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Italian Sculpture : 16th century.

Italian Sculpture : 16th century.



Italian Sculpture
16th century.


(a) Florence and Rome.
Less attention was paid to the production of statuettes during the High Renaissance, because of Michelangelo's obsession with marble statuary. Nevertheless, some of his models (notably Samson Slaying Two Philistines; Rotterdam, Mus. Boymans-van Beuningen) were copied by others in bronze. Furthermore, Leonardo da Vinci and his close associate Giovanni Francesco Rustici were interested in the medium, because of its relationship to the modelled, rather than carved, sculpture that they practised. Francesco da Sangallo also produced a notable statuette of St John the Baptist (New York, Frick).

With the departure of Michelangelo from Florence in 1534, artists again turned to the statuette as a valid branch of sculpture and one suited to the aims of the Medici, by then established as dukes, for it provided a link with their 'democratic' forebears, as well as handsome ornamentation for their private studies and agreeable and prestigious diplomatic gifts. Such rivals of Michelangelo as Baccio Bandinelli and Benvenuto Cellini produced excellent statuettes in the Mannerist idiom c. 1540, while his followers of the younger generation, Niccolo Tribolo and Pierino da Vinci, also created notable examples.

Still younger sculptors who came to maturity around the date of Michelangelo's death in 1564, for example Giovanni Bandini, Valerio Cioli, Bartolomeo Ammanati and Vincenzo Danti, all famous for their monumental contributions to the decoration of the city of Florence, were also capable of brilliant work on a small scale (e.g. in the studiolo of Francesco I de' Medici in the Palazzo Vecchio.) They were active at the period when Giambologna made his momentous appearance on the Florentine art scene and perfected the bronze statuette as a medium of sculptural expression. He addressed a far wider range of subjects than had his predecessors, extending his repertory beyond the standard nude figures of Classical deities (e.g. Mercury, Bologna, Mus. Civ.; or Astrology, Vienna, Ksthist. Mus.) to struggling groups, for example the Labours of Hercules series (Vienna, Ksthist. Mus.;, or equestrian ones (e.g. Nessus Abducting Deianeira, San Marino, CA, Huntington Lib. & A.G.; Dresden, Skulpsamml.). He portrayed real people, animals and country-folk, with a positively Breughel-like delight (e.g. The Fowler, Paris, Louvre); and treated a number of religious themes, notably the crucified Christ. For compositional subtlety, sensuous tactile values and sheer technical virtuosity, Giambologna's statuettes have never been surpassed. Diffused as diplomatic gifts by his patrons, and later through purchase by collectors, they spread his style all over Europe.

In Rome, meanwhile, the principal exponent of high-quality statuettes was Guglielmo della Porta, who produced several designs of crucifixes and a Christ in Limbo (Vienna, Ksthist. Mus.). Leone Leoni, the Milanese sculptor and goldsmith, also executed a number of statuettes, sensitively modelled in the wax before casting and then carefully chased.


(b) North Italy.
Several little-known goldsmiths and sculptors contributed to the success of the bronze statuette in North Italy in the first third of the 16th century, notably Viltor Camelio, Maffeo Olivieri, Desiderio da Firenze, Antonio Lombardo, Francesco da Sant'Agata and Giovanni Fonduli da Crema (e.g. Seated Nymph, London, Wallace). Their collected oeuvre represents an important and characteristic, though all too often neglected, aspect of High Renaissance art. Thus, when Jacopo Sansovino arrived in Venice after 1527, he found a thriving artistic tradition and technical infrastructure at his disposal, which he utilized chiefly for narrative reliefs and statuettes, as these could be modelled rapidly in wax and the tedious process of casting and chasing delegated to juniors: for the altar-rail in S Marco he made the Four Evangelists. He also signed a group of the Virgin and Child (Cleveland, OH, Mus. A.).

It was really left to Jacopo's numerous assistants to benefit from the tradition, chief among whom was Alessandro Vittoria, who found statuettes to be an ideal vehicle for his combination of Michelangelesque muscularity with Sansovino's suaver, Raphaelesque modelling and the Mannerist elongation and spiralling poses of Parmigianino, some of whose works he owned: his work ranges in size and subject from a signed St Sebastian (New York, Met.) down to little figures of Winter (versions, c. 1585; Vienna, Ksthist. Mus.; Toronto, Royal Ont. Mus.), an old man muffled up in heavy robes.

Others of Jacopo's immediate circle, Tiziano Minio and Danese Cattaneo, also produced statuettes, often depicting Classical marine deities, for example Minio's Neptune (London, V&A) and Cattaneo's Venus Marina (Vienna, Ksthist. Mus.). The Campagna brothers and Nicolò Roccatagliata, Francesco Segala and Tiziano Aspetti are all credited with the production of an amazing range of statuettes and other types of bronze domestic artefacts. The dearth of such objects produced in other Italian centres suggests that the Venetians gained a virtual monopoly over the manufacture and distribution of such useful items throughout the peninsula; this lasted well into the 17th century and probably even later, as such items were easy to reproduce from moulds and did not demand quite the degree of finish of statuettes proper. In Milan a similar repertory of ornamental bronzes was produced by Annibale Fontana.

 


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