The preliminary model for a statue of Helvetia was conceived by Vela for the square in front of the Parlament but it was never executed - ostensibly for financial reasons but in reality on "ideological" grounds and because it was thought to be too daring iconographically. We see a combative and revolutionary Helvetia brandishing the Swiss flag as she stands on a rock, which represents the federal state formed of cantons. The flag bears the cap belonging to William Tell, while Helvetia's left foot rests on the symbols of tyranny and monarchy.
All the most important works to come out of the sculptor's atelier were made from preliminary models or bozzetti, which often included the base and the figure. Unlike Canova, who threw off his rough models in one burst following his creative impulse, Vela took them to a high degree of refinement despite their dimensions, even when they were often very small. The reasons behind this step are to be found in the poetics of truthfulness, which were already present at this stage of the genesis of a work, and in the need to convince a client of the plausibility of the choices the sculptor had made.
The preliminary sketch could either simply express Vela's first ideas, or be a detailed representation, or demonstrate the possibilities offered by variants. They are thus "sculpturettes" that provide us with an interesting observatory on Vincenzo Vela's method of working and developing different stimuli.
The sculptor took particular care on the preliminary models that he presented in competitions, as he did with the Monument to Cavour for the city of Turin, a case that had significant repercussions for Vela. He prepared two versions, both of which are on display. In his ideas the artist showed himself completely innovative both in the typology he proposed - the first should have been for a statue for a fountain (the first variant) - and in the iconography of the Risorgimento that he employed, using allegories in a non-conventional manner. It was a heavy blow to the Ticinese sculptor, the most renowned in Turin during that period, not to win the competition that he had prepared so hard for. The extent of his research is shown by the two preliminary models displayed here and his numerous drawings.
Vela entered this model in the competition called by Asti to commemorate the city's famous son, the tragedian Vittorio Alfieri (1749-1803). Although he had only recently arrived in Piedmont, the young sculptor seized the opportunity to make a name for himself through the production of a public work that would create a sensation. The monument, of which only a few sketches exist, is composed on two levels: the upper one consists of a romantic portrait-statue of Alfieri, and the lower one of allegorical figures, one of which is an intriguing interpretation of "Tragedy" dressed in a cloak and dagger, beside "Piedmont", a rare male allegorical figure.