Dante Guidetti, Cebu’s Forgotten Italian Master Sculptor
When it comes to magnificent Italian sculpture we always attribute it to the great Renaissance artist Michelangelo (born Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni), whose works adorned the St. Peter’s Basilica and the Laurentian Library. But what if I tell you that there was a great Italian sculptor who left behind his works in Cebu (as well as in Negros Occidental) that included the magnificent facade of the pre-war Vision Theater with its classical bas relief and Christ the King statue at the Santa Catalina de Alejandria church plaza in Carcar.
One of his known work are angel guards and epitaph at the Carcar church wherein he laboriously carved and etched it with care.
Dante Guidetti is an Italian expatriate who settled in the Philippines in 1925 to 1938. Initially settling in Manila, Signore Guidetti set up his art studio in Cebu at Calle Colon and Calle Mabini where he later established himself as the pre-eminent maestro in town. He designed a church in San Carlos City, Negros Occidental, made the classical frieze of the San Miguel Hotel (later known as Vision Theater that we all know), Osmeña mausoleum and various monuments and statues with most bearing his own signature.
In old Cebu, there was interest in the classical arts particularly in the upper class so it is not surprising to see the principalia, the local elite at the time, to commission works of art befitting of their status. And Guidetti’s presence was at the opportune time so that he established an extensive clientele that allowed him to produce top-notch quality sculptures that would mistaken it as one of those in the great Italian cities of Milan, Florence, Venice and Rome.
Born as Dante Stefano Francesco Guidetti on September 2, 1881 to Emilio Guidetti and Ottavia Benedetti of Savona, Liguria, Italy. He went on to the prestigious Regio Accademia Albertina di Belle Arti in Torino where he took up architecture and fine arts. He went on to gain great distinction when got certified by the Education Ministry to teach in royal academies of fine arts within Italy and even with its colonies in Libya and the Somaliland.
Guidetti first gained prominence when he collaborated with fellow sculptor Davide Calandra (who is best known for his equestrian monument of Argentine national hero Bartolome Mitre) where they worked on the relief of the Palazzo di Montecitorio, the seat of the Italy’s Camara dei Diputati. In 1914, he married Constanza Gandolfi and had a son Gianantonio and daughter Aurora.
Just as the war clouds have descended upon the continent after the assassination of Austro-Hungarian emperor’s heir Archduke Franz Ferdinand, Guidetti served in the army where he saw action in the Italian front and went on to reach the rank of Lieutenant capped with war medals that included the Croci di Guerra, the Medaglie della Campagna, and the Medaglie dell’Unità d’Italia. And as the Great War ended, he commemorated the war by carving tombstones for the war dead and memorials for the victorious Allied Powers (where Italy aligned).
After that, he went overseas with a brief stopover in Singapore and eventually headed to the Philippines. It is not documented as to why he decided to go here but it is likely that he was lured by business opportunities from contacts. Being an American colony, there is probably a lucrative career to be made in the country.
Although he had a lucrative career in the Philippines, Guidetti decided to go back to Italy on May 30, 1938 to serve in the military once again as an Army captain just before the outbreak of the Second World War. By 1940, he was deployed to Ethiopia who was already conquered after the brief Italo-Ethiopian War of 1935–1936. When the British attacked, he was captured and taken to a prisoner-of-war camp in Mandera, British Somaliland (now Mandheera, Somalia) on May 5, 1941 and later died of cardiac arrest on November 29, 1942. His remains were later interred at the Santuario dei Caduti (Shrine of the Fallen Soldiers) in Milan.
The Vision Theater with its neo-classical facade of full-bodied, nude women (from Graeco-Roman mythology) opened in the 1930’s and although it survived World War 2, it is just unfortunate that Guidetti’s great work is left forgotten. Perhaps, it may have been unappreciated since most Cebuanos then were known to be conservative and were said to be outraged with the “scandalous” sculpture.
Most Cebuanos pass it by everyday but it is now covered by dangling wires and grime from urban decay in total disregard for heritage preservation.
Guidetti’s historic marker has a bas relief of the Colon-Mabini area then with an inscription that says:
Dante Guidetti was an expatriate Italian artist who, upon his discharge from the Italian Army in the early years of the 20th century, found himself in Cebu. He established his studio on Colon St., where he made a name for himself as practitioner of classical sculptor and a mentor of the young artist of Cebu. He carved the figures from Greek mythology which adorned the façade of Vision Theater and which created quite a furor among the pious sectors of the populace in the 1930s.
Other works of Guidetti, some of which he executed with the assistance of his gifted pupils, were the statue of boy scout in front of the Headquarters of the BSP Lapu-lapu Council at the Corner of Osmeña Boulevard and P. del Rosario St., the Osmeña Mausoleum in San Miguel, and the statues in the Talisay Town Plaza.
Key informants: Mr. Jovito Abellana, a former pupil of Guidetti; Prof. Julian Jumalon, artist; Prof. Carmelo Tamayo, artist.
Unfortunately, his historic marker is in a state of disrepair and the obelisk in the corner of Colon and Mabini is already showing its signs as well. How long will we overlook this? And before we know it, we have erased a part of our past and that the memory of Guidetti will fade into oblivion!
This article was previously posted in my blog Istoryadista on November 25, 2017.