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Attilio Piccirilli

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Attilio Piccirilli
Academia San Luca in Rome Sculptor
American, (5/16/1866–10/8/1945)
The Piccirilli family, consisting of both parents, six sons and a daughter, arrived in New York City in 1888 from Massa-Carrara in Tuscany where the father, Giuseppe, operated a sculpture studio. Before they arrived, Attilio, the eldest child, studied sculpture at the Academia San Luca in Rome from 1881 to 1888. After eighteen months, in 1893, the family had established a residense and sculpture studio, Piccirilli Brothers Sculpture, at 467 East 142nd Street in the Mott Haven section of the Bronx. The marble-cutting studio carried out the designs of others in addition to producing work by Attilio and his brother, Furio Piccirilli, who also become noted sculptor. The firm was engaged by some of the leading architects of the day, including Cass Gilbert, Henry Bacon, McKim, Mead and White, and Carriere and Hastings.

In true Italian fashion, the Piccirilli home was famous for their Saturday lunches; here they entertained prospective clients with spaghetti, sausages, conversation, and red wine. The Piccirilli brothers were modest people and perhaps publicity-shy, but they were well-known in certain circles. Virtually all the sculptors of their time visited the studio. Some worked there, and some actually lived there. The studio became an important center for American art. Teddy Roosevelt, Enrico Caruso, and John D. Rockefeller also visited the studio. Fiorello LaGuardia was a close friend and frequent lunch guest (and eventually the lawyer) of the family for decades. The studio remained in business for more than fifty years, closing only when three of the brothers, including Attilio, died within days of each other in 1945.

In 1912, Piccirilli and the architect H. Van Buren were comissioned to design a memorial to the firemen of New York City who had given their lives in the line of duty. The monument at Riverside Drive and 100th Street was dedicated the following year. It consists of a large sarcophagus-shaped block faced with marble, flanked at the ends by two marble allegorical groups representing Courage and Duty. A woman cradling the body of a dying fireman portrays Courage; Duty is personified by a seated young woman reacting stoically to the tragedy suggested by the fireman's helmet held on her lap and the nude young boy sheltered with her left arm.

The work of Attilio Piccirilli can be found throughout Manhattan: his public comissions include some of the city's most beloved works of art. Patience and Fortitude, the lions flanking the steps of the New York City Library's Fifth Avenue building and the USS Maine Monument at the Columbus Circle entrance to Central Park are two examples.

For Rockefeller Center's International Building, he created a glass panel, Youth Leading Industry, at the entrance, and Commerce and Industry with a Caduceus above the entrance on Fifth Avenue.

Attilio was a co-founder, with Onorio Ruotolo, of the Leonardo da Vinci Art School, originally located at 288 East 10th Street in Manhattan. The school offered art education to thousands of working class New Yorkers from 1923 to 1940.

Several students won the prestigious Prix de Rome; Isamu Noguchi received his early training at "The Leonardo". Attilio's reputation for being a skilled helper to prominent sculptors and achieving distinction with his own work earned him the Jefferson Presidental Medal in 1932 for his services as a U.S. citizen.

For over thirty years, Attilio exhibited his work at annual exhibitions of the National Academy of Design and the Chicago Art Institute. He exhibited not only the heroic statues of his commissioned works, but also smaller, more personal endeavors. He won numerous awards, including a gold medal at the Panama-Pacific International Exposition of 1915 and at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in 1917. Some of these works were intimately personal; Head of a Boy was modelled after a younger brother, Getulio.

During the early decades of the 20th century, Attilio sculpted a number of female nudes. These lyrical, poetic works from the majority of Piccirilli's non-commissioned works. They were executed in both marble and bronze, in a variety of sizes and casts. According to the sculptor, "[e] very person has his own ideal of beauty stored away in his subconscious mind. When facial characteristics are precisely delineated, the observer is denied the opportunity of personally visualizing his ideal type." He would again return to this theme in the 1930s.

Comissions outside of New York City include the John McDonough Monument (1898) for Lafayette Square in New Orleans; a portrait statue of Governor Henry W. Allen in Baton Rouge, Louisiana; a war memorial in Albany, New York; Richard Ellis Monument in Waxahachie, Texas; The Pioneer Women, a memorial work on the campus of Texas Woman's University at Denton, Texas; Laughing Boy and Goat at Brookgreen Gardens in Murrell's Inlet, South Carolina; a James Monroe Portrait in Charlottesville, Virginia; and busts of Presidents James Monroe and Thomas Jefferson at the Virginia State Capitol in Richmond, Virginia.

In additionto this public works, Attilio Piccirilli's sculptures are helf in the permanent collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

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