[1] Agostino Carlini RA, Bust of George III, marble, 1773.
© Royal Academy of Arts, London

[2] Agostino Carlini RA, Model for an Equestrian Statue of King George III, gilded plaster with metal and string bridle, 1769.
© Royal Academy of Arts, London

[3] Agostino Carlini RA, Smugglerius, 1775, plaster cast by William Pink, ca. 1834.
© Royal Academy of Arts, London

[4] John Raphael Smith, after John Francis Rigaud RA, Agostino Carlini, Francesco Bartolozzi, and Giovanni Battista Cipriani, mezzotint, published 5 March 1778.
© Royal Academy of Arts, London

Artist of the Month - July 2012


Agostino Carlini RA (ca. 1718-1790)

The sculptor Agostino Carlini was born in Genoa, Italy, around 1718. Not much is known about his early life but it is thought that he trained in his hometown and then spent a period working in The Hague before moving to London around 1760 when he is first recorded as showing work there at a public exhibition. He was a Foundation Member of the Royal Academy of Arts when it was established in 1768 and was one of only three sculptors and four Italians who became members (out of a total of 36).

The Royal Academy owns two portrait-sculptures of George III, the institution's royal patron and founder, by Carlini [1 and 2]. The Model for an Equestrian Statue of King George III, showing the King dressed in Roman armour on a horse with metal reins, was shown at the Academy's first Annual Exhibition in 1769 [2]. One critic wrote of it: 'The Model of a Statue for the KING seems to be the best that has yet appeared;- indeed no Person in the Kingdom seems to have been so grossly mis-represented as his Majesty;- witness most of the statues, and ALL the Coins of the present Reign.' The model was never made into a full-scale statue; nevertheless, Carlini sold several casts by subscription and donated this one to the Royal Academy.

In 1780 the Royal Academy moved to new premises in Somerset House, designed by the architect Sir William Chambers RA (now the home of the Courtauld Gallery). Carlini produced several sculptures to decorate the façade of the new building - including standing figures representing Prudence and Justice for the attic storey and three keystones symbolising the rivers Dee, Tyne and Severn for the arcades - all of which can still be seen from the Strand today. Many works of art by Royal Academicians were also installed inside the new building ready for when it opened. This included Carlini's Bust of George III, which he had first exhibited at the Annual Exhibition in 1773 [1]. This marble bust, depicting the King in Classical dress, was displayed on the mantelpiece in the Somerset House library. This was an appropriate setting, as the King was a renowned bibliophile and had donated several books to the Academy's library and had also given 'unlimited power to draw on his Privy Purse for whatever money shall be wanted for the Academy', which included expending 'some hundred pounds in purchasing books relating to the Arts', as the Academy's first President, Sir Joshua Reynolds, told a friend.

In 1783 George Michael Moser RA, the Keeper of the RA Schools, died and Carlini succeeded him as the new head. Carlini had already been involved with the Schools before this, however. On one occasion he was tasked with taking a cast of a flayed man, called an écorché [3]. The Academy's Secretary for Foreign Correspondence, Joseph Baretti, described the making of this macabre work:

'SMUGGLERIUS. A jocular Name given to this Cast, which was moulded on the Body of a Smuggler for the use of the Academy. As Dr. Hunter, Professor of Anatomy to the Academy, was going to dissect that Body in one of his Lectures to the young Students, it was observed, that many parts of it were very fine and worth preserving. Signor Carlini was therefore directed to mould it, and he chose to give it the posture of the Dying Gladiator.'

Carlini's appearance from around this time can best be seen in a painting by the Italian John Francis Rigaud RA, for which the Academy has a print [4] (the painting is in the National Portrait Gallery, London). Here he is depicted with two of his fellow Italian Foundation Members, Francesco Bartolozzi RA and Giovanni Battista Cipriani RA. The work shows Carlini leaning on a stone head holding a sculptor's hammer, Bartolozzi in the middle with an engraver's burin, and Cipriani at an easel holding a palette and brushes. Carlini's appearance here, with waistcoat and jacket sleeves partly unbuttoned, reflects his confident and workmanlike attitude. His perhaps irreverent character is humorously evoked by the engraver John Thomas Smith in a later recollection:

'When Carlini was Keeper of the Royal Academy, he used to walk from his house to Somerset-place, with a broken tobacco-pipe in his mouth, and dressed in a deplorable great coat; but when he has been going to the Academy-dinner, I have seen him getting into a chair, and full-dressed in a purple silk coat, scarlet gold-laced waistcoat, point-lace ruffles, and a sword and bag.'

Carlini remained in his role as Keeper until his death in 1790 and also continued displaying new work at the Academy's Annual Exhibitions until 1787.

Bust of George III is currently on display as part of The King's Artists: George III's Academy in the Tennant Gallery until 21 October 2012.