Portrait Bronze of Signorina Simi (1890 -1987)
|Bronze portrait of Nerina Simi by Anne Shingleton. Height 55cm, life-size|
Before I can describe the emotions I experienced making this portrait sculpture I would like to explain how I came to study under Signorina Simi and why she was so important in my life, and in that of many others too.
It was a chance in a million in the days before the internet to have knowledge of the teaching of Nerina Simi. (Her real name is Nera, but she was often called Nerina). Her fame instead was spread worldwide by her students, and that is how I heard.
It was the late 1970s in the UK, and I had completed 3 years of university (Zoology) and 2 years art school, and was working from my parents’ home with whatever came my way as an illustrator, printmaker and portrait artist.
At that time galleries and institutions were encouraging contemporary art to be abstract, to make installations or videos. However much I tried the British art environment could not offer me a future. I did not fit in. On visiting a private exhibition by the artist Pamela Russell in my local Dorset countryside, I admired the light in her paintings. She told me how she had studied in the Italian city of Florence, with a lady called Nerina Simi, who, if she was still alive, would be very old, and gave me the address to write to.
|The studio Simi on the corner of Via Tripoli, Firenze.|
I was shown in by the robust looking maid and indicated to wait in a little dark anteroom. A small figure limped slowly down the corridor towards me. She was a bright eyed, slightly stooped lady with hair tidily drawn back in a bun and a string of pearls around her neck. She welcomed me in English. With a gracious, broad smile she chose her words carefully and instantly put me at my ease. I was to start the next day. You can imagine my excitement!
|Photos of the interior of the studio taken in the late 1970s|
Very gently and simply she explained how to measure and how to look and how to translate my observations onto paper delicately with a sharpened stick of charcoal. My errors shouted out at me, all of which suddenly seemed monumental and hugely embarassing. I turned my paper over and started again.
|Nerina Simi with student Joke Frima late 70s|
As she moved on to the next student, I had to struggle to hide my tears of relief and happiness. Finally for the first time in my life, in the art world, not only was I being taught by someone who said it how it was, but she gave logical reasons to back up her arguments, and did so in a kindly way. This was a scientific language that was familiar to me. It had been a stressful decision to come to Italy on my own and in that moment I knew I was in the right place, at the right time.
|Photo taken of me in the studio when making an informal visit outside studio hours in 1981.|
I was intoxicated by the experience of my new student life in Florence. I was in my late 20s, and with a sense of freedom from my English upbringing. I was literally walking down streets that would have been familiar to great artists of the past; Donatello, Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci. Every day, except Sundays, I sat with my fellow students in a high ceilinged room that reeked of the late 1800s, with her father’s, Filadelfo Simi’s, (1849 – 1923), dusty paintings stacked high on all the walls. The lessons we were learning were a tangible link through him, to the Parisian atelier/studio of Jean-Léon Gérôme (1824 – 1904) where Filadelfo and so many great artists of the past had studied. It was if we were, in that Studio Simi, in a special little bubble of time that had stood still since the century before.
|A rare snap of Nerina smiling as she was unaware of the photo being taken.|
Finding photographic references was a problem because it was well known that she did not like to have her photo taken. But thanks to many ex-students who had sneaked a few snaps I managed to collect enough to give me the basic measurements for a profile and a frontal view.
Gradually the clay started to take on form, then turned into a portrait, and with a lot of hard work, achieved a likeness and then became the Signorina. That last step gave me a terrific feedback. I felt I had recreated her. What a sense of power!
|Part of the sculpture in being worked in clay|
|Working on the clay model in the autumn of 2019, all my reference photos pinned on display behind.|
This sculpture represents my thanks and my tribute to honour her memory.
The process of transforming the clay into bronze is a complicated one and I have described it on my website (http://www.anneshingleton.com/english/how-bronzes-are-made.html)
Thanks to THE MARIANI FOUNDRY for the foundry work on the bronze, and to Studio BURATTI, for the clay studio.