SOUND + SCULPTURE IV: A Lover’s Inferno and Francesca’s Tragic Aria

Doomed lovers Francesca and Paolo sing out from Dante’s second circle of Hell in this 4th installment of our Sound + Sculpture series. The cold, marble embrace of Pietro Canonica’s sculpture Abyss is matched with Francesca’s aria from Sergei Rachmaninoff’s opera Francesca da Rimini.  Look while you listen!

April 20th, 2017  by M. Elise Hillestad


Italian sculptor and opera composer Pietro Canonica, born 1869 in Turin, was a remarkable character. In 1937, he managed to convince the city of Rome to grant him permission to occupy and renovate the historical 16th century Villa Borghese, and use it as his personal studio in exchange for donating all of his works to Rome. The villa is now the Pietro Canonica museum, and houses his marbles and bronzes, sketches and studies, as well his precious collection of Flemish tapestries, Piedmontese paintings, furnishings- even a suit of Samurai armor from the XVII century.


the studio of sculptor Pietro Canonica, Villa Borghese, Rome


I’d become intrigued by Canonica after seeing old photographs of his covetable studio, and then upon learning he was an opera composer, set out to find recordings of his work to pair with his tumultuous sculpture Abyss depicting legendary lovers Francesca & Paolo. I didn’t find anything, so instead I chose Rachmaninoff’s opera which centers around the pair. The mournful swells of Francesca’s Aria “O ne riday, moy Paolo” (Oh do not weep, my Paolo) reflect the hopeless plight of two adulterous lovers caught in the act, killed, then doomed to suffer eternity in the second circle of the Inferno, where those accused of Lust are punished.  Listen to this beautiful recording as you enjoy the sculpture!





The Abyss, 1909, Pietro Canonica




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