Wednesday, 26 April 2017



Innocent as a Barbarian, Nostalgic for a Lost World



  
The creator of DaVinci's sculpture in front of Fiumicino airport is Bulgaria's Assen Peikov

Text by Albena Shkodrova | Photographs by Anthony Georgieff

“[He works] with the innocence of a barbarian and the nostalgia for a lost world, inspired by an unshakable faith in nature’s holiness,” Italian painter and critic Alberto Savinio wrote about Assen Peikov, the creator of the impressive Leonardo da Vinci sculpture that stands at the entrance Fiumicino Airport in Rome.



The Bulgaria-born sculptor ended up at the heart of Italy’s post-war cultural debate in1945, and in the 1960s, he was put on a pedestal as a guru of modern sculpture. But while he is considered a classic and has a square named after him in Rome, few in Sofia know his name.

Born in 1908 in the town of Sevlievo, to the north of the Balkan Mountain, Assen Peikov had difficulties overcoming his father’s murder and, in 1928, moved to the town of Sozopol on the Black Sea coast. There, he discovered his passion for clay and, pressed by his talent’s enormity, left Bulgaria in 1977 in search for a place large enough to contain it.

First, he went to Paris, followed by Madrid, then the US and finally settled in Rome, where he became a student at the Fine Arts Academy. His studio at Via Margutta 54 became a centre for the Italian intellectuals’ quest at the time. His magical workspace brought together the poet Giuseppe Ungaretti, musician Bruno Barilli, expressionist Renato Guttuso, film director Cesare Zavattini and many others.

At the centre of the avant-garde, Assen Peikov took part in the quest for a renewed symbolism and aesthetics between the 1940s and the 1960s. An inexhaustible source of ideas and energy, he worked with stone, metal, wood, porcelain and even wax. His absolute theme became the portrait: from Mozart to the Bulgarian Khan Asparuh, from Alexander Fleming to Ava Gardner. Over 1,000 heads and busts of the past century’s politicians and intellectuals are now scattered around galleries and private collections in the US, Europe and South America.

“His sculptures demonstrate that he feels and loves form and the plastic of bodies engages him constantly,” his contemporary and friend, the surrealist Giorgio de Chirico, said.

His words are confirmed by Leonardo da Vinci’s sculpture as well. Assen Peikov won a competition among 300 of his colleagues to make one of his most monumental works. The selection committee never regretted its choice: when the imposing figure was raised in front of the Fiumicino Airport, Italian media received it with applause, calling its author “an adopted resident” of Rome.

The studio on Via Margutta 54, preserved by Assen Peikov’s son – Rodolfo, presently looks like an exhibition of a past era. Sculptures, paintings and books testify for a time when the workshop stood at centre of Rome’s cultural life. After the Bulgarian sculptor’s death, both the city and his family keep his memory touchingly.

Assen Pekov’s wife – marquise Emilia, dedicated a collection of poems to him and his son Rodolfo is now trying to turn his father’s studio into a museum.

One of the most prestigious awards given out annually by the mayor of Rome - Premio Simpatia, is a bronze rose created by the sculptor. The prize has been given out 40 times now, and its recipients include Federico Fellini and Franco Zeffirelli.

Assen Peikov died in 1973, but his Leonardo reminds the Bulgarians and other people landing at the Fiumicino Airport that a Renaissance is possible.

 

 

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