Giovanni Francesco Barbieri called Il Guercino

(Cento 1591 - Bologna 1666)

Victorious Hercules

Oil on canvas

123 x 96 cm

The greek hero is caught in the act of raising  the club above his head, while menacingly glancing to his left. Lion Nemeo’s pelt glides on his back, leaving naked the mighty torso.

This picture is very likely that for which a payment is entered in his Account Book on 15 April, 1648: “Dal Pre Buonomi della Carità, si è ricevuto doble n°20. per il Quadro dell’Ercole fatto al suo Pre: Generale, mezza figura che fano Scudi 74” (B, Ghelfi, Il Libro dei conti del Guercino, 1629-1666, Bologna, 1997, p. 139, no. 390). This commission was apparentlu the last treatment of the subject that Guercino undertook during his career.

 

Indeed, the style of the Finarte painting corresponds well with such a dating – for example, in the treatment of the light and shadow across the body of the figure and in the passages of intense blue, probably  lapis lazuli, in the sky. As for the physical type of Hercules, which is far from robust, this conforms well with Guercino’s slender physical ideal of this moment, also seen, for example, in his Andromeda in the Freeing of Andromeda, of 1648, in the Palazzo Balbi Seneraga, Genoa (l. Salerno, I dipinti del Guercino, Rome, 1988, p. 327, no. 254) and in all of the figures in the oseph and Potiphar’s Wife and  Ammon Expelling Tamar, of 1649, in the National Gallery of Art, Washington (Salerno, 1988, pp. 322-3, no. 261-2). The Atlasin the Museo Bardini, Florence, painted in 1646, is a comparable half-lenght representation of a subject from ancient mythology (Salerno, 1988, pp. 304-5, no. 230). 

 

As modern studies have shown, the Hercules theme played an important role in the artist’s production immediately after his move to Bologna and thanks to Guercino’s Libro dei conti (account book) we do know that two other half-lenght representations of Hercules during his mature period exist: one painted in 1642 and the other in 1645, respectively, the first for Alessandro Argoli, Luogotenente Criminale di Ferrare, and the second for Cardinal Carlo de’ Medici (Ghelfi, 1997, pp. 112, no. 271, and 127, no. 337). The painting ordered by Argoli is now generally identified as the Hercules, with his Club Resting on his Showlder in a private collection, Bologna (Salerno, 1988, p. 404, no. 345), though an unfinished variant of this painting, now in the Koeliker collection, Milan, has been recemtly proposed (with some reserves) as the prime version. It should be noted for the record that at one time, Salerno was of the opinon that the painting in a private collection, Bologna, might be the reappearance in the past  fifteen years of no less than three half lenght representations of hercules by Guercino, of which the Finarte painting is the one. It is clear that the Finarte painting and that out in a private collection, Bologna, do not belong to the same stylistic moment as each other, nevertheless, it is interesting to observe how Hercules’s facial type – with its penetrating gaze, dark complexion and black beard and hair – is much the same in both works.

 

The half-lenght Hercules painted in 1645 for Cardinal Medici is the newly-discovered picture in the Raccolta Statale Bardini, Florence (Ospiti inattesi: opera indite o poco note dalla Raccolta Statale Bardini, a cura di M. Scalini and G. P. Cammarota, Pinacoteca Nazionale, Bologna, September to January, 2007, pp. 74-75, no 21°).  

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Melchior Barthel

(Dresda 1625-1672)

Bust of a Philosopher

Carrara Marble

58,7 x 30,7 x 22 cm

The beautiful bust of Carrara marble, depicting the ideal portrait of an ancient philosopher - a very common subject in the Venetian collections of the seventeenth century, due to its particular stylistic connotation, can be confidently assigned to the Saxon sculptor Melchior Barthel, one of the main protagonists of the Baroque Venetian sculpture of the second half of the seventeenth century.

The comparisons with the documented works of the artist, such as the Saint John the Baptist and the Prophets of the Venetian church of Scalzi or the San Pietro of the church of San Pietro di Castello, reveal in fact a same sensitivity, aimed at a theatricality of attitudes, in conceiving the figures, distinguished, as we observe in our bust, from a full bodied and exuberant plastic sense of the sculptural forms. In particular, in the Philosopher as in the other works mentioned by Barthel we find, alongside the common expressive charge and the re-proposition in the faces of similar physiognomic types (see for example the definition of the ocular globes or the eyebrow arch), an identical working of the thick beards and hairstyles, arranged in ruffled locks, real skeins of hair, soft and leavening, defined at the tip of the chisel.
The comparison with the Saint Peter allows to notice also the same treatment of the drapery, from the curled surfaces.

After having stayed for three years in Rome where - according to his biographers (see Curiosa Saxonica 1748, Sandrart 1675) - he worked as a sculptor and architect, Barthel arrived in Venice just over the middle of the seventeenth century, with an already acquired experience behind him both in the field of monumental statues in marble and in the intaglio of ivory, so as to immediately become one of the most famous and sought-after artists on the Venetian scene.

For the language updated in Baroque, no less than for the importance and quality of the works itself, the presence of the artist of Dresden in the panorama of Venetian sculpture of the time was certainly very significant, contributing decisively, together with the example of Justus Court, arrived in the lagoon in the same period of time, to radically renew a now weary sculptural tradition.
Among the contemporaries, there is the painter Sebastiano Mazzoni, who dedicates to his friend "Melchior Bartel Scultor celeberrimo Tedesco" some encomiastic verses ("From your opre to amaze me I learn (...) / That others with the Iron of others death, / And you with Iron you can give life to the Marbles ") in a sonnet contained in the collection Il Tempo perduto (Venice 1661). Sandrart (1675), for his part, a few years after the artist's death, recalls him as a "sculptor without comparison and pride of his Saxon homeland".

Among the early Venetian works of Barthel we should mention the sculptures made, probably in the late fifties and the beginning of the following decade, for the chapel of the Mora family, in the Scalzi church: the San Giovanni Battista, signed, in the center of the the altar, the couple of Prophets resting on the tympanum, and the two Putti placed on the side walls, one regent the coat of arms of the family and the other the dedicatory inscription. A little later he executed the marble statues representing Saint Peter and Saint Mark for the high altar in the church of San Pietro di Castello, built on a project by Baldassarre Longhena, works in relation to which some payments dating back to the end of 1663 are documented. San Marco, in particular, very effectively reveals a 'Venetian' Baroque style, expressed in ways that go well with the emphasis of Le Court, author of the figure with St. Paul in the same altar, and nourished by that same cultural climate that gives life at the contemporary painting of the so-called 'tenebrous'.

In 1669 he took part in the realization of the impressive sculptural apparatus of the funerary monument to the Doge Giovanni Pesaro in the Basilica dei Frari, the most important and imposing baroque monument of this kind, built on the project of the same Longhena. They are in fact in Barthel - as Cristoforo Ivanovich recalls in his encomiastic text entitled L'Istoria ne 'Marmi (1683), dedicated to Pesaro - the two pairs of allegorical statues depicting Religion and Constance and Truth and Justice, placed at the sides of the figure of the doge in order to celebrate its virtues. Finally, the marble statues representing the Faith and Prudence of the monument to Lorenzo Dolfin in the Venetian church of San Lazzaro dei Mendicanti, which began in 1666 and dated 1668, are almost contemporary.

Among the works kept in Venetian churches, the most famous is perhaps the funeral memory of Melchiorre Lanza in the Basilica of Saints John and Paul, with the effigy carved in the marble of the deceased and "stand a statue of a seductive woman" - which is intent staring at a mirror reflecting the image of a human skull - "representing the thought of death".

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Giulio Carpioni

(Venice? 1613 - Vicenza 1679)

Flaying of Marsyas

Oil on canvas

81 x 106 cm

The painting depicts a famous episode narrated in "Metamorfosi" by Ovid (VI, 385-391). The god Apollo, crowned with laurel, is shown while flaying with professional detachment the satyr Marsia who is still alive.
Guilty of challenging the god and losing the musical competition Marsia lies face-down, in supplication, on a rock covered in spotted fur. The competitors' musical instruments, Apollo's lyre and Marsia's flute, are shown in the foreground. The tragic scene fuses well with the magical, idyllic atmosphere which surrounds them. The countryside scenery and the clear sky help to play down the dramatic moment which takes place in the scene which has evident principles of symmetry. Nearly all the numerous figures in the painting watch the events with marvelling surprise; only King Midas, wrapped in a beautiful purple cloak and painted on the extreme left, seems to be lost in thought.

With Apollo's victory the painting wants to celebrate the triumph of divine wisdom and virtue over man's presumptuousness, as can be seen in the related engraving which warns the fool not to be too proud. The style characteristics permit us to recognise in the exemplar in question one of the most convincing and original works by Giulio Carpioni.

A pupil in Padovanino's Venetian workshop from 1630, Carpioni went on a study trip with the Maestro to Bergamo. There is documentary evidence of his presence in Vicenza in 1638, and he remained there until his death, with a short period of about four years (1669-1673) in Verona where he moved with the painter Bartolomeo Cittadella.

In Vicenza, above all after the departure of the strange visionary Francesco Maffei in 1657, he alone dominated the artistic scene of the town, making himself the spokesman for a classicist vision which took into account not only Maestro Padovanino's teaching but also Nicolas Poussin's painting and Pietro Testa's engraving.

The first known compositions by Carpioni depict scenes of this kind, with players, musicians and soothsayers, full of symbolic allusions, influenced by Pietro della Vecchia and the naturalism of Saraceni and Le Clerc ("Gioco d'azzardo", già Bologna, private collection, perhaps "pendant" of the "Allegoria dei vizi umani", Vicenza, Civic Museum).

After he arrived in Vicenza Carpioni, as well as carrying out important religious and civil commissions, satisfied more and more the requests of clients who liked the profane mythological genre. The cycle of frescos inspired by "Pastor Fido" in the Villa Pagello Nordera in Caldogno (Vicenza) (1646) is one of his first attempts where the artist shows his own preferences for classical subjects taken from mythology. His bacchanalias, allegorical scenes which do not appear anywhere else in the Italian art of this period, were painted slightly later.

The painting of his later years, with greater attention paid to engraving, lost its plastique effect more and more in favour of a result which paid more attention to two-dimensional effects, surfaces, the human figure and painting which was more toned towards cold and pearlised shades.

The painting in question belongs to Carpioni's best production which took place during the 1650s/1660s; this is evidenced by the use of distinct light which brings out the plastique effect of the bodies, carried out with polished care, and the bright luminosity of the colours.

The nymphs and satyrs are sisters and brothers of those who populate the various renderings of the "Omaggi a Venere", of the "Morti I Leandro" or the "Sogni di Hypnos", dated by critics as just after the middle of the century.
Thanks to the original engraving it is possible to identify the painting in question with the exemplar which belonged to the great writer, poet and art collector Francesco Algarotti (cfr. G. M. Pilo, "Carpioni", Venice 1961, p. 145).

Related Engraving: GIULIO CARPONI INV.E DIPINSE GIAC(OMO) LEONARDIS DELIN. E INC. 1765
(Al crudo duol di Marsia e del Re Mida/L'Ardir s'abbassi lo stolto non decida/In Venezia appo Giacomo Leonardis).

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Sculptor active in Rome

(Second half of the 17th century)

Saint Peter and Saint Paul

Poplar wood

135 cm

The two figures, who are walking in a dignified way with studied juxtaposition, are carved in poplar wood in a powerful, expressive style, and can be placed without doubt within the context of the most elegant Roman Baroque production.  While being restored the partial purple-red gilding was removed since it was not original, and this operation has brought to light an intense nut-like colour. Although precise symbolic references are absent we can with good reason deduct that they are two saints, and the vague resemblance to the common images of Saints Peter and Paul permit us to identify them in fact with these two patron saints of Rome. Moreover, the particular position of their arms which shows both figures with their right hands stretched out and half open suggests that the two saints were holding the keys of the church and the spade, respectively, which are today missing.  The bald figure, however, could also be  intended to be Saint Agostino or Saint  Benedetto, both of whom are generally represented more or less bald.

The strong moulding quality of the cloaks that sinuously wrap around the figures, creating an effect of waving, strongly chiaroscuro drapery, the intense expressions of the faces, seized by a divine vision, and the incisiveness with which the thick wavy locks of the hair and beards have been carved, strongly bring to mind the best prototypes of statuary by the most important protagonists of the Baroque Age, Gian Lorenzo Bernini (1598-1680) and Alessandro Algardi (1598-1654), from whom our unknown sculptor cleverly took compositional ideas and formal solutions. In particular, we can find interesting comparisons with the middle-sized, bronze statuary of these two masters, as can be seen, for example in the figures of “Saints Peter and Paul” carried out by Bernini with Giovanni Rinaldi and Girolamo Lucenti for “Ciborio del Santissimo Sacramento” in St. Peter’s in the Vatican (1672-1675), whose general planning is similar to the two works in question here (fig.1).  However, even more than Bernini’s statuary it would seem that there is a definite  link with some sculptures by Algardi which show, in certain details, precise similarities to the works in question.

A first general comparison can be easily made with the two partially gilded, bronze figures of “San Giacomo Maggiore” and “San Tommaso” (Rome, Chiesa  del Gesù), modelled by Algardi but cast by his pupil Domenico Guidi after Algardi’s death on 10th June 1654 (fig.2).  In this case too the two figures are standing, characteristically with open arms and, as well as a tunic they are wearing an elaborate cloak that descends in numerous folds and creates full pleats and sharp edges.  Moreover, the particular way the sleeves of the tunic are folded back, which above all on “San Giacomo Maggiore” form a thick ring around the forearm finds exactly the same effect on the wooden statue of a possible “Saint Peter”.  The intense expression on the faces is also reminiscent of Algardi, full of pathos but not too excessive. Think above all of our possible “Saint Peter” and the figure of the same name in the enormous relief of “l’Incontro di Attila e papa San Leone Magno” (Rome, St. Peter’s in the Vatican),  which the Master later replicated in a marble bust (fig. 3, private collection, part of a pair with “Saint Paul”) and, with a few variations, the  bronze for the Franzone Chapel in Genova (fig. 4, Chiesa di Santi Vittore e Carlo).  Our sculptures too, with their eyes turned upwards – and Saint Peter’s head too -  their rapt expressions, their wide-open eyes and their half-open mouths, transmit a definite Algardian air, even though they were executed with less delicate accents, but this could be due to the fact that they are made of wood.

We should also ask ourselves what the purpose of these objects might be since it would seem difficult that they were conceived to be placed in niches, because of their conformation and their gesturing – both seem to be holding something in their left hands – that makes us think rather of a placement inside a more articulated  complex, such as an altar aedicule or an ephemeral apparatus.  The production of such ornaments for parties became during the XVII century in Rome a real industry in which even the most important artists of the time took part as designers. As well as the well-known  Bernini inventions  it must be underlined that Algardi himself in 1650 designed a group with a “Pietà ai piedi della Croce” for the processional cart of the Arciconfraternità del Gonfalone, which was then carved in wood by Michel Anguier and later restored on the occasion of the “Anno Santo” in 1675 by Domenico Guidi.

Moreover sculptures in wood, or even in stucco, were made for the Easter celebrations of the “Quarantore”:  these stagings were populated with figures on painted backgrounds, like the one of 1658 created by Domenico Rainaldi at the Collegio Romano, where the protectors of Rome, Saint Peter and Saint Paul, “with their swords in their hands go forward menacingly” to drive the Plague out of the city (Fagiolo dell’Arco 1997, p. 389).

We can therefore presume that the two wooden statues in question here were produced by a Roman workshop during the second half of the XVII century by an artist with valid experience as a sculptor but at the same time an excellent knowledge of the works of the great sculptors of his time, Algardi in primis. We could further restrict the field to one of the many young men who carried the Algardian language through to the end of the XVII century, that is the peaceful, measured work of Ercole Ferrata (1610-1686) who was, together with Guidi, the most successful of Algardi’s pupils and also the head of a flourishing and well-attended workshop-academy.

 

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Agostino Tassi

(Rome 1578 – 1644)

Architectonical Scene with the meeting between Solomon and the Queen of Sheba

Oil on canvas

98 x 133,5 cm

The painting occupies an important place in the catalogue of Agostino Tassi’s later works, a painter who has a monograph written by Teresa Pugliatti (1977) (1) and a monographic exhibition in Palazzo Venezia in Rome in 2008 curated by Patrizia Cavazzini (2).
Tassi was in great demand among the most important buyers in Rome (the Borghese, the Ludovisi, the Barberini, the Patrizi and the Peretti Montalto families), above all to decorate and fresco the walls of their palaces; he was extremely clever at increasing or decreasing the size of a room through architectural illusions, creating formulas and models which were fundamental for XVII century landscape painting.

From his earliest works, dating back to the first few years of the century, Tassi shows his interest in all the different kinds of landscape painting, from the topographical views of cities to architectural whims, very often imaginative, whose theme, studied thoroughly above all around the 1630s, cohabits with the most common subjects of “Marine”, and Tassi became extremely popular for these. In the “Negazione di San Pietro” (1613, Rome, private collection), realised around 1613, we already find, for example, a double arcade – a monumental architectural feature that dominates the scene – derived from the Treatise on perspective by Jans Vredeman de Vries, but also from buildings which the painter knew already from the period he spent in Tuscany (the Vasari Loggias in Arezzo, or the Peschiera Loggia in Livorno, the double arcade of Banchi di Pisa).

The scene which unfolds before our eyes in this canvas is set in the shade of a huge, antiqued entrance-hall whose architecture in inspired by the Basilicas of Ancient Rome and can be compared to his earlier works such as the “Galleria” in the Civic Museum in Prato and the oldest version of the “Festa di Calendimaggio in Campidoglio” (Florence, private collection). The antique objects that enrich the closed space which descends gradually in the background, includes a typically Roman statue enclosed in a niche and a few decorations which are visible in the opening of a side wing.

Elegant Greek-like elements such as columns and capitals are placed within an enormous orchestration, typically Roman, which renders the wall, and no longer the column, the important element, and the barrel vault becomes the roof. The perspective is not exactly focal: the idea of a viewer at the edge of the canvas who is introduced into the scene following a path which is slightly diagonal is often present in Tassi’s work. The figures in the foreground that are placed as if in a kind of frieze according to a syntactic juxtaposition are actually the creations of the painter in the 1630s and are repeated, for example, in paintings such as “Cleopatra a Tarso” and “L’Ingresso di Taddeo Barberini dalla Porta del Popolo”, the latter dated 1632, in which long-limbed figures that crowd the scene and take on sinuous, contrived poses like those of dancers and musicians who move elegantly, almost on tiptoes, on the cornice of the raised pedestal of the column on the left, return to establish strict stylistic analogies with our painting.

The detailed description and attention to reality, characteristics which were present in Tassi’s earlier works, are obviously fruit of a mental elaboration which followed the example of Flemish painting, the master of calligraphism.
Concerning the subject represented here that Patrizia Cavazzini suggested be identified with the departure of a king from his daughter who has been promised in matrimony to a foreign prince, appears difficult to codify, which confirms the fact that when faced with Tassi’s works it is often necessary to assume dubitative interpretations.

It is, however, possible to recognise in this episode the meeting between Solomon and the Queen of Sheba, a subject which was used at the same time by Claude Lorrain and which reveals, with regard to Tassi, his interest in the Queen of Sheba’s vicissitudes, since he painted about them more than once, for example in the “Arrivo della regina di Saba nel regno di Salomone” (England, Burghley House, dated around 1613), or in the “Imbarco della regina di Saba” (Rome, private collection).

After a more careful analysis the most evident feature of this canvas is the declination “alla Poussin” of the composition that takes over during the last phase of Tassi’s career. Scholars have more than once asked themselves, with regard to this, if Poussin, whose first years in Rome were known to be very difficult, may have turned to Tassi’s studio. If we look deeper at the French influence that Agostino felt in the course of his career we can see that in 1629 the scholarly Cassiano dal Pozzo, when praising the paintings of “these curiosities of Rome” by Jean Lemaire, likened them to those by Tassi.

It is well-known, in fact, that already at the beginning of the 1620s Agostino mixed with various French painters; in 1625 two of them stayed at his house and Claude Lorrain worked in his studio during the same period. Moreover, again around 1625-26, the painter stayed in the parish of Santa Maria in Via, not far from that of San Nicola in Arcione where the same Lemaire lived, and he, without doubt, transmitted to him his preference for side-scene views and his taste for the antique. No less important for his stylistic maturity was the afore-mentioned famous Master Nicolas Poussin; in the figures painted during Tassi’s later period his influence was particularly evident: Poussin acts above all in carefully-gauged, seemingly classical paginations of the groups of figures, as, we must not forget, does Angelo Caroselli, a Master with whom Tassi was in contact as far back as 1631.

Fluid, relaxed brush-strokes, like those that make up canvases such as “Incendio notturno in una città” (già Galleria Canesso, Paris) to be dated around 1636-37, and ”Fuga di Loth da Sodoma” (già Galleria Rosa, Monte-Carlo), are typical of Agostino Tassi’s later period, to which, evidently the exemplar in question here also belongs.

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Giovanni Bonazza

(Venice, 1654 - Padua, 1736)

Winter, circa 1710

Terracotta

32 cm

In 1978, in the magazine "Arte Veneta", Camillo Semenzato published an article entitled The statues of the Botanical Garden of Padua. In those pages, the great scholar made known some new sculptures by the Venetian Giovanni Bonazza (1654-1736): the artist who more than others loved him and to whom he had dedicated a fundamental monographic contribution on "Essays and memories of art history" which is still crucial today for the critical reading offered by the language of this fascinating master.

Next to the monumental statues of Theophrastus and Solomon (signed "J [oannes] Bonazza F [ecit]), Semenzato also illustrated the marble busts of the Four Seasons placed at the sides of the biblical figure in the space of the Garden called" Fontana delle Four Seasons »[fig. 1]. Describing them, the scholar stressed that "the sculptor, though very prolific, did not like to repeat himself in his representation" and here, "condescended [...] to a theme of a more humanistic nature, but without addressing this pedantic exhibition, he treated the theme with that dose of fantasy and immediacy that makes it unmistakable "(Semenzato 1978, pp. 394-395). And it is in fact supported by this "industrious" fantasy that Bonazza gave life to the singular depictions of Spring [fig. 2], of the Estate [fig. 3], Autumn and Winter [fig. 4]. Works of overflowing eccentricity, unusual, magnetic, and that fascinate both sensuality and grace, and - if you look above all at Autumn and Winter - for the ironic character and that je ne sais quoi of naturalistic that undoubtedly connive.
It seems therefore a find of undoubted value that here is presented: that is the preparatory study in terracotta [figs. 5-6] modeled by the Venetian sculptor for the marble version of the Winter of the Botanical Garden of Padua.

Covered in large part by a fur-lined mantle - only the chest area is left bare to underline, along with the thick bipartite beard and the wrinkles that furrow the forehead, the advanced age -, our Winter comes with the head facing the right, the wary gaze pointed with peremptoryness in the same direction, and with the half-open mouth almost ready to speak or sigh before the naive frivolity of the younger and more fertile seasons: Spring and Summer. The head is bordered on the sides by the typical fruits and vegetables of this season: one can find here and there a pear, a pomegranate, a small round pumpkin. The bust, moreover, seems illusionistically resting on a fancyly adorned pediment in the front. The back, instead, is emptied almost completely in the area of the bust, while at the bottom, that is to say in the back side of the pedestrian, you can see the crack in which there was the support around which gradually the figure was built.

Comparing it with the marble of the Botanical Garden there are actually many coincidences that confirm that our Winter [fig. 7] is the preparatory model of the Paduan sculpture [fig. 8]. Alongside this, however, we must also underline the small differences that further certify the genuineness of the terracotta, testifying also how the sculptor has reworked his invention to the last. Evident, for example, is the decision taken by Bonazza to discover the entire chest of Winter, thus highlighting even more the falling breasts of the elderly man; one of the most naturalistic details of the whole composition is still linked in some way to the Venice world of the late seventeenth century and its greatest representative in sculpture: Giusto Le Court. Finally, the change occurred in the yield of the mantle should also be noted: if in the model this was intended to be entirely covered with fur (made by Bonazza with a virtuous game of signs made in speed with the tip of the splint), in marble instead the artist has slightly reduced the surface, balancing it with the smooth part of the fabric.

Next to the wise use of the tools designed to work the clay - as well as on the mantle are also traced in the darting furrows that fracture beard, mustache and eyebrows - on the terracotta we find the sculptor's fingers, fingers that have gradually added material, that have touched it, smoothed, ennobled.

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Edme Bouchardon

(Chaumont 1698 - Paris 1762)

Bust of Pope Clemente XII Corsini

Plaster painted to simulate bronze

81,6 x 80,6 x 39,4

The present sculpture, for which there is a contemporary archival document, resurfaced only recently. It depicts Clement XII (Lorenzo Corsini, 1652-1740), who reigned as Pope from 1730 to 1740, and it is Bouchardon’s only autograph plaster made after his hand-modeled preparatory version in terracotta and tinted plasternow in the California Palace of the Legion of Honor in San Francisco (see below). The commission came from the pontiff’s art-loving nephew, Cardinal Neri Corsini, and the finished work, in marble, remains at the Palazzo Corsini, Florence, the possession of the sitter’s collateral descendant, Principe Don Filippo Corsini. Somewhat larger than the above-mentioned autograph examples in plaster and terracotta, and differing in certain details only, the marble bust is signed and dated: EDMUNDUS BOUCHARDON GALLUS FACIEBAT ROMAE A.D. 1731.

Less than three months after the accession of Clement XII on July 12, 1730, arrangements were made for a papal likeness, the cost of which was to be borne by Neri Corsini, who had been made cardinal in petto(i.e. in secrecy) on August 14 and officially recognized on December 11. The story of the commission, its completion and the portrait’s critical reception is vividly recounted in two sources: 1) the correspondence between Nicolas Vleughels—the highly effective Director of the Académie de France à Rome and a friend of both the Cardinal and Bouchardon himself—and Louis Antoine de Pardaillan de Gondrin, Duc d’Antin, Louis XV’s Surintendant des Bâtiments, at Versailles; and 2) the letters the artist sent to his sculptor father, Jean Baptiste Bouchardon, who had trained him prior to his entering the workshop of Guillaume Coustou in 1722.

On October 11, 1730, Nicolas Vleughels informed d’Antin that on the previous day, at Cardinal Corsini’s request, he had arranged a papal audience for Bouchardon, who was to begin modeling the bust that afternoon. Both Frenchmen had high hopes for their countryman, who by now was well known in Roman artistic circles, having arrived in Rome as a pensionnaireof the Académie de France in November 1723. As Vleughels wrote, “voilà une fortune grande pour ce jeune homme, pourvu qu’il s’y sçache bien comporter.” (As quoted in A. de Montaiglon and J. Guiffrey, eds., Correspondance des directeurs de l’Académie de France à Rome avec les surintendants des bâtiments, VIII, Paris, 1898, p. 149). The prestigious commission would be all the more worthy given the intense rivalry between French and Italian sculptors living in Rome, which was especially intense during the early eighteenth century. Some two years earlier, for instance, Bouchardon had lost the important commission for the tomb monument of the pro-French pope, Clement XI Albani, due to concentrated, last minute intrigue. Perhaps it was this competitive atmosphere that led the sculptor to add the word “Gallus”after his name in the marble’s inscription, as a proud indication of his nationality.

Politics no doubt played a significant part in the papal portrait commission, especially given the very recent, lengthy and dramatic conclave that had led to the election of the francophile, Florentine, Clement XII Corsini. Especially active during the transactions was Cardinal Melchior de Polignac, the art-loving French ambassador to the Holy See. Nicolas Vleughels made sure that the latter was given full credit for choosing Bouchardon as the sculptor of the bust following Clement’s investiture. (See the same letter, published in A. de Montaiglon and J. Guiffrey, 1898 [cited above], p. 150.) In fact only a few months before Clement XII sat to Bouchardon, Cardinal de Polignac also posed for him. The result was the splendid marble bust today at the Musée Bossuet, Meaux, which was completed by September 1731 (for that work, see Rome, 2005-2006 [cited among References, below], no. 28 [entry by A.-L. Desmas], illus.). The other French representative at the papal conclave had been Cardinal Armand Gaston de Rohan, who actually ordered his own bust portrait (Musée des Arts Décoratifs, Strasbourg) from Bouchardon that June, one month before Lorenzo Corsini became pope.

The modeling of the terracotta bust of Clement XII took only a few days. Begun on Wednesday, October 11, 1730, it was finished that Sunday afternoon, October 15, as was witnessed by Vleughels, who informed his superior, d’Antin, “ce qui fit admirer le sculpteur, tant pour sa promptitude que pour son habileté, car il n’a été que trois heures et demie à faire la tête” (A. de Montaiglon and J. Guiffrey, 1898 [cited above], pp. 151-152). Vleughels then added “Le Pape est très content, et tout ceux qui l’ont vue; outre que la tête est très ressemblante, elle est d’un très beau travail.” This preparatory work, undoubtedly done in terracotta, has been identified with a somewhat smaller portrait bust in the California Palace of the Legion of Honor at San Francisco—done actually in tinted plaster and terracotta, according to the most recent information—which was acquired in 1936 from Arnold Seligman, Rey & Co., with a provenance from the J. Pierpont Morgan collection (inv. no. 54899; see W. Heil, “A Bust by Bouchardon in San Francisco,” in Studies in the History of Art Dedicated to William E. Suida on His Eightieth Birthday, London, 1959, pp. 361-363; and E.M. Vetter, 1962 [cited below], pp. 51, 60-61). That bust measures 77.5 cm [height]. x 74.3 [width] x 36.8 cm. [depth]. Bouchardon’s own account of the papal sitting, conducted according to the strictest protocol, is recounted in a letter to his father dated January 10, 1731 (autograph ms. formerly belonging to Mme Laillaut, a collateral descendant of the artist, and published for the first time in A. Roserot, Edme Bouchardon, Paris, 1910, p. 27).

Soon after Bouchardon completed the terracotta likeness, Vleughels reported that its fame was now so great that the artist’s studio at the Académie de France had become mobbed by admiring art lovers, which included high-ranking ecclesiastics and aristocrats: “on ne se lasse point de venir voir le portrait du Pape…On sollicite le sculpteur pour en avoir des plâtres…” (Vleughels to d’Antin, letter dated November 2, 1730, published in A. de Montaiglon and J. Guiffrey, 1898 [cited above], p. 156; see also A. Roserot, 1910 [cited above], p. 26). Vleughels, though, as Director of the Académie, stated that he was flatly against such vulgarization of Bouchardon’s papal portraiture. The one exception, at this time—he wrote—was a profile drawing (now lost) that the artist made in preparation for a medallion portrait of the new pope, to be executed by Ferdinand de Saint-Urbain (for the medal, see E.M. Vetter, 1962 [cited below], pp. 64-65, illus. p. 64, fig. 4).

It now became time for Bouchardon to carve Clement XII’s portrait in marble. The process was begun as of January 10, 1731, as the artist noted in a letter of that date to his father (cited above). Its progress, as well as that of the two busts Bouchardon was making of Cardinals de Rohan and de Polignac, is briefly reported by Vleughels in a letter to d’Antin dated August 9 (see A. de Montaiglon and J. Guiffrey, 1898 [cited above], p. 233). Finally, on September 3, Bouchardon wrote to his father that he had just completed the pope’s likeness, for which he received 2,500 livres (see J. Carnandet, Notice historique sur Edme Bouchardon, suivie de quelques lettres de ce statuaire…, Paris, 1855, p. 35). He added, too, that he was making a copy for the Cardinal Camerlengo Annibale Albani, who—Vleughels remarked—had provided handsome lodgings and a studio to Bouchardon at the Vatican (see Vleughel’s letter to d’Antin, June 28, 1731, as quoted in A. de Montaiglon and J. Guiffrey, 1898 [cited above], p. 220). That work, also probably in marble, remains untraced. In the meantime, a second replica had been ordered by the ubiquitous French emissary Polignac, after he had viewed the finished terracotta. Once again, Nicolas Vleughels provided testimony, writing on November 16 1730: “il [Polignac] vit le portrait du Pape, dont il fut charmé, et sur-le-champ, il ordonna de faire venir un marbre pour en faire une [replica]pour lui.” (A. de Montaiglon and J. Guiffrey, 1898 [cited above], p. 161). The whereabouts of that replica is likewise unknown.

Despite the prohibition of plaster copies, one example—it now transpires—was dispatched in March 1731 to the sumptuous Palazzo Corsini in Florence, which was to be the ultimate destination of the original marble made for Cardinal Corsini. (There, the head of the family was Neri’s brother, Prince Bartolomeo Corsini.) This information is based on a recently discovered letter in the Corsini family archives that  announces the plaster’s arrival (see Documents, below). The author of that document, Sir Thomas Dereham, spent most of his life in Florence, where he served the Medici court. In Rome, he was a favorite of Pope Clement XII and he later bequeathed several paintings, the general subject of which he was conversant, to Cardinal Corsini. He also knew Cardinal de Polignac as well as Bouchardon’s close friend, the artist Pier Leone Ghezzi. (On Dereham, see L. Lewis, Connoisseurs and Secret Agents in Eighteenth Century Rome, London, 1961, pp. 23, 55, 86, 109; and J. Ingamells, A Dictionary of British and Irish Travellers in Italy, 1701-1800, Compiled from the Brinsley Ford Archive, New Haven and London, 1997, pp. 292-293.) In this regard, it is interesting to relate that Ghezzi, too, received a plaster directly from Bouchardon, in this case an untraced version of the sculptor’s marble bust of Cardinal de Polignac, mentioned above (see Rome, 2005-2006 [cited below], p. 146, under no. 28). 

Given these multiple connections, the autograph status of the Palazzo Corsini-bound plaster, which Bouchardon would have based on his recently completed terracotta, can be assumed. In size and in details of costume, the terracotta clearly appears to have served as the basis for the present bust of Clement XII, which is not only a unique, surviving example in plaster, but was beautifully refinished by the master and is pigmented to simulate an appearance of bronze. (It should be noted here that no bronze versions of Bouchardon’s bust are known or recorded.) In addition, as has been recently suggested (see the 2007 Finarte auction catalogue cited under Provenance, below), our plaster may well be identical with a version seen in 1956 by the scholar Ewald M. Vetter in a private Roman collection (see E.M. Vetter, 1962 [cited below], illus. p. 68, fig. 6, where the author mistakenly described the medium as terracotta).

Bouchardon’s finished marble in the Palazzo Corsini differs in several ways from the terracotta in San Francisco and our plaster. It is over life-size, measuring 103 cm. high, compared to the height of the preparatory works, i.e. approximately 80 cm. Vetter also notes that the head in the marble version is placed more frontally, thereby giving greater prominence to that part of the sitter’s anatomy. This effect is further amplified by the orientation of the pope’s right shoulder; in the marble, it appears more in plane, whereas in the present work and the San Francisco terracotta, it projects more dramatically forward. In both types, the stole—the heavily embroidered and decorated band of material worn around the subject’s neck and running down the front—has variations. In the marble, the papal keys are in lower relief, and instead of the scallop motif capping the paired Corsini coat of arms, Bouchardon substituted acanthus leaf designs. (For further discussion, see E.M. Vetter, 1962 [cited below], pp. 65-67.) Finally, Clement XII’s penetrating expression, in the plaster and terracotta versions, is enhanced by the delicate incisions delineating the pairs of pupils and irises. In the slightly later marble, however, these descriptive features are absent, and in its place is the “milky gaze of incipient blindness.” (M. Levey, Painting and Sculpture in France, 1700-1789 [revised ed.], New Haven and London, 1993, p. 96). In fact, one year after Bouchardon completed the marble, Clement XII was declared totally blind.

By the time of the Corsini commission, the iconography of papal bust portraiture in the sculpture medium was essentially fixed. In Bouchardon’s depiction of Clement XII wearing the red papal cap known as the camauro, the stole, and the mozzetta—a short, cape-like garment made of red velvet and edged with ermine, to be worn in the colder months—the artist drew from a specific portrait type established in around 1630 by Bernini’s marble Portrait of Urban VIIIin the Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Antica, Palazzo Barberini, Rome. In formulating this tradition, Bernini “brought a profound intimacy and immediacy to the likeness, moving papal portraiture in an entirely different direction, hardly dependent on articulating status and power and conveying instead the closeness of artist and sitter as well as a deeply sympathetic sense of the sitter’s interiority.” (Exh. cat., Los Angeles, The J. Paul Getty Museum, and elsewhere, Bernini and the Birth of Baroque Portrait Sculpture[ed. by A. Bacchi et al.], 2008-2009, p. 133, no. 2.4 [entry by J.L. Seydl]). Bouchardon’s Clement XIIwas conceived in a similar spirit.

With Bouchardon, this concern with the individual, rather than with rank or rhetoric, is matched by an exacting naturalism. As one writer remarks, “he never generalizes.” (M. Levey, 1993 [cited above], p. 96). With great care he depicts the pope’s facial features, with his “fresh complexion...long, aquiline nose [and] prominent upper lip.” (L. von Pastor, The History of the Popes, from the Close of the Middle Ages[trans. by E. Graf], London and St. Louis, 1957, XXXIV, p. 331; on the iconography of Clement XII, see ibid., p. 331, note 2; and F. Petrucci, Pittura di ritratto a Roma. Il Settecento, Rome, 2010, III, pp. 721-724). Moreover, the accuracy of Bouchardon’s likeness is confirmed by one important eyewitness, who described the plaster as “somigliantissimo” (see Documents, below). 

Bouchardon has brilliantly captured the almost eighty-year-old pontiff’s character. His decisive, yet benign profile indicates that, despite his oncoming blindness and the multiple medical emergencies he faced and repeatedly overcame, “his mental alertness left nothing to be desired.” (L. von Pastor, 1957, pp. 330-331). Moreover, the tenacity, integrity and overall humanity of Clement XII, as suggested by this image, is described in a contemporary, albeit anonymous, account: 

Era ornato di molte virtù, specialmente della liberalità, della candidezza, e della giustizia, amante degli uomini dabbene senza bacchettoneria. Per desiderio di defender gl’oppressi talvolta s’impegnava troppo per chi poco meritava. Tenace della propria oppinione. Indefesso nelle udienze, nemico dell’adulazione, ma suscettibile delle carezze, e di certe arti, di cui la sua sincerità non gli lasciava scuoprire la finzione.

[He was adorned with many virtues, especially liberality, candidness, and a sense of justice, a lover of honest folk without hypocrisy. In his desire to defend the oppressed, sometimes he took on too much for those who hardly merited it. Tenacious in his opinions. Untiring in his public audiences, the enemy of flattery, but capable of acts of kindness, and other gestures, about which his sincerity was not left in doubt.]

(Quoted in A. Caracciolo, “Clemente XII, papa,” in Dizionario biografico degli italiani, XXVI, Rome, 1982, p. 322).

Lorenzo Corsini was born in Florence on April 7, 1652, the eldest son of Bartolomeo Corsini, Marchese di Casigliano, and Elisabetta Strozzi. On both sides of his family, he belonged to the highest social echelon. What is more, the Corsinis were perhaps the city’s richest nobles, having amassed wealth, beginning in the fourteenth century, in trade and later in banking. The same family even produced a saint, St. Andrea Corsini (1302-1373), Bishop of Fiesole, as well as several cardinals.

Lorenzo studied law at the University of Pisa, where he received a doctorate in 1675. Two years later he entered the Jesuit Collegio Romano in Rome, and there came under the protection of his uncle, Cardinal Neri Corsini (called the Elder, to distinguish him from his nephew of the same Christian name). In 1685, after his uncle’s death and that of his father, Lorenzo became the head of the family. At this point, however, he resigned his right of primogeniture and, in his thirty-third year, chose an ecclesiastical career. At the Holy See, he advanced steadily in the Church’s hierarchy, aided by his great personal wealth, which enabled him to purchase key positions. (In 1690, for example, he was named titular Archbishop of Nicomedia.) Corsini proved an able and dedicated administrator, becoming treasurer of the apostolic chamber in 1695. He also excelled at diplomacy, which endeared him to the new pope, Clement XI (Albani), who in May 1706 made him a Cardinal. His new family home on the Piazza Navona (the former Palazzo Pamphilj) became the preeminent gathering place for scholarly and literary circles in Rome. It also housed one of the finest libraries in the city, incorporating that of his uncle, the late Cardinal Neri Corsini.

In the next two papal elections (that of 1721 and 1724) Corsini was considered papabile,” i.e. a likely candidate for the papacy. He was elected pope later, though, on July 12, 1730, after a long and difficult conclave. Taking the name of his earlier patron, the seventy-eight year old Clement XII inherited a host of troubles. The most pressing was that of the papacy’s finances, which had been crippled by corruption and reduced revenues from the Catholic powers. Clement took decisive action, establishing a lottery, issuing paper currency, stimulating industry, and introducing protectionist legislation. Still, by the end of his reign, his efforts were in vain, and the burden of debt had expanded precipitously.

 

The prestige of the Papal States suffered severe setbacks, especially in light of the belligerency of the House of Savoy, the Holy Roman Empire and the Spanish monarchy. The duchies of Parma and Piacenza had long been fiefs of the Holy See, having been presented by Pope Paul III to his illegitimate son, Pier Luigi Farnese. When this branch of the Farnese line died off in 1731, the two duchies were forcibly taken by the Emperor Charles VI. As part of international machinations, he in turn ceded them to the Infante Carlos of Spain, the future ruler of Naples and, later, King Charles III of Spain. At this point, Clement spoke publicly of the papacy’s humiliation. 

The havoc wrought by the War of the Polish Succession (1733-1738), which involved all of the Catholic powers, was even more calamitous for the Papal States and far more lasting. Austrian and Spanish forces traversed and depleted the land, and in Rome Spanish press gangs forcibly recruited young males for the Spanish armies. When the populace rioted in protest, they were summarily suppressed, and the pope was forced to make concessions, including a special tax on Church property extorted by the Spanish government.

Clement’s reign, on the other hand, is remarkable for its cultural achievements. With funding from the public lotteries as well as from his own vast personal wealth, the head of the Church added major monuments to Rome, including the Trevi Fountain, the façade by Alessandro Galilei of San Giovanni in Laterano and the Corsini Chapel inside (the site of Clement’s tomb monument), and the Palazzo della Consulta on the Piazza del Quirinale. He restored the Arch of Constantine, funded centers of learning and made major donations of rare books, manuscripts and works of art to the Vatican library. In 1733-34, he purchased the antiquities collection of Clement XI’s nephew, Cardinal Alessandro Albani, including works from the recently-excavated Hadrian’s Villa at Tivoli. This formed the nucleus of the Museo Capitolino on the Campidoglio. In all of these activities, Clement was actively supported by his nephew, Cardinal Neri Corsini the Younger. Rome thus reasserted itself as a world destination and as a center of learning and art patronage. (For the life of Clement XII, see L. von Pastor, 1957, pp. 317-504; A. Caracciolo, 1982 [both cited above], pp. 320-328; and A. Caracciolo, “Clemente XII,” in Enciclopedia dei papi, Rome, 2000, III, pp. 439-446.)

Bouchardon had played an important part in the papacy’s cultural ambitions, as well as in those of France, as evidenced by the letters to and from Vleughels. A vivid example of this is his portrait of the pope commissioned by Cardinal Corsini. Work on the sculpture began only days before Bouchardon’s tenure as a pensionnaire at the Académie de France came to an end on October 30, 1730. A peremptory note from the Duc d’Antin that August 20 reminded Vleughels that Bouchardon was expected to return to France promptly. As he added, “Ce n’est pas pour enrichir les pays étrangers que le Roi fait tant de dépenses à son Académie de Rome.” (Quoted in A. Roserot, 1908 [cited above], p. 36). Special permission would have allowed the well-connected sculptor to remain in the Eternal City, however. When in fact hedidleave—on September 4, 1732, having just been elected to the Accademia di San Luca—the loss to Rome was considerable. The pope, it was said, would have offered him gold to stay (see the letter from Vleughels to d’Antin, dated January 15, 1733, quoted in A. de Montaiglon and J. Guiffrey, 1898 [cited above], p. 402). And an earlier news report, that of July 26 and 30, 1732, spoke of “Les grands progrès dans la sculpture qu’a fait le sieur Bouchardon…estans venus à la connoissance de Sa Majesté, Elle l’a fait rapeller, au grand regret de la maison Corsini....” (A. de Montaiglon and J. Guiffrey, 1898, p. 355).

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Giovanni della Robbia

(Florence, Italy 1469 – 1529/1530)

Molded Frame, decorated with a garland of fruit, vegetables and flowers with little animals.

Polychromatic glazed terracotta - Circa 1520/1525

Diameter 150 cm

This festive and attractive unpublished glazed frame, on which there is a luxuriant garland of fruit and flowers with little animals, very naturalistically modelled, and brightened by strong polychromy, is representative and beautiful - for its elegant, component liveliness, the quality of its workmanship, the different shades of its ceramic palette – of the widespread ornamental work that in the Renaissance was typical of the Della Robbia family’s art. In fact, similar garlands used to frame heraldic medals, “antiqued” effigies, and Virgin Mary reliefs linked to family or civic prosperity or to the great profusion of divine grace, together with festoons, briars and greenery that adorn altar posts, lunettes and tabernacles, are present from the middle of the XV century and for more than a century later in the works of the Della Robbia family, diversely interpreted by Luca, his nephew Andrea and his five children who inherit the famous, important workshop (Gentilini 1992; Quinterio 1998).

Their extraordinary capacity to reproduce nature’s gifts in majolica, the fleeting fragrance of fruit, vegetables, greenery and the fragile beauty of flowers, with an illusionistic virtuosity capable of emulating the legendary creations of the Greek chloroplast Posside which were praised by Varrone and Plinio, was one of the most distinctive and appreciated features – as we can read in “Vite” by Vasari (1550, 1568) – of the prolific and polyhedral activity of this famous family (Gentilini, Mozzati 2009). It is actually the flourishing garlands which are the works destined to remain in people’s imaginations as the unmistakable mark of Della Robbia art, to such an extent that in America the popular Christmas wreaths with pine-cones, apples and other fruit are called “Della Robbia wreaths” (Gentilini 2016).

The work in question here is made up of a wide ‘fascia’ frame profiled inside with ‘ovoli e dardi’ molding, glazed in white to imitate marble, on which lies a flourishing garland composed of a huge variety of fruit (apples, bunches of grapes, pomegranates, pine-cones, plums, almonds, etc.) citrus fruits (lemons, oranges and citrons) and vegetables (cucumbers, peas, cloves of garlic) with their leaves, interspersed with white, pale blue and yellow wildflowers (little roses, campanulas, parnassias, gentians, etc.). In the damp vegetation there are some little animals, probably forged using moulds of real animals according to a practice already described by Cennini (c.1400) and well documented in Renaissance terracotta and bronze sculpture (Gramaccini 1985) as well as in the majolica of Bernary Palissy (Klier 2004): three small silhouetted frogs, a sinuous lizard, a snail and a crab busy clasping a piece of fruit.
The flourishing profusion of greenery is cleverly contained by a careful mathematic-geometric arrangement, according to the Alberti principle of “varietas” disciplined by “compositio”. In fact, the larger more recognisable fruits and vegetables decorating the garland are grouped in eight bunches, each of which is composed of five fruits of the same botanical species (the only exception is the bunches of grapes alternating with lemons), placed in the symmetric way – two pairs followed by a single fruit in the centre, with the larger ones on the outside of the group -, and they are mainly coupled with vegetables and fruit which are smaller and secondary, like the cloves of garlic, the peas, the plums, and the wildflowers that intersperse the bunches.

The bunches follow each other with regular spaces and counterclockwise, each one modelled over one of the eight pieces into which the frame has been divided in order to help the drying, firing and transport of the work. It is not easy to establish the original sequence of the pieces (some of which, moreover, show externally, near the joining points, some conventional marks carved into the fresh clay and numbers written in black, intended for a correct mounting “in situ”), since in Della Robbia works there was no fixed rule that established the order of the various varieties of vegetables portrayed in the segments of the frames. However, it is probable that the garland foresaw a chromatic alternation of the bunches with a prevalence of yellow fruit (apples, lemons, oranges, citrons) over vegetables and green fruit (pomegranates, cucumber) and reddish fruit (bunches of grapes, plums) thus determining a balanced display of the six animals too.

This compositional strictness is reflected too in the constructional aspects, since the size of the pieces (c. cm. 58 x 35) corresponds to the unit of measurement of time, the ‘braccio fiorentino’ (cm. 58,36). Moreover the technique of the modelling which can be appreciated by looking at the back of the frame, shows a magisterial conformity to the consolidated rules of the best works by the Della Robbia family (Vaccari 1998; 2009). The pieces, carefully cleared, present a box-like structure of the same thickness with holes corresponding to the larger fruit which was modelled by moving the clay over the surface of the frame “a fascia”, and they show other contrivances (deep-set partitions with holes) useful for the joining of the various elements and the anchorage of the work onto a wall.
The sides and partitions are at present chiselled in an irregular way which suggests that the frame was walled-in on the wall of a building; therefore, especially taking into consideration its size, we may imagine that it originally framed heraldic arms, like the numerous Della Robbia coats-of-arms that still today decorate residential palaces in and around Florence (Marquand 1919; Dionigi 2014). However, as we have already mentioned and as we shall see, garlands of this kind were also used to frame the Virgin Mary with Child and other holy images made both for domestic life and the church; they were often placed outside buildings where the glazing guaranteed that the bright polychromy would be protected from the weather: above all concerning Giovanni della Robbia’s works, to whom this piece can be easily attributed.

The particularly thick, varied composition of the garland, the turgid modelling of the fruit accompanied by fleshy leaves and thick-petaled flowers, the intense, thick shades of colour of the varnishes, the presence of numerous little animals and the classic “ovoli e dardi” molding, find a large number of comparisons in Giovanni della Robbia’s works: the most prolific and independent of Andrea della Robbia’s children who shared, until the death of their father in 1525, the busy workshop in Via Guelfa (Marquand 1920; Gentilini 1992, pages 279-238). Giovanni’s signed works - the only member of the family to sometimes sign their work – are, in fact, characterised by a stronger decorative vein which brings him to emphasize the archeological and naturalistic decorations, inserting even in his first documented works, like the “Lavabo” in the Sacristy of Santa Maria Novella (1498), thick festoons and garlands, full of every kind of vegetable.

On the other hand, the garlands produced by his father, Andrea (Marquand 1922; Gentilini 1992, pages 169-271), appear sparser, less exuberant, rarefied, often with bunches alternating with ribbons; in those of his brothers Luca the young and Girolamo (Marquand 1928, pages 65-130; Gentilini 1992, pages 329-371) pale shades of colour are prevalent and we find a modelling style which is sharp and incisive; while the over-abundance that certainly characterises the vegetable decorations of the brothers Marco and Ambrogio (Marquand 1928, pages 1-63; Gentilini 1992, pages 372-389) appear bundled up, commonplace and messy.

Among the more important signed works by Giovanni della Robbia which offer us particularly precise comparisons, in order to attest the name of the artist who made our garland, we can indicate the festoons that frame the monumental “Natività” that used to be in San Girolamo delle Poverine in Florence and is now in the Museo Nazionale del Bargello, signed and dated 1521 - these festoons are also similar in the composition of the bunches with five fruits in each - and the imaginative “Tabernacolo delle Fonticine” in Via Nazionale, made in 1522, where we find again the presence of numerous little animals, such as some crabs which, absent until then in the Della Robbia garlands, induces us to date the work in question here around 1520.

A last, even more important, comparison for the attribution proposed here and for a date during the early 1520s, are the three medallions of the Virgin Mary and the four heraldic medallions made by Giovanni della Robbia for the porch of the Ospedale del Ceppo in Pistoia (Capecchi, Masdea, Tesi, Tucci 2015, pages 117-125), commissioned in 1525 by Leonardo Buonafede, one of the most important religious buyers of the time, which present a similar organisation and variety of vegetables, the same “ovoli e dardi” molding, and the same colourful, busy little animals: in particular the medallion portraying “l’Assunzione di Maria” where, as well as little frogs, lizards and snails, there is an identical crab and he too is clutching a leaf between his large claws.

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Lorenzo Sarti

(Active in Emilia and in the Veneto from 1722 to 1747)

The Holy Trinity with Guardian Angel, and the Saints Philip Benizi, Francis of Paola, Philip Neri and Charles Borromeo

Terracotta

98 x 163,5 cm

We know neither the provenance nor the collecting history of these two important terracotta reliefs. They have both undergone very recent restoration work and have regained their warm clay depth of colour highlighting the intensity of the terracotta. Formal analysis would collocate them within the school of sculpture that had sprung up within the walls of the city of Bologna in the first half of the 18th century, under the aegis first of Giuseppe Maria Mazza and later of the latter’s first pupil, Angelo Gabriello Piò.
The two reliefs, rectangular in shape, were most probably conceived as a pair. They are both of a similar size and have the same layout entailing a pyramid-like structure with, at the top, a Holy group and, at the bottom, in an ordered and tripartite, symmetrical pattern, multitudes of Saints, didactically devotional in appearance.

In the first terracotta work, in a central position beneath the group of the Holy Trinity (within a crown of clouds from which winged heads emerge) an Angel having just leapt up in flight with its large wings unfurled and its robes blowing in the wind, is protecting a little boy in warm embrace. Around the Guardian Angel, inside a piece of classical architecture which dissolves from a high relief into a more subtle stiacciato low relief (laterally circumscribing the area) there are figures of those saints who played primary roles or who were the founders of the main religious orders and congregations or who indeed were committed to reforming the Church and the clergy. These saints were placed on clouds that formed the background to the relief and were positioned with the utmost equilibrium. On the right, St. Philip Benizi, the general and legislator of the Servite Order with the tiara placed on the ground as a symbol of his renouncing the Papacy, is accompanied by the miracle worker and founder of the Order of Minims, Saint Francis da Paola, as usual dressed in a sackcloth with a small hood and with a little angel in flight bearing a scroll which, here empty, contains the motto Charitas or the abbreviated formula CHA. On the opposite side, St. Charles Borromeo, in profile and kneeling upon a risen threshold upon which his galero (a tassled hat) is placed, is clasping both his hands to his chest in religious discourse. Beside him, Saint Philip Neri, who founded the Congregation of the Oratory, wears according to tradition a tunic with a cherub at his feet that offers him a lily.

The heavenly parade continues in the second relief where, although the composition is practically identical in terms of layout and number of characters, the setting actually differs. From an unusual setting full of clouds we now witness an open space as indicated both by the tree that encloses the scene on the left and by the unevenness of the ground upon which the figures stand, except for the Virgin Mary with Christ Carrying the Cross and Saint Catherine of Alexandria, hovering upon cumulus clouds. In the lower part of the relief, on the right, Saint Augustine, as Bishop of Hippo with a mitre held above his head by an angel in flight and, as a Doctor, holding a book in his hand, appears to be talking to Saint Dominic, the founder of the Order of Preachers, denoted by the dog curled up on the ground with a torch in his mouth according to hagiographic legend. In the middle sits an angel – in profile - playing music and turning towards St. Thomas d’Aquino, seated upon a raised area to the far left. Doctor Angelicus, with the sun on his chest as the symbol of his holy erudition displays an open book, perhaps the Summa Theologica that had been written by him. The young angel with his cord at his side and cherubs in flight offering a lily and a candleholder before him allude to the chastity and purity of the Dominican priest.

The classic style of the layout, the figures and the skill of the execution combined with the perfection of style and the wealth of detail would qualify the two works as being autonomous works and not therefore destined to be translated into another material. The works reveal the hand of an artist who had learnt from the teachings of Giuseppe Maria Mazza who dedicated most of his professional career to the modelling of reliefs that were sublimely elegant and of a pronounced formal nobility of style. The ordered composition and the familiarity with the material (free and stylised in the depiction of the beards and hairstyles, so soft and mellow with lively strokes that highlight the plumage of the wings and clouds in the background) would suggest a certain proximity, in terms of the relationship between the maestro and the pupil, to the two great high reliefs in the Manzoli Chapel in San Giacomo Maggiore in Bologna (1681), which were the first acclaimed public work by Mazza, and expecially to the probably most famous work by the Bolognese sculptor, the monumental bronzes illustrating episodes in the life of Saint Dominic at Saint John and Paul in Venice (1716-1730).

[These reliefs were the first public work by Mazza, although the most famous work by the Bolognese sculptor was most probably the monumental bronzes illustrating episodes in the life of Saint Dominic at Saint John and Paul in Venice (1716-1730)].
Among his smaller works, an ideal comparison for these two works could be with the Saint Anthony of Padua in Adoration of the Madonna and Child at the Pinacoteca Nazionale in Bologna, kept in the Sala delle Colonne in Palazzo Pepoli Campogrande. It was first attributed to Giuseppe Maria Mazza by Eugenio Riccòmini who dated it to “within the first decade of the 18th century”. However, the date can be brought forward to the end of the ninth decade of the previous century on account of its stylistic similarities to the reliefs that decorate the Campagna Chapel at the Corpus Domini (1688), and also on account of the facial resemblance of the putti in flight to the facial features of the cherubs supporting the medallions with the images of the Evangelists in the nearby Chapel of Saint Catherine de Vigri in the very same church in Bologna (1687). Although the whole layout of the two reliefs under examination – the design of the drapes and the idea of the angels bearing the iconographical attributes of the saint - resembles the terracotta in the Pinacoteca, the latter is only one of the models upon which the author of these two reliefs worked. This is evident from the ease of the moulding/shaping [technique], the greater refinement in the composition as a whole and from the lively yet harmonious orchestration of the scene that derives from the natural, mellow and self-assured attitude [appearances] of the main characters. Furthermore, in these two reliefs currently under examination several stylistic characteristics would seem to be in unison, on a similar plane, with the work then being carried out by Angelo Gabriello Piò (1690-1770) who was becoming ever more important on the artistic scene in Bologna from the second decade of the 18th century onwards. In the angel that stands out in the centre of the first relief, in its posture and sharp, graceful facial features we may recognise an echo of the Fama supporting the medallion with the portrait of Luigi Ferdinando Marsili in the monument in the Church of Saint Dominic, completed in 1733. This work marked the culmination of the artist’s early period of activity. Several very evident, expressive elements/accents [features] – further highlighted here – especially in the terracotta with the Trinity in the upper part and the insistent “realism” of the physiognomic features (almost caricature-like, as showed by the frowning, severe face of the Holy Father and by the saints with deep wrinkles, marked features and bulging eyes) bring to mind the artist’s minor production [early work], such as the Contadini in the Palazzo Davia Bargellini signed and dated 1721 (later inspiring Filippo Scandellari).

In the first few decades of the 18th century, those years during which Angelo Gabriello Piò underwent his artistic training, first as the pupil of Andrea Ferreri, then as the pupil of Mazza before passing onto the School of Camillo Rusconi in Rome where he stayed for approximately a year (1718), there were many sculptors who embarked upon a career in the art of sculpture under the guidance of Giuseppe Maria Mazza. Despite the statement by Marcello Oretti, according to whom “few did he require”( “pochi ne volle”) in terms of pupils - and also on account of his important commissions at the Accademia Clementina (first as teacher then as Deputy Principal (1714) and Principal (1726)- Mazza played a primary role in the creation and development of the School that had been founded on the basis of the artistic direction that was most prevalent at the time at the prestigious Bolognese institute and that sought to retrieve old traditions and adhere more closely to classical criteria.

The artistic profiles of the sculptors who were working during that time seemed for the most part to be active participants in the language of Mazza. They were therefore recognisable as the main candidates – although somewhat elusive - for the attribution of the two reliefs under examination here with the exception of the more famous Andrea Ferreri (Milan 1673 – Ferrara 1744). Let us also mention, apart from Giovan Battista Bolognini (1698-1760), whose artistic skills have often been mistaken for those of Giuseppe Maria, Paolo Reggiani who, having moved early to Rome – the sculptor of the now lost twelve Virtues in the Dominican Convent – now only appears (“worthy of absolute praise”) in the papers of the always so well informed Marcello Oretti. According to the latter, he much “imitated the manner of Mazza and took on the grandest of characters and fine skills in depicting folds, spirit and grace”. Deserving of mention is also the still little-known Gaetano Lollini (?- Bologna, 1769) who “in the smallest of figures brought honour upon himself, as well as in beautiful larger models” . The latter’s most faithful follower, Lorenzo Sarti, whose habit of working so closely with the maestro earnt him the nickname of Lorenzin del Mazza is also worthy of mention here. Although it is not possible to distinguish clearly between these figures, on account of the scarcity of works that have survived and in particular of non-monumental terracottas, some considerations however may suggest comparisons between the works presented here and the repertoire of Lorenzo Sarti. The sculptor’s date of birth is unknown but it was probably during the first few years of the century as would bear testimony a hitherto unknown Pietà in polychrome terracotta upon which there is an inscription bearing the artist’s signature and the year 1722. From what the sources tell us we learn that he was active in his homeland throughout his career where he worked with his maestro – in the palazzo of Achille Maria Grassi who “sculpted four little life-sized putti two each door in competition with Mazza […] who sculpted the rest” – sometimes even repeating the latter’s work. Indeed, Marcello Oretti remembered that in the “house of the Counts Fava dalla Madonna di Galliera he made in clay the Madonna with Child upon the stairway, and copied it from Mazza’s original that is in the Galleria”. Apart from Bologna, he also worked for the Duke of Este and for the Count of Sora in Modena, for the Senator Pepoli in Trecenta in the family palazzo and in Ferrara where in 1745 he modelled Saint Yves in stucco in a niche on the side of the altar of Saint George in the city Cathedral . Furthermore, in Cento, in the collegiate church of Saint Blaise, as part of a renovation project of the presbyteral area funded by the Bolognese pontiff, Benedict XIV, Lorenzo Sarti undertook in 1742 the sculptural decoration of the main altarpiece.

The God the Father standing out so majestically at the top of the altar, accompanied by angels seated upon spiral volutes, displays obvious links to the same figure modelled in relief in one of the two terracottas under examination. The posture would appear to be almost identical, with the head lowered, the left arm rising in its familiar act of blessing, the right arm resting on the globe, the left leg bent whilst the right leg strides forth. Even more convincing is the comparison between the drapery and the folds of cloth: the two figures appear to be wrapped in a cloak that is folded at the waist thus creating a very similar turn-up rising up to the left shoulder and fully opening out in both cases into stiff and geometric folds. If we look at the scant Bolognese work undertaken by the sculptor there are also certain stylistic similarities in the angels that crown the patronage altar of the Lambertini family in the church of the Dominicans where Sarti worked in 1732. The face of the angelic figure on the right with elegant features and encapsulated within a full head of hair with soft and flowing locks brings to mind the Guardian Angel at the centre of the first relief. Furthermore, in Bologna, Lorenzo Sarti was one of the artists commissioned to renovate the Cathedral of Saint Peter’s on behalf yet again of Prospero Lambertini. In 1734, the sculptor undertook the realisation of the monumental statues in stucco of the Evangelists placed in niches in the columns giving access to the presbytery. A few years later, when the new façade of the church was built in 1747, Sarti modelled the Allegorical Figures in the counter-facade to crown the main entrance, further the four statues of the Doctors of the Church and completed the sculptural decoration with a frieze made of cherubs in high relief alternating with vegetable motifs running above the dedicatory plaque to Benedict XIV. The cherubs are a repetition in their facial features, in the stiffness and hardness of their postures, the very same figures that crowd our terracottas.

Neither critical literature nor historical and artistic sources from Bologna mention these two high reliefs. This would lead us to surmise that they were destined to decorate a private chapel, probably a place for domestic prayer belonging to a religious person as would indeed suggest the exceptionally high quality of the saints featured. As has so far been said, the professional career of Lorenzo Sarti was strongly connected to the circle surrounding Cardinal Prospero Lambertini (Bologna 1675 - Rome 1758), the future Pope Benedict XIV (1740-1758) from whom the sculptor received countless commissions. Designated as the Archbishop of Ancona and elevated to the position of Cardinal in 1728, three years later, in 1731, Lambertini received the archdiocese of Bologna, keeping the position until 1754, notwithstanding the fact that in the meantime he had become Pope. To support any attribution to the latter as a potential client for the aforementioned works by Sarti, apart from his familiarity with the latter, it must also be mentioned that Lambertini held a position at the Sacred Congregation of Rites, where for two decades from 1708 to 1728, he was Promoter of the Faith and wrote his monumental work – and most famous - the De servorum Dei beatificatione et beatorum canonizatione, published in Bologna between 1734 and 1738. The Ubi Primum promulgated on December 3rd 1740 would appear to capture more than a repercussion in these two reliefs with regard to the importance of the doctrines of beatification and sanctification as well as the will to reform theological and pastoral procedures and to apply the Tridentine Decrees with the utmost severity as laid down in his first Encyclical. On the subject of the time he spent on the re-founding of the academic institutions of his city and his constant presence within and promotion of the arts, critical claim has spent much time and has also highlighted his orientation towards “classically-grounded aesthetics” within which the author of these works under examination also moved. Here, although in a yet undecided fashion, we suggest therefore an attribution to Sarti, who “was one of Mazza’s finest pupils”.

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Lorenzo Sarti

(Active in Emilia and in the Veneto from 1722 to 1747)

The Blessed Virgin Mary between the Saints Catherine of Alexandria and Christ Carrying the Cross, with the Saints Augustine, Dominic and Thomas d’Aquino

Terracotta

98 x 163,5 cm

We know neither the provenance nor the collecting history of these two important terracotta reliefs. They have both undergone very recent restoration work and have regained their warm clay depth of colour highlighting the intensity of the terracotta. Formal analysis would collocate them within the school of sculpture that had sprung up within the walls of the city of Bologna in the first half of the 18th century, under the aegis first of Giuseppe Maria Mazza and later of the latter’s first pupil, Angelo Gabriello Piò.
The two reliefs, rectangular in shape, were most probably conceived as a pair. They are both of a similar size and have the same layout entailing a pyramid-like structure with, at the top, a Holy group and, at the bottom, in an ordered and tripartite, symmetrical pattern, multitudes of Saints, didactically devotional in appearance.

In the first terracotta work, in a central position beneath the group of the Holy Trinity (within a crown of clouds from which winged heads emerge) an Angel having just leapt up in flight with its large wings unfurled and its robes blowing in the wind, is protecting a little boy in warm embrace. Around the Guardian Angel, inside a piece of classical architecture which dissolves from a high relief into a more subtle stiacciato low relief (laterally circumscribing the area) there are figures of those saints who played primary roles or who were the founders of the main religious orders and congregations or who indeed were committed to reforming the Church and the clergy. These saints were placed on clouds that formed the background to the relief and were positioned with the utmost equilibrium. On the right, St. Philip Benizi, the general and legislator of the Servite Order with the tiara placed on the ground as a symbol of his renouncing the Papacy, is accompanied by the miracle worker and founder of the Order of Minims, Saint Francis da Paola, as usual dressed in a sackcloth with a small hood and with a little angel in flight bearing a scroll which, here empty, contains the motto Charitas or the abbreviated formula CHA. On the opposite side, St. Charles Borromeo, in profile and kneeling upon a risen threshold upon which his galero (a tassled hat) is placed, is clasping both his hands to his chest in religious discourse. Beside him, Saint Philip Neri, who founded the Congregation of the Oratory, wears according to tradition a tunic with a cherub at his feet that offers him a lily.

The heavenly parade continues in the second relief where, although the composition is practically identical in terms of layout and number of characters, the setting actually differs. From an unusual setting full of clouds we now witness an open space as indicated both by the tree that encloses the scene on the left and by the unevenness of the ground upon which the figures stand, except for the Virgin Mary with Christ Carrying the Cross and Saint Catherine of Alexandria, hovering upon cumulus clouds. In the lower part of the relief, on the right, Saint Augustine, as Bishop of Hippo with a mitre held above his head by an angel in flight and, as a Doctor, holding a book in his hand, appears to be talking to Saint Dominic, the founder of the Order of Preachers, denoted by the dog curled up on the ground with a torch in his mouth according to hagiographic legend. In the middle sits an angel – in profile - playing music and turning towards St. Thomas d’Aquino, seated upon a raised area to the far left. Doctor Angelicus, with the sun on his chest as the symbol of his holy erudition displays an open book, perhaps the Summa Theologica that had been written by him. The young angel with his cord at his side and cherubs in flight offering a lily and a candleholder before him allude to the chastity and purity of the Dominican priest.

The classic style of the layout, the figures and the skill of the execution combined with the perfection of style and the wealth of detail would qualify the two works as being autonomous works and not therefore destined to be translated into another material. The works reveal the hand of an artist who had learnt from the teachings of Giuseppe Maria Mazza who dedicated most of his professional career to the modelling of reliefs that were sublimely elegant and of a pronounced formal nobility of style. The ordered composition and the familiarity with the material (free and stylised in the depiction of the beards and hairstyles, so soft and mellow with lively strokes that highlight the plumage of the wings and clouds in the background) would suggest a certain proximity, in terms of the relationship between the maestro and the pupil, to the two great high reliefs in the Manzoli Chapel in San Giacomo Maggiore in Bologna (1681), which were the first acclaimed public work by Mazza, and expecially to the probably most famous work by the Bolognese sculptor, the monumental bronzes illustrating episodes in the life of Saint Dominic at Saint John and Paul in Venice (1716-1730).

[These reliefs were the first public work by Mazza, although the most famous work by the Bolognese sculptor was most probably the monumental bronzes illustrating episodes in the life of Saint Dominic at Saint John and Paul in Venice (1716-1730)].
Among his smaller works, an ideal comparison for these two works could be with the Saint Anthony of Padua in Adoration of the Madonna and Child at the Pinacoteca Nazionale in Bologna, kept in the Sala delle Colonne in Palazzo Pepoli Campogrande. It was first attributed to Giuseppe Maria Mazza by Eugenio Riccòmini who dated it to “within the first decade of the 18th century”. However, the date can be brought forward to the end of the ninth decade of the previous century on account of its stylistic similarities to the reliefs that decorate the Campagna Chapel at the Corpus Domini (1688), and also on account of the facial resemblance of the putti in flight to the facial features of the cherubs supporting the medallions with the images of the Evangelists in the nearby Chapel of Saint Catherine de Vigri in the very same church in Bologna (1687). Although the whole layout of the two reliefs under examination – the design of the drapes and the idea of the angels bearing the iconographical attributes of the saint - resembles the terracotta in the Pinacoteca, the latter is only one of the models upon which the author of these two reliefs worked. This is evident from the ease of the moulding/shaping [technique], the greater refinement in the composition as a whole and from the lively yet harmonious orchestration of the scene that derives from the natural, mellow and self-assured attitude [appearances] of the main characters. Furthermore, in these two reliefs currently under examination several stylistic characteristics would seem to be in unison, on a similar plane, with the work then being carried out by Angelo Gabriello Piò (1690-1770) who was becoming ever more important on the artistic scene in Bologna from the second decade of the 18th century onwards. In the angel that stands out in the centre of the first relief, in its posture and sharp, graceful facial features we may recognise an echo of the Fama supporting the medallion with the portrait of Luigi Ferdinando Marsili in the monument in the Church of Saint Dominic, completed in 1733. This work marked the culmination of the artist’s early period of activity. Several very evident, expressive elements/accents [features] – further highlighted here – especially in the terracotta with the Trinity in the upper part and the insistent “realism” of the physiognomic features (almost caricature-like, as showed by the frowning, severe face of the Holy Father and by the saints with deep wrinkles, marked features and bulging eyes) bring to mind the artist’s minor production [early work], such as the Contadini in the Palazzo Davia Bargellini signed and dated 1721 (later inspiring Filippo Scandellari).

In the first few decades of the 18th century, those years during which Angelo Gabriello Piò underwent his artistic training, first as the pupil of Andrea Ferreri, then as the pupil of Mazza before passing onto the School of Camillo Rusconi in Rome where he stayed for approximately a year (1718), there were many sculptors who embarked upon a career in the art of sculpture under the guidance of Giuseppe Maria Mazza. Despite the statement by Marcello Oretti, according to whom “few did he require”( “pochi ne volle”) in terms of pupils - and also on account of his important commissions at the Accademia Clementina (first as teacher then as Deputy Principal (1714) and Principal (1726)- Mazza played a primary role in the creation and development of the School that had been founded on the basis of the artistic direction that was most prevalent at the time at the prestigious Bolognese institute and that sought to retrieve old traditions and adhere more closely to classical criteria.

The artistic profiles of the sculptors who were working during that time seemed for the most part to be active participants in the language of Mazza. They were therefore recognisable as the main candidates – although somewhat elusive - for the attribution of the two reliefs under examination here with the exception of the more famous Andrea Ferreri (Milan 1673 – Ferrara 1744). Let us also mention, apart from Giovan Battista Bolognini (1698-1760), whose artistic skills have often been mistaken for those of Giuseppe Maria, Paolo Reggiani who, having moved early to Rome – the sculptor of the now lost twelve Virtues in the Dominican Convent – now only appears (“worthy of absolute praise”) in the papers of the always so well informed Marcello Oretti. According to the latter, he much “imitated the manner of Mazza and took on the grandest of characters and fine skills in depicting folds, spirit and grace”. Deserving of mention is also the still little-known Gaetano Lollini (?- Bologna, 1769) who “in the smallest of figures brought honour upon himself, as well as in beautiful larger models” . The latter’s most faithful follower, Lorenzo Sarti, whose habit of working so closely with the maestro earnt him the nickname of Lorenzin del Mazza is also worthy of mention here. Although it is not possible to distinguish clearly between these figures, on account of the scarcity of works that have survived and in particular of non-monumental terracottas, some considerations however may suggest comparisons between the works presented here and the repertoire of Lorenzo Sarti.

The sculptor’s date of birth is unknown but it was probably during the first few years of the century as would bear testimony a hitherto unknown Pietà in polychrome terracotta upon which there is an inscription bearing the artist’s signature and the year 1722. From what the sources tell us we learn that he was active in his homeland throughout his career where he worked with his maestro – in the palazzo of Achille Maria Grassi who “sculpted four little life-sized putti two each door in competition with Mazza […] who sculpted the rest” – sometimes even repeating the latter’s work. Indeed, Marcello Oretti remembered that in the “house of the Counts Fava dalla Madonna di Galliera he made in clay the Madonna with Child upon the stairway, and copied it from Mazza’s original that is in the Galleria”. Apart from Bologna, he also worked for the Duke of Este and for the Count of Sora in Modena, for the Senator Pepoli in Trecenta in the family palazzo and in Ferrara where in 1745 he modelled Saint Yves in stucco in a niche on the side of the altar of Saint George in the city Cathedral . Furthermore, in Cento, in the collegiate church of Saint Blaise, as part of a renovation project of the presbyteral area funded by the Bolognese pontiff, Benedict XIV, Lorenzo Sarti undertook in 1742 the sculptural decoration of the main altarpiece. The God the Father standing out so majestically at the top of the altar, accompanied by angels seated upon spiral volutes, displays obvious links to the same figure modelled in relief in one of the two terracottas under examination. The posture would appear to be almost identical, with the head lowered, the left arm rising in its familiar act of blessing, the right arm resting on the globe, the left leg bent whilst the right leg strides forth. Even more convincing is the comparison between the drapery and the folds of cloth: the two figures appear to be wrapped in a cloak that is folded at the waist thus creating a very similar turn-up rising up to the left shoulder and fully opening out in both cases into stiff and geometric folds. If we look at the scant Bolognese work undertaken by the sculptor there are also certain stylistic similarities in the angels that crown the patronage altar of the Lambertini family in the church of the Dominicans where Sarti worked in 1732. The face of the angelic figure on the right with elegant features and encapsulated within a full head of hair with soft and flowing locks brings to mind the Guardian Angel at the centre of the first relief. Furthermore, in Bologna, Lorenzo Sarti was one of the artists commissioned to renovate the Cathedral of Saint Peter’s on behalf yet again of Prospero Lambertini. In 1734, the sculptor undertook the realisation of the monumental statues in stucco of the Evangelists placed in niches in the columns giving access to the presbytery. A few years later, when the new façade of the church was built in 1747, Sarti modelled the Allegorical Figures in the counter-facade to crown the main entrance, further the four statues of the Doctors of the Church and completed the sculptural decoration with a frieze made of cherubs in high relief alternating with vegetable motifs running above the dedicatory plaque to Benedict XIV. The cherubs are a repetition in their facial features, in the stiffness and hardness of their postures, the very same figures that crowd our terracottas.

Neither critical literature nor historical and artistic sources from Bologna mention these two high reliefs. This would lead us to surmise that they were destined to decorate a private chapel, probably a place for domestic prayer belonging to a religious person as would indeed suggest the exceptionally high quality of the saints featured. As has so far been said, the professional career of Lorenzo Sarti was strongly connected to the circle surrounding Cardinal Prospero Lambertini (Bologna 1675 - Rome 1758), the future Pope Benedict XIV (1740-1758) from whom the sculptor received countless commissions. Designated as the Archbishop of Ancona and elevated to the position of Cardinal in 1728, three years later, in 1731, Lambertini received the archdiocese of Bologna, keeping the position until 1754, notwithstanding the fact that in the meantime he had become Pope. To support any attribution to the latter as a potential client for the aforementioned works by Sarti, apart from his familiarity with the latter, it must also be mentioned that Lambertini held a position at the Sacred Congregation of Rites, where for two decades from 1708 to 1728, he was Promoter of the Faith and wrote his monumental work – and most famous - the De servorum Dei beatificatione et beatorum canonizatione, published in Bologna between 1734 and 1738. The Ubi Primum promulgated on December 3rd 1740 would appear to capture more than a repercussion in these two reliefs with regard to the importance of the doctrines of beatification and sanctification as well as the will to reform theological and pastoral procedures and to apply the Tridentine Decrees with the utmost severity as laid down in his first Encyclical. On the subject of the time he spent on the re-founding of the academic institutions of his city and his constant presence within and promotion of the arts, critical claim has spent much time and has also highlighted his orientation towards “classically-grounded aesthetics” within which the author of these works under examination also moved. Here, although in a yet undecided fashion, we suggest therefore an attribution to Sarti, who “was one of Mazza’s finest pupils”.

Read more