Born in Bistagno, Giulio Monteverde (1837-1917) attended the Accademia Ligustica in Genoa and studied under the guidance of Santo Varni (d. 1885). In 1865, he won the Pensionato Artistico Triennale, allowing him to move to Rome and establish his own studio. His Romantic-Realist style achieved rapid success, in particular in the United States, where his Christopher Columbus as a youth (1870) was the first modern sculpture to be purchased by the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. Three years later, Monteverdes most striking example of narrative verismo, and perhaps his most celebrated work, Edward Jenner injecting vaccine into his son, was unveiled to critical acclaim at the Vienna international exhibition. The life-size marble was shown again at the 1878 Paris Exposition universelle and is now in the Palazzo Bianco, Genoa. Monteverdes considerable oeuvre included both ideal works and important public monuments, and nearly sixty of the original plaster models for these, gifted by the late sculptors daughters to the Municipality of Genoa in 1919, and are now conserved in the collection of the Galleria dArte Moderna in that city.
Executed the year following his success at the Vienna Exhibition with Edward Jenner, this beautiful statue of Egeria is a fine example of the sense of naturalism with which Monteverde imbued not only his biographical subjects, but also his ideal works. The realistic handling of intricately detailed falling lily-dressed hair, the skirt of lightly flapping lily leaves, and the delicate clump of snow-drops, all serve to accentuate the smooth flesh and sensuous lines of the naked female form.
Pre-dating Roman myth, the nymph Egeria is thought to have been of Etruscan origin, as she was consort to the Sabine Numa Pompilius (753-673 BC), second king of Rome. Roman legend reports that Numa met her in her sacred grove, where she taught him to be a wise and just king (Livy i. 19), in particular advising him in his legislation. Ovid recounts that when Numa Pompilius died, Egeria was so grief-stricken, that the goddess Diana, seeing her so bereft, took pity and gave her body liquid form, her limbs becoming the waters of a cool, eternal spring (Metamorphoses, xv. 479). In later mythology, Egeria was considered to give wisdom and prophecy (hence, presumably, the scroll she proffers in the present depiction) in return for simple libations of water or milk at her sacred grove, near where the Baths of Caracalla were erected in the 3rd century. She was also associated by Romans with Diana, and like the Greek goddess Ilithyia, women in childbirth called for her aid for a safe delivery.
We are grateful to Maria Flora Giubilei, Director of the Galleria dArte Moderna, Genoa, for her assistance in identifying the title of the present work.