cover image The Animal Gazer

The Animal Gazer

Edgardo Franzosini, trans. from the Italian by Michael F. Moore. New Vessel, $16.95 trade paper (128p) ISBN 978-1-939931-52-8

The brief, tragic life of Italian sculptor Rembrandt Bugatti (1884–1916) is lightly fictionalized in this slight reflection on the events of his final years. Bugatti specialized in bronzes of animals whose behavior he observed during frequent visits to the Jardin des Plantes in Paris and the Antwerp Zoo. He admits an affinity for his models when he tells his brother that, upon observing them, “I understand perfectly their joys and sorrows.” Franzosini recounts anecdotes comparing animal and human natures in Bugatti’s conversations with his brother and the writer Remy de Gourmont; he also recalls the horrific spectacle of the Antwerp Zoo killing its animals at the outbreak of World War I in 1914 to prevent their escape into the town, but he shows little of its impact on the artist’s emotions, even when the zoo later becomes a field hospital where Bugatti volunteered (and the parallels between the preemptive slaughter and the human casualties of war become obvious). Franzosini does a solid job of depicting the artist’s life in prewar Europe, but his Bugatti moves through its setting as something of a cipher whose inner life must be inferred from the reproductions of his work that decorate the book. (Jan.)