New York Times


             Mythical Action Heroes,
   Struggling in Exquisite Bronze

Published: October 15, 2004

Street-smart Hercules! When he wrestled with Antaeus, the Libyan giant whose mother was the Earth itself, he hoisted him in the air. Why? Because he knew that the giant's strength depended entirely on contact with his mother; when no part of his body touched her, he was helpless. And so Hercules was able to crush the monster, known for killing everyone else he had wrestled with.

The Quentin Collection

Detail of "Hercules and Antaeus,'' a 16th-century bronze from Italy.

A lively enactment of this remarkable feat occurs in a bronze statuette made by an unknown Northern Italian sculptor in the early 16th century. The action is portrayed with exquisite care: the strained faces and the powerful musculature of the protagonists are brilliantly modeled, and in such detail that you can see Antaeus's tongue as it cleaves agonizingly to the roof of his mouth. And yet the sculpture is a mere 10 inches high.

Inspired by a marble fragment of an ancient work familiar in 15th-century Rome, "Hercules and Antaeus'' is one of many highlights in "European Bronzes From the Quentin Collection,'' the Frick Collection's show of some 35 small statuettes dating from the late 15th to the mid-18th centuries. The collection is owned by the Quentin Foundation of New York, whose president, Claudia Quentin, the daughter of an Argentine industrialist, assembled the works over some 30 years.

Over the last few decades, there has been a revival of interest in the collection and technical exploration of these small-scale bronzes from the Renaissance. They were originally inspired by mythological themes or classical marble statuary, often reconstructed in innovative ways, and they were eagerly pursued by royalty, papal nobility and other well-heeled connoisseurs.

Growing proficiency in multiple casting soon made the statuettes - some by very well-known artists - available to a wider circle. Because they brought the ancient world alive again, the craving for them spread through Europe. Artists became known for their masterly modeling, subtle surfacing and polished finishing of the small works. In princely homes they were kept, with other precious material, in rooms known as studioli or kunstkammers (art cabinets).

The earliest production center for the statuettes was Italy, a hotbed for the discovery of ancient sculptures on which many of them were modeled. Italian Renaissance artists who produced this work included Pier Jacopo Alari-Bonacolsi, known as Antico; Andrea Riccio; Benvenuto Cellini; the Flemish immigrant Jean Boulogne, known as Giambologna; and Antonio Susini. Willem van Tetrode of the Netherlands and Barthelemy Prieur of France are also on the roster.

Besides the anonymous "Hercules and Antaeus,'' works in the Quentin collection include those by well-known names, including Giambologna (1529-1608). On view is one of his best-known statuettes, a magnificent version of "Mars,'' cast before 1577, and said to be the finest of the many castings of this work. It was one of his most popular figures, frequently given by the Medici court as a gift to other powers.

And small wonder. It sent a message. A powerfully developed nude figure of the god of war (about 15 inches tall), it shows him stopping in his forceful stride to swing his body and sword arm backward for attack. His free arm plunges forward to balance his movement, his hand is poised in a downward gesture that seems to warn the enemy "go no further.'' By depicting Mars ready to strike, Giambologna was conveying the capability that leaders had to wage or prevent war.

Aside from its persuasive theme, the statuette displays Giambologna's skills at depicting the nuances of body language, the rhythm of muscle movements and the intensity of facial expression. This marriage of imagination and technical virtuosity was what made him great.

But the finesse of workmanship associated with Giambologna's studio was largely attributed to his assistant, Antonio Susini, who worked with the master from about 1580 until 1600, when he left to open his own workshop. Even then, he continued his collaboration with Giambologna, and many of his statuettes were castings of Giambologna models.

Three such works by Susini are here, among them an endearing rendition of Morgante, the rotund dwarf who was court jester to the Medicis and one of the best-known characters of 16th-century Italy. Nude and holding a wine cup, the bearded and mustachioed roly-poly is one of the smallest works in the show, less than 4 inches tall.

A very different - and taller - character by Susini out of Giambologna is the slim, elegantly sensuous "Venus Drying Herself,'' a bronze more than a foot high, cast by the traditional lost-wax method. Its fine, crisp details and sensuous surface is burnished by fine wire brushing. Inspired by a marble statue that Giangiorgio II Cesarini, an Italian noble, had made for his palace in Rome, Venus is much better articulated in the statuette, as she delicately leans over to apply towels to her breasts and legs.

Among other outstanding works in the collection is a Hercules attributed to Van Tetrode (a k a Guglielmo Fiammingo), who worked in Florence and Rome. Unusual in that it's made of painted terra cotta rather than bronze, this Hercules is a wonderfully lifelike nude, 17 inches high but positively Terminatoresque. Holding a broken club in one hand, the other hand cockily poised on its hip, he has the wearied, even cynical face of a man much tried by life.

Two other impressive terra cottas - overlaid with metal foil to give the effect of a bronze patina - are a pair of vigorous statuettes of Mars and Vulcan, by Giovanni Bandini (1540-1599). Standing about 30 inches, they are among the show's largest works. Mars, portrayed in his middle years, leans against his armor, his right arm raised as if to hold a banner, left hand on hip.
"European Bronzes From the Quentin Collection" is at the Frick Collection, 1 East 70th Street, Manhattan, (212)288-0700, through Jan. 2.

Vulcan, depicted in ripe and productive old age, stands next to his anvil as befits the blacksmith deity. Although the pair could have been made as models for large-scale sculptures, they are finished works in themselves by virtue of their careful portraiture and distinctively differentiated bodies.

Venus, Vulcan, Mars, Hercules, Mercury, Cupid, Vulcan, Jesus, St. John, nymphs, fauns, satyrs, animals, minor deities and simple folk; in short, the whole ancient and Renaissance cosmology, were subjects for these statuettes. One of the virtues of this show, handsomely installed by Denise Allen, associate curator at the Frick, is that most of the works are displayed free-standing, without vitrines, so they can be examined from every angle. Though untouchable, they are made vitally accessible to feeling with the eyes.

Willem van Tetrode ontwaakt na 400 jaar

Remarkable Bronzes from the Fitzwilliam Museum in NY

Alessandro Algardi, Relief: The Rest on the Flight to Egypt, Fitzwilliam Museum.

NEW YORK - The Fitzwilliam Museum at Cambridge University possesses one of the finest collections of Renaissance and Baroque bronzes in Great Britain, and this February a group of thirty-six of them will be seen for the first time together in America in a presentation at New York’s Frick Collection. Dating from the turn of the sixteenth century to the early years of the eighteenth century — the period that saw the flowering of the bronze statuette as an independent art form — the sculptures are remarkable for their exquisite beauty and refinement. Many of the works in the exhibition are from the collection bequeathed to the Fitzwilliam Museum by the sister of Lieutenant Colonel Mildmay Thomas Boscawen, an explorer, naturalist, and botanist, who owned large plantations in East Africa. Included are masterpieces by such renowned Italian Renaissance and Baroque sculptors as Vincenzo Grandi and Alessandro Algardi, as well as outstanding bronzes by Netherlandish, German, and French masters, which are rare among the Frick’s predominantly Italian holdings. Renaissance and Baroque Bronzes from the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, seen in conjunction with the Frick’s permanent collection, will provide visitors with a rare opportunity to explore the depth and range of European bronze sculpture. Presentation of the exhibition in New York is made possible, in part, through the generous support of Peter and Sofia Blanchard, Lawrence and Julie Salander, and The Helen Clay Frick Foundation, with additional support from the Fellows of The Frick Collection. It is being coordinated for the Frick by its Associate Curator Denise Allen and is accompanied by a catalogue and public lecture.

Comments by Director Anne L. Poulet, “This presentation is the third in a series of remarkable exhibitions at the Frick highlighting the bronze statuette, beginning with the 2003 exploration of the oeuvre of Willem van Tetrode, followed in 2004 with the unveiling of the distinguished Quentin collection. With each, we hope to have encouraged the general and scholarly public to take a renewed look at an art form that inspired the most talented Renaissance and Baroque sculptors. Furthermore, given that our own bronzes–on view throughout the Frick mansion–offer a sense of Henry Clay Frick’s personal taste, we are particularly pleased to present the Fitzwilliam works assembled by Colonel Boscawen as yet another compelling chapter in the collecting history of the medium.”

Lieutenant Colonel Boscawen (1892–1958), a younger son of the 7th Viscount Falmouth, was educated at Eton and then Trinity College, Cambridge. After distinguishing himself in the First World War, he moved to Tanganyika and ran a successful business producing sisal hemp near Moa. A renowned explorer, naturalist, and botanist, Boscawen became an avid collector of sculpture, favoring bronze over any other medium because of its resilience to the African climate. His real love was medals, plaquettes and statuettes from the Italian Renaissance and Baroque periods, which he acquired from the London art market through the agency of trusted dealers who sometimes sent bronzes to Africa for Boscawen’s approval. The surviving correspondence reveals Boscawen to have been a most discerning collector, whose exacting tastes earned him a reputation as a connoisseur. Because he was desirous of having nothing but the best, he constantly refined his collection.

Self-effacing to a fault and very reticent, Boscawen has remained an obscure figure until recently, when a significant portion of his collection of bronzes, and several other works of art, entered the permanent collections of the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge. Now, thanks to the rediscovery of more than forty letters that Boscawen wrote to his dealers in London, a wealth of new information has emerged about his activities as a collector and, at long last, the full scope and scale of his remarkable collection may be appreciated.

The Fitzwilliam’s Perfume Burner, the Lid with a Funerary Genius is an example of the exquisite functional bronzes produced by the uncle-nephew team of Vincenzo and Gian Girolamo Grandi, who worked in sixteenth-century Renaissance Padua and Trent. Such pieces were highly valued accoutrements to the studies of noble and humanist patrons. Although many examples — primarily candlesticks and bells — from the Grandi shop survive, very few can be attributed solely to the hand of these masters. The Fitzwilliam exhibition will reunite two of their greatest works, the Perfume Burner and The Frick Collection’s exquisite Hand Bell, which the bronze scholar Willem von Bode called, “the most beautiful bell in all the world.” Both bronzes are characterized by the extraordinary sharpness of their casting, which allows decorative elements such as swags, ribbons, and escutcheons to stand out in crisply syncopated rhythm. The Perfume Burner and Hand Bell represent pinnacles of luxurious artistry in bronze, a material praised in the Renaissance for its ability to withstand the ravages of time. Emphasizing that the human condition is otherwise, the Grandi crowned each bronze with a bittersweet reminder of life’s transience: the putto on the Perfume Burner is shown dousing life’s torch, while his counterpart on the Hand Bell is seated on a skull, visible only when viewing the bell from behind.



Old Master Paintings at Sotheby’s New York

NEW YORK - Sotheby’s January 2004 sale of Old Master Paintings is highlighted by A Winter Scene with Many Figures Skating on a Frozen River, one of the finest works by the Dutch artist Hendrick Avercamp left in private hands. Painted at the dawn of the Dutch Golden Age, probably between 1610 and 1615, it shows the delights of a frozen winter’s day enjoyed together by people of all ages: skating; sledging, ice-yachting, fishing and standing about gossiping in their finery, or muffled against the icy chill. Avercamp resolves the apparent contradiction of the physical onslaught of a brutally cold winter’s day with the delights enjoyed by the local population in the face of such a potentially severe trial of nature by introducing warm reddish tones: brick, clothing, flags; which provide a visual counterpart to the remorselessly cold gray of the sky and the ice, without diluting their intensity. The present work is estimated to sell for $4/6 million.

Also included is Hendrick Terbrugghen’s A Fluteplayer carousing with a young woman holding a roemer (est. $3/4 million), one of the finest paintings by the artist remaining in private hands, and an outstanding example of his virtuosity. Terbrugghen was arguably the most inventive and independent of the Utrecht Caravaggisti, and this picture displays to the full his genius in combining dramatic Caravaggesque lighting with an arresting and original use of color, delivered with breathtaking verve. Dating from 1625, the picture, which depicts an amorous couple, illustrates the artist’s refreshingly direct and uninhibited approach to genre subjects in his mature style.

The second half of the eighteenth century is often described by art historians as the golden age of portraiture in Great Britain, not least because it was during this period that that Sir Joshua Reynolds produced his greatest works. Featured in the January 22nd sale of Old Master Paintings is Sir Joshua Reynolds’ Portrait of Mrs. Stanhope (est. $800,000/1.2 million), painted in 1786, at the time of one of Reynolds’s most fertile artistic moments. Well established as the leading British artist of his day, and rivaled only by Thomas Gainsborough, Reynolds had continued to produce striking and innovative portraits throughout the decade of the 1780’s. In the present work, Mrs. Stanhope is depicted in a simple white gown, her pensive gaze upwards adding to her idealized and aloof beauty. This painting is of a type of romanticized portraiture that Reynolds had popularized and that would influence the work of many of his contemporaries, such as George Romney.

Pieter Jansz. Saenredam’s Haarlem, the interior of the Nieuwe Kerk, seen from the south west is the fourth and latest of four known paintings by Saenredam of the Nieuwe Kerk in Haarlem, and is one of the last of his church interiors left in private hands. The church was built to the designs of Saenredam’s friend Jacob van Campen between 1646 and 1649 on the site of the demolished medieval chapel of St. Anne, retaining the tower, which had been erected by Lieven de Key in 1613. The Nieuwe Kerk was the only modern building that Saenredam painted, and is thus the only church he painted built in Classical rather than Gothic or Romanesque style. This painting, which is estimated to sell for $600/800,000) first came to light at the Saenredam exhibition in Paris in 1970.

Featured in the European Works of Art section of the sale is a recently discovered bronze by the 16th century Dutch master Willem van Tetrode, A bronze Écorche figure of a man (est. $200/300,000). This sculpture, which had changed hands within the consignor’s family, had gone unidentified until the consignor pulled into a train station and recognized a work resembling his on a poster promoting an exhibition of van Tetrode at the Rijksmuseum Amsterdam. The curator of the exhibition, a van Tetrode expert, confirmed its authenticity, with its detailed muscles and innovative stance. Previous to his discovery, it was learned that the consignor’s house was burglarized but that, ironically, the burglar bypassed the sculpture for a television instead.

In connection with the sales of Old Master Paintings and Drawings, and upon the occasion of the reopening of the Liechtenstein Museum in Vienna, Austria in March 2004, the curator of the museum, Johann Kräftner, will present a lecture entitled: The Rebirth of a Princely Palace and its Collections. He will speak on the history, renovation and reopening of the house as well as the history of the collection and the purchasing policy of the Liechtenstein Collections. The lecture will be held at Sotheby’s on Sunday, January 18th.