Between art-history graduate students looking for dissertation topics and the marketplace looking for more things to sell, it is hard to believe there’s a modern artist we don’t know down to the last detail. But there is, and it is Medardo Rosso, the Italian sculptor who was born in 185 8 and died a few months short of his seventieth birthday, in 1928. Today Rosso is hardly known to us. His work is almost never exhibited in this country. And so little has been published about him outside his native country that the late Margaret Scolari Barr’s monograph, now twenty-five years old and long out of print, remains the standard text in English.

Yet the few who do know him, sculptors mostly, as well as art historians and critics, feel passionately about him. No wonder! His work is utterly bewitching. Unlike most sculpture, where palpably three-dimensional form is set out in real space,...


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