A popular subject in 19th century sculpture, Schiava alla vendita shows the influence of Hiram Power's pioneering statue The Greek Slave (1844), and is in itself an early working of the theme later popularised by Orientalist genre. Another contemporary influence might have been the Pas de trois des odalisques, from the ballet Les Corsaire (first presented in 1856). Caroni also found dramatic inspiration for L'Africaine, his most famous composition shown at the Philadelphia Exhibition in 1876, which shares a similar pose. Caroni's style is characterised by exceptionally fine detailing. The realism for which L'Africaine was praised, the feathered headdress and the hinged floorboards upon which she sits, are already evident in Schiava alla vendita, in the embroided arabesques to her turban and the frayed palm matting.
Caroni was born in Rancate in 1826, studied first in Milan under Vincenzo Vela, and then in Florence with Lorenzo Bartolini, where he eventually opened a studio. He received the Cavaliere della Corona d'Italia, and participated in a number of international exhibitions, most notably in the Paris exhibition of 1867 where he won a gold medal for Ofelia. In Philadelphia in 1876, he exhibited The Telegram of Love and L'Africaine (sold Sotheby's, New York, 18 March 1993, lot 179). The Monument to Columbus, erected in 1876 in Philadelphia's Marconi Plaza is attributed to Caroni, 1876.
The lot is accompanied by a letter dated 18 Februrary 1910 from the agent who agreed the sale from Dr. Theodore Thompson, London, to Sir James Liege Hulett, sugar magnate and philanthropist, of Durban, South Africa:
Dear Sir Liege, I enclose a photo of a marble statue which is one of the most notable in this country as you will judge from the understated particulars: "a beautifully sculpted life size statue in Carrera marble". The Albanian statue, a female figure reclining on a straw mat exquisitely. Prized and of charming model by E. Caroni. Width at least 3 ft 4 inches height 2 ft 10 inches. This statue obtained the gold medal at the Florence exhibition of 1861 and is guaranteed to be the genuine and original work. It is stated to have been purchased for one thousand guineas [...] The statue was purchased on the death of the former owner who lived at "Roseheath", Wrotham. It now belongs to a very distinguished physician - Dr. Theodore Thompson - who is a consulting specialist and physician at three of the largest London hospitals. He has moved his house from Haverstock Hill to Portland Place and so cannot find room for it [...]. I can obtain it for the very low sum of 80 guineas. Considering that it is said to have brought 1000 guineas and undoubtedly won the gold medal it is wonderfully cheap. Should you decide not to take it I will advise Dr. Thompson to offer it at Christie's when I am certain it will realise a high figure. Note please how exquisitely the hands are modeled and what grace and sinuosity is shown in the figure.