A Delicate Sicilian Alabaster

A Delicate Sicilian Alabaster

This exquisite alabaster sculpture, carved in full relief and depicting a young Virgin Mary – according to the traditional Christian iconography of the Immaculate Conception – was certainly made in the workshop of Andrea and Alberto Tipa, main protagonists of a sculptors’ family active in Trapani in the 18th century, specialized in a very fine working technique for ivory, alabaster and stone.
The oldest source on Andrea Tipa, Giuseppe Maria Di Ferro, reminds that he made « un buon numero di crocifissi d’avorio [ … ] egli a questi piccoli simulacri dava il preggio della morbilità e della finutezza », and he affirms also that the sculptor « anche nei minuti lavori, sorpassava il resto de’ suoi compagni. Eseguì varj bellissimi presepj con figurine d’avorio, e di alabastri ».
Andrea Tipa (1725-1766) – Giuseppe’s son and Alberto’s brother (1732-1783), also sculptors – is known for his activity in the monumental sculpture (he realized, among the others, the Carlo III statue, in 1750, already placed in the Trapani Marina, and now lost) but also in the «miniaturized» sculpture.


The quality of this beautiful alabaster can be recognized in different aspects such as the broad and convoluted drapery of the figure, the rich base – a characteristic ‘signature’ of the Tipa’s sculptures – and in general the great attention to details.
The drapery seems very light and moves elegantly over the Virgin’s body, twisting around the left arm, running around the waist and ending behind the head in a flowing veil. Her face is peacefully looking down in a gentle movement and she hold hands together while trampling a snake, representing her victory over the evil.
In its graceful late-Baroque style this sculpture is meant to evoke emotion and passion but it is also characterized by tension and exuberance, highlighted by the movement of the snake eating the apple, placed between the figure of the Virgin and the articulated base, in the middle of which – almost hidden in a twist of angels and swans – a small representation of the Massacre of the Innocents can be identified.
A very similar, even smaller, Immaculate Conception from the Tipa workshop is preserved in Caltagirone at the Museo del Convento dei Padri Cappuccini (see: M. C. Di Natale, Materiali preziosi dalla terra e dal mare, Trapani Museo Regionale “A. Pepoli”, exhibition catalogue Feb-Dec. 2003, pag. 134).

References : G.M. Di Ferro, Biografia degli uomini illustri trapanesi dall’epoca normanna sino al corrente secolo, tomo Il, Trapani 1830, pp. 243-249.

Andrea and Alberto Tipa,
(active in Trapani, 18th century), workshop of
Carved alabaster
1750 circa
cm 20,5 x 8 x 42 h

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