The Bersagliere student’s goodbye

Statue of two figures embracing.

Contributor: Elena Musiani

Location: Museo Civico del Risorgimento di Bologna

Description: This statuette, L’addio dello studente bersagliere (The Bersagliere student’s goodbye), is held in the Museo Civico Del Risorgimento of Bologna. The piece, in polychrome terracotta, by the sculptor Fortunato Zampanelli (1828-1909) from Forlì, was acquired by the Museum in 1939 from the sculptor’s son. The work was made during the years in which Zampanelli was still a student at the Accademia di Belle Arti of Bologna, as evidenced by the slightly ‘raw’ nature of the piece and the simple facial features of the young couple. At first glance, it seems a conventionally, even insipidly, sentimental and patriotic piece; but hidden within it lies a more urgently autobiographical and historical story of the young caught up in the war and revolution associated with Romanticism.

Made in the immediate aftermath of the outbreak of the First Italian War of Independence (23 Mar 1848-22 Aug 1849), the statuette represents the moment in which a young student is bidding farewell to his beloved as he departs to fight in the Piedmont army as a volunteer under the command of Carlo Alberto of Savoy. The feather in the young volunteer’s hat shows that he belongs to the bersaglieri infantry corps. The young man has just turned twenty and has presumably recently enlisted, and his conviction is evident from the forward movement of his left leg. However, his arms and face appear still to be consoling his beloved, who is trying to dry her tears with her left hand.

The theme of farewells made at the moment of recruits departing for the front was very popular among artists during the years of the Risorgimento who employed various artistic forms ranging from paintings to engravings, and music. One cannot help but think of the words of the famous song by Carlo Bosi that accompanied volunteers on the march and which was composed in 1848, around the same time as Zampanelli made this statuette:

“Addio mia bella addio/ l’armata se ne va/ e se non partissi anch’io / sarebbe una viltà”.
Video source:

“Goodbye, my pretty, goodbye / the army marches away / and if I don’t leave too / it would be cowardice”.

An interesting aspect of this sculpture is that in it lies a certain similarity between the subject portrayed and the sculptor’s life. Born in Forlì in 1828, Fortunato Zampanelli attended the Accademia di Belle Arti of Bologna under the direction of Cincinnato Baruzzi and Massimiliano Putti. At a very young age, he joined Giovine Italia and fought in the First Italian War of Independence as a volunteer in 1848. The following year, he took part in the defence of Rome and, in 1859, he again found himself on the front in the Second Italian War of Independence (26 Apr 1859-12 Jul 1859). An ardent patriot, on 12 June 1860 he unhesitatingly boarded the steamboat Aberdeen in Quarto to join up with Garibaldi’s Southern Army that had set sail for Sicily the previous month on what was known as the Expedition of the Thousand to conquer the Kingdom of Two Sicilies. At the end of the heroic years of the Risorgimento, he returned to his hometown where he taught design in various schools while, at the same time, working as a sculptor. He died in poverty in 1909. On the family tombstone is an inscription dedicated to him by his daughters: “Fortunato Zampanelli, sculptor, officer under Giuseppe Garibaldi in 1860, conspirator, volunteer in 4 campaigns fighting for Italy, died 1909.”

Creator: Fortunato Zampanelli

Date: 1850 approximately

Image rights: Museo Civico del Risorgimento di Bologna

Object type: statuette

Format: terracotta polychrome, cm 32 x 18 x 18

Publisher: Museo Civico del Risorgimento di Bologna

Digital collection record: