in a tower with his sons and grandsons. The entire male line, therefore, was left to starve to death. Dante tells the story of how Ugolino's children, bearing the unjust condemnation that was their fate offered to sacrifice their bodies to keep their father alive. (Columbia Encyclopedia)

Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux (1827-1875), a pupil of François Rude (1784-1855), holds a place in 19th-century French sculpture equivalent to Delacroix's in painting. Carpeaux's overt romanticism derives in part from Antoine-Louis Barye (1796-1875), who specialized in the sculpture of exotic animals with a penchant for violence and carnivorism. In 1854 Carpeaux travelled to Italy. In 1857, while at the French Academy in Rome, the idea for the Ugolino group was realized. This work certified Carpeaux's skill and was responsible for his instant fame. Commissioned by the proprietor of the Saint-Béat Marble quaries (who supplied the stone), the work, after long delays, was exhibited in the Exhibition Universelle of 1867. It is dated 1860. (MMA object label. 7/2000 and Murray, A Dictionary of Art & Artists, rev. ed.)

Ugolino at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

The Ugolino group was acquired for the Metropolitan Museum of Art on the centenary of its first exhibition (in 1967). Acquisition number: 67-250. An 1863 plaster cast may be seen in the Musée d'Orsay, Paris.

Ugolino at the MMA next to the snackbar.
Photo © 2000 by John Wager
Reproduced with permission.

A reader, John Wager, writes (12/2000), that "there is ... a snack bar just to the left of the sculpture in the garden at the Met; you can have $5.00 snacks and $4.00 coffee at your leisure while the good count, starving, contemplating cannibalism, looks down on you. I can't imagine why the Met did this, unless it was because they didn't think anyone would get the sculpture." More likely, at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, where no work is placed without deliberation, Ugolino sits next to the refreshment bar by design and functions as a secret curatorial joke.

Other important works by Carpeaux

In 1862 Carpeaux returned to Paris, executing a pediment for the Pavillon de Flore of the Louvre (1863). In 1864 he produced The Dance for Charles Garnier's recently built Opera House. (Original in the Louvre.) To escape the Commune in 1871 Carpeaux moved to England. He suffered from a paranoid persecution complex in his later years, dying of cancer in 1875 when he was only 48 years of age. (Murray, A Dictionary of Art & Artists, rev. ed.)

Selected on-line resources: Carpeaux and Ugolino

Carpeaux photographs by Jeffrey Howe
Carpeaux drawing for Ugolino, Louvre
Digital Dante: slides by John Beale
On Rodin's use of the Ugolino story
Musée D'Orsay one web page on Carpeaux
Musée D'Orsay second web page on Carpeaux
Musée D'Orsay: Carpeaux, La Dance (another view)
Washington, National Galery: Carpeaux
Valenciennes: Defending the Country on the Ramparts
Carpeaux: Crouching Flora, Gulbenkian Coll.

Dante: Inferno, canto 33. On Ugolino.

Translation, Charles Eliot Norton, 1891.
Text from Project Gutenberg, etext #1995.

CANTO XXXIII. Ninth circle: traitors. Second ring:
Antenora.--Count Ugolino.--Third ring Ptolomaea.--Brother Alberigo. Branca d' Oria.

From his savage repast that sinner raised his mouth, wiping it with the hair of the head that he had spoiled behind: then he began, "Thou willest that I renew a desperate grief that oppresses my heart already only in thinking ere I speak of it. But, if my words are to be seed that may bear fruit of infamy for the traitor whom I gnaw, thou shalt see me speak and weep at once. I know not who thou art, nor by what mode thou art come down hither, but Florentine thou seemest to me truly when I hear thee. Thou hast to know that I was the Count Ugolino and he the Archbishop Ruggieri.[1] Now will I tell thee why I am such a neighbor. That by the effect of his evil thoughts, I, trusting to him, was taken and then put to death, there is no need to tell. But that which thou canst not have heard, namely, how cruel was my death, thou shalt hear, and shalt know if he hath wronged me.

[1] In July, 1288, Ugolino della Gherardesca, Count of Donoratico, head of a faction of the Guelphs in Pisa, in order to deprive Nino of Gallura, head of the opposing faction, of the lordship of the city, treacherously joined forces with the Archbishop Ruggieri degli Ubaldini, head of the Ghibellines, and drove Nino and his followers from the city. The archbishop thereupon took advantage of the weakening of the Guelphs and excited the populace against Ugolino, charging him with having for a bribe restored to Florence and Lucca some of their towns of which the Pisans had made themselves masters. He, with his followers, attacked Count Ugolino in his house, took him prisoner, with two of his sons and two of his grandsons, and shut them up in the Tower of the Gualandi, where in the following March, on the arrival of Count Guido da Montefeltro (see Canto xvii), as Captain of Pisa, they were starved to death.

"A narrow slit in the mew, which from me has the name of Famine, and in which others yet must be shut up, had already shown me through its opening many moons, when I had the bad dream that rent for me the veil of the future. "This one appeared to me master and lord, chasing the wolf and his whelps upon the mountain[1] for which the Pisans cannot see Lucca. With lean, eager, and trained hounds, Gualandi with Sismondi and with Lanfranchi[2] he had put before him at the front. After short course, the father and his sons seemed to me weary, and it seemed to me I saw their flanks torn by the sharp fangs.

[1] Monte San Giuliano.

[2] Three powerful Ghibelline families of Pisa.

"When I awoke before the morrow, I heard my sons, who were with me, wailing in their sleep, and asking for bread. Truly thou art cruel if already thou grievest not, thinking on what my heart foretold; and if thou weepest not, at what art thou wont to weep? Now they were awake, and the hour drew near when food was wont to be brought to us, and because of his dream each one was apprehensive. And I heard the door below of the horrible tower locking up; whereat I looked on the faces of my sons without saying a word. I wept not, I was so turned to stone within. They wept; and my poor little Anselm said, 'Thou lookest so, father, what aileth thee?' Yet I did not weep; nor did I answer all that day, nor the night after, until the next sun came out upon the world. When a little ray entered the woeful prison, and I discerned by their four faces my own very aspect, both my hands I bit for woe; and they, thinking I did it through desire of eating, of a sudden rose, and said, 'Father, it will be far less pain to us if thou eat of us; thou didst clothe us with this wretched flesh, and do thou strip it off.' I quieted me then, not to make them more sad: that day and the next we all stayed dumb. Ah, thou hard earth! why didst thou not open? After we had come to the fourth day, Gaddo threw himself stretched out at my feet, saying, 'My father, why dost thou not help me?' Here he died: and, even as thou seest me, I saw the three fall one by one between the fifth day and the sixth; then I betook me, already blind, to groping over each, and two days I called them after they were dead: then fasting had more power than grief."

When he had said this, with his eyes distorted, he seized again the wretched skull with his teeth, that were strong as a dog's upon the bone.

Ah Pisa! reproach of the people of the fair country where the si doth sound,[1] since thy neighbors are slow to punish thee, let Caprara and Gorgona [2] move and make a hedge for Arno at its mouth, so that it drown every person in thee; for if Count Ugolino had repute of having betrayed thee in thy towns, thou oughtest not to have set his sons on such a cross. Their young age, thou modem Thebes! made Uguccione and the Brigata innocent, and the other two that the song names above.

[1] Italy, whose language Dante calls il volgare di ci. (Convito, i. 10.)

[2] Two little islands not far from the mouth of the Arno, on whose banks Pisa lies.

We passed onward to where the ice roughly enswathes another folk, not turned downward, but all upon their backs. Their very weeping lets them not weep, and the pain that finds a barrier on the eyes turns inward to increase the anguish; for the first tears form a block, and like a visor of crystal fill all the cup beneath the eyebrow.

And although, because of the cold, as from a callus, all feeling had left its abode in my face, it now seemed to me I felt some wind, wherefore I, "My Master, who moves this? Is not every vapor[1] quenched here below?" Whereon he to me, "Speedily shalt thou be where thine eye shall make answer to thee of this, beholding the cause that rains down the blast."

[1] Wind being supposed to be cansed by the action of the sun on the vapors of the atmosphere.

And one of the wretches of the cold crust cried out to us, "O souls so cruel that the last station is given to you, lift from my eyes the hard veils, so that I may vent the grief that swells my heart, a little ere the weeping re-congeal!" Wherefore I to him, "If thou wilt that I relieve thee, tell me who thou art, and if I rid thee not, may it be mine to go to the bottom of the ice." He replied then, "I am friar Alberigo;[1] I am he of the fruits of the bad garden, and here I receive a date for a fig." [2] "Oh!" said I to him; "art thou now already dead?" And he to me, "How it may go with my body in the world above I bear no knowledge. Such vantage hath this Ptolomaea[3] that oftentime the soul falls hither ere Atropos hath given motion to it.[4] And that thou may the more willingly scrape the glassy tears from my face, know that soon as the soul betrays, as I did, its body is taken from it by a demon, who thereafter governs it until its time be all revolved. The soul falls headlong into this cistern, and perchance the body of the shade that here behind me winters still appears above; thou oughtest to know him if thou comest down but now. He is Ser Branca d' Oria,[5] and many years have passed since he was thus shut up." "I think," said I to him, "that thou deceivest me, for Branca d' Oria is not yet dead, and he eats, and drinks, and sleeps, and puts on clothes." "In the ditch of the Malebranche above," he said, "there where the tenacious pitch is boiling, Michel Zanche had not yet arrived when this one left in his own stead a devil in his body, and in that of one of his near kin, who committed the treachery together with him. But now stretch out hither thy hand; open my eyes for me." And I opened them not for him, and to be rude to him was courtesy.

[1] Alberigo de' Manfredi, of Faenza; one of the Jovial Friars (see Canto xxiii). Having received a blow from one of his kinsmen, he pretended to forgive it, and invited him and his son to a feast. Toward the end of the meal he gave a preconcerted signal by calling out, "Bring the fruit," upon which his emissaries rushed in and killed the two guests. The "fruit of Brother Alberigo" became a proverb.

[2] A fig is the cheapest of Tuscan fruits; the imported date is more costly.

[3] The third ring of ice, named for that Ptolemy of Jericho who slew his father-in-law, the high-priest Simon, and his sons (1 Maccabees wi. 11-16).

[4] That is, before its life on earth is ended.

[5] Murderer, in 1275, of his father-in-law, Michel Zanche. Already heard of in the fifth pit (Canto xxii. 88).

Ah Genoese! men strange to all morality and full of all corruption, why are ye not scattered from the world? For with the worst spirit of Romagna I found one of you such that for his deeds in soul he is bathed in Cocytus, and in body he seems still alive on earth.

Notes on the images:

Images on these pages were taken with a Nikon Coolpix 900 digital camera. Set One contains large 1280x960 pixel images -- the uncropped output from the Coolpix. They have been slightly compressed. Set Two contains large highly compressed images. In both sets the large-sized images were reduced to 640x460 pixels and have been highly compressed by PhotoShop 3.0. The thumbnail images and the html matrix in which they reside were produced by IrfanView ver. 3.20.

Set One and Set Two were taken on different days under different lighting conditions. In Set One bright sunlight raked in from a western exposure. The images were taken in late July around 3:30pm. Set Two dates from about a month later. Although taken at the same time, light was indirect and muted. Close observation of the Set Two images reveals slight camera movement in the details and a consequential lack of clarity. Hand-held exposure time for Set Two was about 1/15 second, whereas for Set One it ranged from about 1/60 sec to 1/150.

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Last edited: 12/8/2002.