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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Porcelli, Pietro Giacomo (1872–1943)

by Simon Keane

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 11, (MUP), 1988

Pietro Giacomo Porcelli (1872-1943), sculptor, was born on 30 January 1872 at Bisceglie, near Bari, Italy, son of Leonardo Porcelli, a Pugliese mariner from Molfetta engaged in shipping on the Adriatic, and his wife Anna, née Caputi. At 8, Pietro went with his father to Sydney, leaving his mother and younger sister at home. Leonardo exploited the coastal fishing beds; Pietro began drawing and sculpting, under Achille Simonetti's guidance. Encouraged by his father and instructors, Pietro then trained at the Royal Academy of Naples, Italy, where he won medals in exhibitions and obtained the diploma.

In 1898 father and son migrated again, to Western Australia. In December Pietro completed a life-size bust of Sir John Forrest; a bronze cast of the colony's first premier stands in Parliament House's main entrance hall. Porcelli's life was obscure, but he won repute with the unveiling of his first public statue in 1903. This bronze figure of Alexander Forrest stands at the intersection of St George's Terrace and Barrack Street. Porcelli created busts, reliefs, patriotic plaques and large medallions of prominent local citizens. Leonardo Porcelli died in 1905 and next year Pietro visited Italy. His bronze bust of C. Y. O'Connor, completed in 1907, today overlooks Mundaring weir and in 1909 he made a bust of Sir James Lee Steere.

On 8 January 1910 Porcelli married Martha Massie Goodwin, a Welsh governess; they had a daughter and a son. Next year Porcelli's crowning achievement, a larger than life figure of O'Connor overlooking Fremantle Harbour, was unveiled. His other major works include a bust of Maitland Brown and bas-reliefs of his expedition (on Fremantle Esplanade); the hammered bronze emblem of the Australian Mutual Provident Society, Perth; and the F. H. Piesse statue at Katanning. Many likenesses were based on faded or torn photographs; his materials included stone, clay, plaster and marble. He executed ecclesiastical designs including an alto-relief marble head of Christ on the exterior wall of St Patrick's Church, Fremantle, headstones from local Donnybrook stone, and a sarcophagus for John Forrest's grave.

After World War I Porcelli designed, carved and sculpted many war memorials, notably the bronze soldiers of Kalgoorlie and Boulder and the female figure of Peace at the Western Australian Railways workshops at Midland. His work suffered from the constraints set by limited funds and memorial committees. All his major figures were cast in Italy.

Some of Porcelli's busts are in Sydney. In the mid-1920s he worked in Melbourne, creating the twelve freestone panels to adorn the inner Shrine of Remembrance. He exerted little influence on the art world there and returned to Perth where he died on 28 June 1943. Survived by his wife and children, he was buried in the Catholic section of Karrakatta cemetery. Porcelli's name is etched into the bronze and stone of many memorials in Western Australia. Behind the lean whimsical face, moustached and spectacled, was an unassuming capable artist. A statue of Porcelli by the sculptor Greg James stands in St John's Square, Fremantle.

Select Bibliography

  • Western Australian Society of Arts Catalogue 1924 (Perth, 1924)
  • West Australian, 6 Oct 1902
  • Western Mail (Perth), 3 Mar 1906, 4 Dec 1909, 18 June 1910, 19 Sept 1913
  • Golden Gate, 17 Nov 1911
  • Argus (Melbourne), 8 Nov 1930, supplement.

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Simon Keane, 'Porcelli, Pietro Giacomo (1872–1943)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1988, accessed online 22 October 2020.

This article has been amended since its original publication. View Original

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 11, (MUP), 1988

View the front pages for Volume 11

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