Peter Notch, one of the most innovative and spectacular sculptors of the Baroque period, is one of the protagonists of "Cuprum. Small Bronzes from the 14th to the 19th Century," the auction of ancient bronzes that Bertolami Fine Art will host in its Roman venue of Palazzo Caetani Lovatelli on Dec. 14. We talk about it with the curator, Antonello Andreacchio.
The presence in the catalog of the auction he curated for Bertolami Fine Art of a small bronze by Pietro Tacca does not go unnoticed and reminds us that the genius inventor of that miraculous challenge to the laws of statics that is the colossal equestrian monument to Philip IV of Spain-one of the monuments that most characterize Madrid's urban décor-was also a fine creator of tiny bronzes.
Yes, Tacca masterfully tackled both large and small scale. The sculpture referred to, a powerful 40-centimeter-high representation of a river deity, has been studied and attributed to the great naturalized Florentine Carrarese by Charles Avery, one of the most accredited international experts on Giambologna and his school.
The subject repeats a terracotta sketch now in the Museo Nazionale del Bargello in Florence, a work traditionally assigned to Tribolo, but which Avery thinks is in the hand of the Giambologna.
Pietro Tacca, as the continuator and heir of Giambologna's grand ducal foundry, is said to have inherited all of its sketches, including the Bargello river goddess. According to Avery, among the many castings taken from the sketches is the one proposed at auction by Bertolami.
Are there any other versions known?
Few in truth. Avery notes that of Count Stroganoff (1911), that of Maurice de Rothschild and that of Yves Saint Laurent, sold at Christie's auction in 2009.
In talking about Tacca's River God, we entered into one of the sensitive topics of fine bronze collecting, that, precisely, of attributions.
In this regard, it should be remembered that the workshops of the great artists functioned as real businesses. In them various professional figures collaborated in the making of the work, and it should come as no surprise that the intervention of the master was often limited to the elaboration of the wax or clay model. Everything else was done by the workshop, with someone casting the sculptures and others renetting and chiseling them.
In the face of such modes of execution, to speak of autography turns out to be a mere rhetorical exercise.
In addition to Tacca's, the names of other important pupils of Giambologna appear in the auction, Antonio Susini just to name one.
Giambologna was a leader of the school, and artists of the highest talent were formed in his workshop. It is precisely the case of Antonio Susini, right-hand man and continuer of the models of his lofty master but with a personal style clearly recognizable to scholars. Susini was born among other goldsmiths, and his replicas of Gianbologna's bronzes appear even more finished than the originals.
Among the works in the catalog, the Hermaphrodite by Giovan Francesco Susini, Antonio's grandson, is one of the most beautiful.
The bronze model to which it refers is preserved at the Metropolitan Museum in New York. It rests on a stupendous bronze box that is keeled with grotesque figures at the corners.
The bronze reduction was inspired by Roman sculpture, a copy of a Greek original, found in the park of Santa Maria della Vittoria in 1608 and acquired by Cardinal Scipione Borghese. On the Cardinal's commission, a young Bernini added the quilted mattress that was much appreciated by his contemporaries. With the Napoleonic spoliations, the marble was sold and is currently in the Louvre.
Returning to the problem of attributions, it should be noted a tendency of the school leader to work more spontaneously than the collaborator-copist, who is more oriented to insist on details, creating wonders with virtuosities of technique.
In the case of Giambologna and his school, however, attributive disputes never ended. The inventions of the great Flemish sculptor, naturalized at the grand ducal court of the Medici, were replicated many and many times in his workshop and by his successors, because the market demand was so strong, and while the master was still alive, in the face of such commercial success, he had just enough time to take care of the most important fusions.
It should also be added that, at a time when copying was not considered a disreputable practice but, if anything, a form of emulation, there were also workshops that specialized in reproducing the models of major artists.
Bronzetti production in the Veneto area is also flourishing and of remarkable quality.
And in the Veneto area, too, there is a conspicuous activity of foundries that partly copied and partly invented. Moreover, as studies progressed, figures previously considered secondary emerged as autonomous personalities. One thinks in this regard of the critical affair of Severo of Ravenna, an artist who, in recent years, has had attributions previously ascribed to Andrea Briosco known as Il Riccio restored.
A delightful sculpture of a satyr holding a. candelabra is attributed to the school of Severo da Ravenna at auction.
Carefully scrolling through the catalog lot sheets, one discovers with amazement that not all of the bronzes are bronze.
He is right. In many cases what we conventionally call bronzes are made of brass. Both bronze and brass are copper-based alloys: bronze is made by alloying copper with tin, brass by alloying copper with zinc. The artificial patinas that often cover so-called bronzetti hinder visual recognition of the materials, and the only valid method of recognition is through scientific analysis of the alloy.
Recognizing the nature of the metal that makes up these small, refined sculptures makes it possible to gather valuable information about their area and time of production. Tuscany, for example, favored the use of bronze, while French and German foundries opted preferentially for brass.
The proportions of the elements that make up the metal alloys are also illuminating. If the composition of the alloy turns out to be very precise (for example, nine parts copper and one part tin) and with very few impurities we will with certainty be faced with an already industrial production of nineteenth-century ingots purified by electrolytic techniques. In contrast, the compositions of ancient alloys are more varied and "dirty."
In short, the importance of scientific diagnostics proves to be fundamental in supporting the critic's investigation. It goes without saying, however, that the eye of one who has seen much and studied more can never be replaced by the scientific apparatus; it is simply a matter of adding to the stylistic analysis and tactile experience, which are always fundamental, the support of new technologies.
Isn't collecting bronzes nowadays too elitist a choice?
The bronzes were collected by Renaissance princes and humanist intellectuals in the wake of the revival of classical art, so we are talking about a collecting area of great refinement that from the beginning represented a somewhat exclusive niche. We refer, however, to an elite of taste and culture, the achievements of the human condition to which one should never cease to strive.