Portrait and Sketch of Alessandro Guerra

Description

This portrait of Alessandro Guerra (1790−1862) was produced by Vincent (also called Vincenzo) Gozzini and engraved by Giovanni Paolo Lasinio around 1830, the period in which Guerra (dubbed "Il furioso" for his daring style of acrobatics on horseback) was at the height of his performing success. The rhymed couplet at the bottom of the illustration refers to Guerra’s skill and his worldwide fame. A direct rival of the famous English equestrian acrobat Andrew Ducrow, Guerra was one of the most significant artists of the circus in the early to mid-19th century, featured as the main attraction in circuses across Europe. He performed on galloping horses exercises of balance, juggling with swords and flags, singing and playing the flute, violin, and guitar, and jumping through hoops in ancient Roman costumes, as represented in this engraving. After early success in his native Italy, he moved to Germany to be part of the Circus Gymnasticus of Christoph de Bach, where he became the circus’s main attraction. Around 1820 he married de Bach’s daughter. In 1826 he and the tightrope walker Gabriele Ravel founded their own company, Circo Romano. Guerra became the prototype of the Italian director of the equestrian circus company, hiring the best acts and always ready to enter new markets. In Italy and Germany he performed in various tours hiring the best artists of the period; in Scandinavia, he built a permanent wooden circus at Stockholm; in Russia he founded the Cirque Olympique of Saint Petersburg, which catered to an upper-class clientele. The finale of his career took place in 1853 at the Circo Sales in Turin, where his show dazzled audiences for more than a month. Tired and ill, he ceased his activities in Bordeaux in 1855, after being forced to sell his best horses to the famous circus director Louis Dejean. Historians long thought that Guerra died in Spain in 1856, but recently his tombstone was discovered in the Certosa of Bologna, Italy, establishing that he died in that city on July 5, 1862.

Last updated: March 5, 2014