« Sono coloro che hanno dimenticato che l’uomo é solo un bruco, destinato a diventare farfalla solo nell’aldilà : ora sono curvi come telamoni sotto pesi troppo grandi rispetto alle loro forze, tanto che quello che sembrava poter sopportare di piu il suo carico piangendo parea dicer : Piu non posso.
« Dante, Divina Commedia, I superbi, Purgatory »
Sitting, crushed under the weight it supports, witnessing eternal punishment, the telamon was an iconic image in the Middle Ages.
I can no more ! Cried the penitents in the purgatory of Dante: the superb in the Divine Comedy are exhausted souls, responsible of their guilt, holding on their shoulders the weight of a heavy boulder as the arrogance perpetrated during a lifetime. The bodies are bent, collapsing on themselves according to an image that Dante compares to the prostrate figure of a telamon.
The title of “Gobbo”(hunchback), derive from his posture, kneeling and hunched under the weight of the marble slab that rests on his head to visualize the weight of the peaches of humanity. Emblematic image of Middle Ages, the hunchback becomes subject of sculpture used as support for columns, plinths and baptismal fonts pulpits and thrones.
This telamon, carved from a block of marble from the Roman period, reemployed as was common in the Middle Ages, bears on the reverse the inscription “SEX”. Is particularly evident the forced posture, with the head squeezed between his shoulders, up to protrude beyond the natural axis of his body.
He wears a tunic tight at the waist by a belt like the telamon kept at the Museo Civico de Piacenza (circa 1110-1130), at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London (1140-1150) and the pair of monumental telamon of the Louvre.
His clothes are typical of the civil fashion of the time: the sculpture witnesses a search for a figurative realism free from the purely symbolic and allegorical repertoire which characterized religious monuments of the time.
Telamon are an architectural innovation that spread in the north of Italy, especially in Emilia Romagna and Lombardy, from the first third of the 12th century and whose fortunes lasted for two centuries. The oldest sculptures representing telamons are those from the Duomo of Cremona dated between 1107 and 1117 (one of which is visible at Castello Sforzesco in Milan).
Often presented in pairs to support the columns of the facades, the gobbi are the sculptural development of an iconographic model which already appears in a series of illustrations visible in a codex from the beginning of the fifth century, “calendario di Filocalo” where a series of images representing the seven planets are inscribed inside a canopy placed on the shoulders of two telamons.
In the well known examples of Bologna, Cremona, Piacenza and Ferrara, the telamons always appear as a couple, a young and an old. This dualism is inspired by the symbolism of the solar circle where the two figures visualize the two parts of the year: the increasing sun and the decreasing sun.
The fortune of this iconographic model lasted until the 14th century when in 1367 Giovanni da Campione was commissioned to realize the facade of the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore in Bergamo, probably the last example of telamon produced testifying to the fortune of this iconographic model.
Hunchbacks were a major attraction for passing foreigners and their popularity was highlighted in 1910 by Alice Maude Allen in her book “History of Verona”:« The two well known gobbi inside the church supporting holy water basins are masterpieces in their way ».
- A.M.ALLEN, A history of Verona, London 1910, p. 368
- S. LOMARTIRE, Telamone, in Matilde di Canossa. Il Papato. L’Impero. Storia, arte, cultura alle origini del romanico, catalogo della mostra (Mantova, casa del Mantegna, 31 agosto-11 gennaio 2009) a cura di R.Salvarani, L. Castelfranchi , Silvana Editoriale, Cinisello Balsamo 2008, pp. 405-406, n. X. 27
- E. NAPIONE, i Gobbi di Sant’Anastasia, Museo Civico di Verona, Septembre 2018
- P. WILLIAMSON, Catalogue of Romanesque sculpture in the Victoria and Albert Museum, V&A Publications, London 1983, pp. 50-51, n. 22