|Art historically, Riva’s classically inspired sculptures – his romanticized classicism – repudiates al that Futurism, the Italian contribution to modernism, stands for. In ‘The Foundation and Manifesto of Futurism’, 1908, Marinetti declared that ‘we will free Italy from her numberless museums which cover her with countless cemeteries’. For him, old art was a ‘funeral urn’. He preferred ‘violent gushes of action’, famously asserting that ‘a race-autombile….is more beautiful than the Victory of Samothrace’. As Riva’s winged victories show, this is not true – the race-automobile is less beautiful, for it lacks the quiet nobility essential to beauty. This indwelling nobility is concrete in Riva’s classicized figures, as it is in all classical sculpture. A century after Marinetti overturned the values of traditional art, they have returned in Riva, suggesting that the fascination with modern dynamics evident in Futurism has outlived its day. Classical beauty has not, perhaps because there is a need for an oasis of beauty and stability – like a museum – in the ugly, unstable world. Also human beings, however allegorized, as in Riva’s figures, remain more marvellous than objects, even if they are technological marvels.
Riva has understood the romantic paradox of classical style: rendered with exquisite care, material fact becomes imbued with immaterial feeling.
Ever since the Italian Renaissance, the ambition of high art has been to create a so-called ‘speaking likeness’, that is, a portrait that conveys the inner life of the figure through its outer appearance. The ideal is emotional as well as physical verisimilitude. In no art is the integration of the external and the internal more seamless and subtle than in Italian Renaissance art. We immediately ‘see into’ Renaissance figures – and Riva’s neo-Renaissance figures. In both cases we see their inner being through their outer appearance, the internal reality in turn enriching the external reality – enhancing its already vivid life. Riva’s female figures feel intensely yet never lose their classical poise, which is the secret of their gracefulness.