Alessandro

 

 



Alessandro Parlanti was born in Rome in 1862. Having worked at the Nelli foundry in Rome, he set up his own business in 1890, advertising as an Artistic Foundry using the Cera Perduta Process, with Colossals & Small Castings executed in any kind of metal.

This was a period of great change in Alessandro’s life, as he had become a father for the first time in 1889 with the birth of a boy, Riccardo, followed in 1890 with the birth of twin daughters Ada and Linda, all of the children being born in Bolsena, Italy. Alessandro’s father (Antonio) and his wife (Cesira) were also born in Bolsena.

In 1891 Alessandro was living in Scotland, and appeared in the Post Office Glasgow Directory of that year as a late entry for the 1891-2 directory, where he was listed as an artistic bronze foundry at 63 Ladywell Street. It also stated his home address as 103 Stirling Road, Glasgow, where he lived as a boarder with the Trocchi family. A small advert was taken out offering 'Artistic Bronze Castings Offered', and gave his home address at Stirling Road rather than that of the foundry.The next listed address was for Rovini and Parlanti Bronze Founders at 7 Aylesbury Street, Clerkenwell, London in August 1894. By 1895 he had moved to Fulham, London, an area teeming with sculptors and painters. (It has been suggested that Alessandro may have moved to England at the request of Alfred Gilbert as Gilbert had used the Nelli foundry during his time in Rome.) He purchased the lease for the Albion Works at 59, Parsons Green Lane, Fulham, along with his short term business partner Gaetano Rovini. The works comprised a house, workshop, cottage, sheds and stabling, enclosed within a narrow, irregular quadrangle. Albion works were demolished some time ago to make way for housing. Very early Parlanti casts carry the inscription ‘Rovini & Parlanti’.

Alfred Gilbert was a regular patron of the Parlanti foundry from 1897 onwards, and diaries kept by Gilbert reveal that his dealings with Alessandro were on an almost daily basis. These diaries allow us to identify Alessandro's castings for Gilbert, which vary from bronzes and plasters to silver spoons and even gold medals. Illustrated here are part of Gilbert's John Hunter bust (below left) cast in 1889 by Parlanti. Also shown is Parlanti's cast of Gilbert's Post Equitem Atra Cura ( left). Alessandro cast and chased this bronze (now residing in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London) in March 1899 at the same time as producing another cast which went to the Royal Scottish Academy, Edinburgh. An earlier cast (not by Parlanti) had been produced a few years earlier, but was of an inferior quality. The Victoria and Albert Museum piece has a polychromed effect which was achieved by using an alloy of copper, lead, and with gold replacing the more usual constituent of tin. Alessandro stopped casting for Gilbert in late 1899 following a fall out over unpaid foundry bills (just over eighty pounds in total); a similar situation to Gilbert’s falling out with his previous founder, George Broad. The unfolding of events is covered in great detail in Gilbert’s diary of 1899. Business must have been good at that time for Alessandro, as Gilbert's diary reveal that he was unhappy at the time taken to receive his casts; of note is the fact that by 
1899 at the latest Alessandro had had a telephone line installed at the foundry, and also Gilbert mentioning 'Parlanti's brother answering the telephone'.


Richard Dorment, when writing about Gilbert’s Baby Girl bronze in Alfred Gilbert Sculptor and Goldsmith, comments ‘like many of the works cast by Parlanti, the quality of this cire perdue cast is exceptional’.



Parlanti cast for all of the top sculptors of the period, and of particular note is the fact that he was the founder of choice for Henri Gaudier-Brzeska for the small number of bronzes and plasters cast within Gaudier-Brzeska’s lifetime. When writing his many letters to Sophie Brzeska, Gaudier mentions Parlanti quite often and simply by name, suggesting that Parlanti was well known to Sophie and Henri. On one occassion, Gaudier-Brzeska visited Jacob Epstein and remarked on one of Epstein's bronzes. Epstein mentioned that it had been cast by Fiorini 'whose charges are less than Parlanti'. Despite this, Gaudier-Brzeska still chose Alessandro for his castings.

A quotation from Alessandro's foundry to the Australian sculptor Harold Parker dated February 20th 1915 is interesting in that it gives us an idea as to the cost of casting at the time. 'For Casting an Equestrian Statue 12 feet high from bottom of Plinth to top of man's head, £700.0.0 13 feet high £800.0.0.' The quotation went on to state that the prices would vary according to the complexity of the work.


Eric Gill was another patron of the foundry. In 1916, at the request of Gill, Parlanti visited Westminster Cathedral to make a plaster cast of the head of Christ in situ. 

Parlanti’s castings are to found worldwide, from the beautiful Peter Pan in London’s Kensington Gardens, to the monumental (and original) cast of George Frederic Watt’s Physical Energy in Cape Town (shown below left), the casting of which received substantial press coverage at the time. 
The Illustrated London News of 3rd October 1903 carried an article concerning Physical Energy under the heading ‘The Largest Piece Of Sculpture Ever Cast In England’, and went on to state that it was only following Alessandro’s arrival in England that sculptors were discarding the old method of casting in sand in favour of the cire perdue method. The writer also mentioned that it was Parlanti who was responsible for casting most of the chief statues of the time.

By about 1917 at the very latest (if not some time well before) Alessandro, now 55 years old, decided that he had had enough of the British climate, and decided to return to Italy. The actual dates concerning the sale and subsequent running of the foundry are a little vague. A letter dated 9th July 1917  to the architect Sir Robert Lorimer from the foundry concerning the Glenelg Memorial contained some notable content concerning casting of the period. 'We endeavour to cast as light as possible with a uniform thickness of Metal to avoid unequal contraction which causes fracture and unsightly filling in with Lead, this is always objectionable & detrimental to the best Artistic work.' The letter further states how the fine art of working out the weight and the method of casting 'is not generally understood by ordinary founders'. This letter is signed on behalf of Alexander Parlanti, and it is unclear as to whether Alessandro was still actively involved in the foundry during what was clearly a changeover period.

When writing to Lorimer on February 4th 1918 Ercole Parlanti mentions his previous casting work with Alessandro at Parsons Green Lane 'who at that time was in London', and goes on to write 'the Parsons Green works having a little time ago passed in new hands altogether'. However, as late as November 1918 The London Gazette reported that a licence had been granted by the Board of Trade to both James I Martin trading as Fulham Bronze Company and Alexander Parlante (sic) under the Non Ferrous Metal Industry Act.

The foundry at Parsons Green Lane passed to James Martin, who went on to form two short lived companies: The Albion Art Foundry Ltd. in July 1919 and The Fulham Bronze Company Ltd. in December 1920. The new owners of the foundry continued to use the letterhead of Alessandro, no doubt to benefit from the first class reputation that had been established over the previous twenty years or so. The telephone directories continued to list Alessandro for some time after his departure. Alessandro’s brother Ercole, who had worked alongside him for so many years, started his own foundry just over a mile away at West Kensington.