Franceso Cremonese was born on october 29th 1907 in Spresiano, a village in the Treviso province of Italy. His father, Ferdinand Cremonese, emigrated to the United States of America twice, for a total of 12 years away from his family. He was offered a US citizenship, but chose to come back to his maternal country and six children, just before World War One broke out.
In 1917 the front line had settled down just next to Spresiano, on the river Piave, and the whole village was abandoned. The Cremonese family took refuge in Sicily and from 1918 to 1920 in Livorno, Toscani. The village of Spresiano was completely destroyed by Austrian artillery.
Francesco Cremonese started working as a locksmith at the age of 11, and attended evening classes in order to pass his school certificate. He also had the opportunity to learn drawing from a local artist. At the age of 17 he was offered a place at the national aviation school. With the degradation of the economic situation, and the rise of fascism in Italy, the Cremonese family chose to leave. In October 1925, 17-year old Francesco had to follow his family to Villars near St. Etienne in France.
From 1926 to 1930, while working a full time job, he attended evening classes at the fine arts school in St Etienne, and after that he pursued his artistic studies at the fine arts school Place des Vosges in Paris. While studying in Paris he worked at Mr. Seguin’s historical monuments workshop during the day.
In 1932 Francesco returned to St Etienne where he assisted Mr. Rochette who was very weak from illness. Mr. Rochette put Francesco in charge of finishing a monument dedicated to Pasteur Comte, modelling and cutting of the War Monument of St Etienne, and of the bas-relief for the Charité. In 1934 Francesco applied for a teaching position at the fine arts school in St Etienne, but was refused on grounds of his Italian citizenship.
Around the same time Francesco started his work on the Venus of Brizet. The idea for the Venus stemmed from his time as a student at the fine arts school of St Etienne. His teacher, Mr. Batigne, was often referring to the Venus de Milo stating that no one in modern times would be capable of crafting a sculpture of such skill and beauty. Francesco responded to his teacher ; “In some years time, I will be as good a sculptor !” a statement which provoked laughter from his classmates. From this day on, the challenge imposed itself on him, and he thought ; “If I could match the craftwork of Greek sculpture, I would really be a great sculptor”.
Francesco realised that only a small number of feminine nudes were produced by the famous Greek sculptor Phidias, and decided to work on a sculpture in the spirit and technique of the master Phidias. He ordered a block of Marble from Carrara and took a Polish waitress named Anna Strudnicka for his model. The work was not complete until 1936.
In order to have his work reviewed by experts without preconceptions, Francesco broke off a hand, an arm and the nose of his newly finished sculpture, so it would appear as an antic. In october 1936, helped by his brother Roger and his father, he transported the 80 kg piece, through the cover of night, to a place called Brizet, near the village of St-Just-St-Rambert. Here they buried the sculpture in a field. After many months of waiting, the sculpture was finally discovered by a farmer cultivating the field on the 26th of April 1937.
The story was all over the press. Sculptors, archaeologists and experts were all discussing the discovery. Francesco remained anonymous in order to hear what everybody had to say about his work. On November 17th 1938 he contacted a journalist from the “Reflets” in order to affirm that he was the true sculptor of the “Venus de Brizet”.
(For more information about the Venus de Brizet please see the article by Jean Tibi ’’Histoire de la VENUS DE BRIZET’’)
As World War Two broke out, Francesco and his four brothers refused to obey the Italian mobilisation order. His two elder brothers were forced to do the STO (Compulsory Work Service) in Nazi Germany. Francesco managed to elude the STO thanks to a friend who provided a fake worker’s registration pass from the weapons factory of St Etienne.
Francesco did not do any sculpting until 1948 when he did four hard limestone sculptures : Charity, The Two friends, and two child’s heads.
In 1950 he went back to his native village Spresiano to marry Romana Barbon, a farmer’s daughter. The couple settled down in Villars and had three children. Public sculpting commissions were rare, and Francesco worked as a plasterer to support his family.
From 1960 and onwards Francesco created dozens of sculptures and hundreds of paintings. He pursued a research into representation of character’s feelings and uncluttered forms. His exploration of new proportions never crossed the line into abstraction, and stayed true to the tradition of Egyptian and Greek sculptors, and the lessons of Italian renaissance painters. Far away from the artistic scene, Francesco Cremonese developed an entire and complete body of work yet to be discovered.