VINCENZO VELA (1820-1891)

Last Days of Napoleon in St-Helena, 1866



Vincenzo VELA (1820-1891)


Swiss sculptor, active mainly in northern Italy. He was born in the village of Ligornetto in Ticino, where a museum today collects much of his works. Advised by his family to become a stonemason, he joined his brother Lorenzo, a sculptor, in Milan in 1834. There he learned as an apprentice and attended the Academy of Brera. He worked in the marble sculptor corporation of the Duomo di Milano. His first commissions came in the 1840s. His early works, influenced by Realism provoked interest and praise from the public as well as critics and got him his first acknowledgements. In 1847 he moved to Rome, where he executed one of his most famous work, the Spartacus now at Ligornetto. Six years later he moved to Turin, to teach in the local Accademia Albertina. His other notable works include the monument to the Sardinian Army and that to the painter Antonio Allegri, best known as Correggio. Versatile and extraordinarily sensitive to the ideas and styles of the times, which he at times anticipated and influenced Vela represents the evolution of Italian art in the second half of the 1800’s: a journey that goes from classicism to verism. He returned to Ligornetto in 1867, where he had built a house-museum where he could live and work, but also where he could show the public his work. In Ticino, Vincenzo Vela was active in politics (he was elected to the Grand Counsel) and culturally. He died at Mendrisio aged 71. His work is on display at the Vela Museum; others can be found in Lugano, Bellinzona, Airolo, as well as Milan and Turin.


– Versailles: Napoléon à Ste-Hélène, Marbre monumental
– Bucarest (Musée Simu): Napoléon
– Genève: Spartacus
– Rome (Musée National): Les victimes de la construction du tunnel du Saint-Gothard
– Museo Napoleonico de La Havane: Napoléon à Ste-Hélène

Réf. 6174

Last Days of Napoleon in St-Helena, 1866
Bronze with brown patina
Signed ‘V. Vela F. 1867’ on the terrace
Signed ‘F. Barbedienne
Fondeur’. Stamp of ‘Collas’


-42 x 39 x 23,5 cm
-16 1/2 x 15 3/8 x 9 1/4 In.


– Private Collection, Paris


Sitting on his chair, the fallen Emperor holds in his hands an open map of Europe on his knees, contemplating his past conquests and glory.Napoleon appears helpless, fragile, absorbed by thwarted thoughts and regrets, almost naked. With this naturalistic portrait of Napoleon, Vela, who was close to Cavour and Garibaldi, also meditates on the destiny of great men at the time of unified Italy.


– The original marble of this sculpture was presented at the Universal Exhibition of 1867 and is now on display at the Palace of Versailles.


-Bénézit, dictionnaire des peintres et sculpteurs, Grund, 1999.
-Pierre Boyries, “Napoléon, essai d’iconographie sculptée”, Burgus, 1998.







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