ADRIAEN DE VRIES: CAREER AND PATRONS
The recent discovery of this Bacchic Figure Supporting the Globe is a hugely signifcant event, bringing to light, as it does, a major, unrecorded bronze executed in the fnal year of the life of its creator, Adriaen de Vries. The bronze stood unrecognised atop a column in the centre of a pool in a schloss courtyard for at least 300 years where it is recorded in an engraving of circa 1700. Although, in his maturity, Adriaen de Vries was considered to be the most important sculptor working in bronze in all of Europe, his celebrity rapidly declined after his death. As pointed out by Lars Larsson (Amsterdam, op. cit., p. 90), de Vries was at a disadvantage in that he worked the whole of his life away from his country of origin, the Netherlands (where patriotism might have aided his cause), and the centres where he produced his most important commissions such as Prague and Augsburg, did not have the equivalent of a Giorgio Vasari, whose chronicles of the Lives of the Painters, Sculptors and Architects did so much to promote the reputations of the artists included in that work. The ravages of the Thirty Years’ War (1618-1648) also meant that many of de Vries’s sculptures were moved from their original locations. However, his reputation began to improve in the 19th century with the publication of his bronzes in Sweden in 1884 (Böttiger, op. cit.) and more recently, there has been a monograph by Lars Olaf Larsson published in 1967, and an important exhibition in 1998-1999, held jointly by the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, the National Museum in Stockholm and the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles. The result of this modern scholarship has been to restore de Vries to his rightful place as one of the most original and successful sculptors of the late Mannerist period in Europe.
Adriaen de Vries was born in The Hague circa 1555 and probably trained as a goldsmith in his native city before travelling to Florence. He is frst recorded in the studio of Giambologna, court sculptor to the Medici, in 1581, when he is referred to as ‘m:ro Adriaeno orifce
fammingo’ (Master Adriaen, Netherlandish goldsmith; ibid, p. 15). He is thought to have assisted with the bronzes for the Grimaldi Chapel in Genoa, although this is not confrmed by documentary evidence. By the spring of 1586 he had moved to Milan, to work as the principal assistant of Pompeo Leoni where he worked on bronzes for the High Altarpiece of the Escorial, outside Madrid. He next progressed to being court sculptor to Carlo Emanuele I, Duke of Savoy, although his stay in Turin, the duke’s capital, proved to be brief. In 1589, de Vries’s career took a decisive turn, when his talents were requested by the Holy Roman Emperor, Rudolf II, and he was ‘loaned’ to Rudolf by the court of Savoy. He travelled to Prague in the summer of that year and in this frst Prague period he executed at least two large bronzes for the Emperor, including the monumental Mercury and Psyche of 1593 (Paris, Musée du Louvre). In 1595 and early 1596 he returned to Italy, where he studied some of the most important antiquities of the day and in the late 1590s he produced two of his most celebrated works, two large multi-fgure fountains for the Maximilianstrasse in Augsburg, the Mercury and Hercules Fountains. In 1601 de Vries appears to have returned to Prague when he was appointed Kammerbildhauer. From this point on he was principally employed by Rudolf II, the most important patron of the arts in Europe at the time, until the latter’s death in 1612. Although he remained a member of the household of Rudolf’s successor, Matthias, he did not receive any
commissions from the new emperor and began working for private patrons.
The most signifcant among these was the great military commander Albrecht von Wallenstein (1583-1634). Born to an impoverished
branch of an old noble family, Wallenstein became a soldier, and allied himself with the Hapsburg Holy Roman Emperors. A charismatic figure, his armies would eventually become such a powerful force in the Thirty Years’ War that the emperor feared Wallenstein was plotting to overthrow him and Wallenstein was eventually charged with treason and assassinated. However, before this untimely end, Wallenstein had had a meteoric rise, accumulating land and becoming, successively, an imperial count palatine (1622), a prince (1623), Duke of Friedland (1625) and Duke of Mecklenberg (1627). To emphasise his rising social status he became a patron of the arts and built the Wallenstein Palace in Prague (1623-30), a magnifcent structure built around four courtyards which was meant to rival Prague Castle itself. It remained in the family until 1945, and today houses the Czech Senate, while the riding school houses part of the National Gallery. Part of the palace complex included formal gardens and for these Wallenstein commissioned Adriaen de Vries to create a series of statues. These were later looted by the occupying Swedish forces and were taken to Sweden where they remain at Drottningholm Palace, the private residence of the Swedish royal family. Created over a number of years, these bronzes represent perhaps the last important commission executed by de Vries before his death. To underline the erudition of the patron, the bronzes are based on classical subjects such as the Laocoon, The Wrestlers and Neptune, and the modelling of each is highly impressionistic. A recent re-examination of the Wallenstein bronzes, now housed in a specially designed museum at Drottningholm (see Olausson and Muren, op. cit.), confrms the close stylistic similarities between the present bronze and those in Sweden. The foliate and foral decoration on the base, for example, is identical to a number of bronzes there, such as the group of Venus and Adonis. Although there is, to date, no documentary evidence to prove that the present bronze was also commissioned by Wallenstein, the subject, the style and the date all suggest that this could also have been destined originally for the Wallenstein Palace in Prague. Adriaen de Vries died and was buried in Prague in the Church of St. Thomas on 15 December 1626. He had had a successful career financially, and his executors spent much of the following year settling his estate. Among his assets we know that a number of bronzes were left in his studio and these were sold to benefit his heirs (documents reproduced in Amsterdam, op. cit., pp. 297-298, nos. 19 and 20). Unfortunately, no document has come to light thus far which itemises these bronzes so we have no way of knowing if the present fgure was among them. However, the fact that the bronze dates from the year of his death and was not among those bronzes looted by the Swedish armies during the Ransack of Prague in 1648 suggests that it might already have left the city. The fact that the globe is also made from a slightly different alloy (see below under ‘Casting and a Technical Analysis’) might suggest that the bronze remained unfnished in de Vries’s studio at the time of his death, and that the globe was commissioned by the person who subsequently bought the bronze. Certainly by the time it appears in the engraving of the vendors’ home circa 1700, it already had a globe, only 75 years after its date of production.
ICONOGRAPHY AND POSSIBLE EARLY HISTORY
The iconography of this bronze group is unusual in that it appears to include elements from more than one mythological narrative. A male fgure carrying a globe immediately suggests Atlas or Hercules, although both these fgures are normally represented as more mature men with beards. The grapevines on the tree stump and the pan pipes are associated with Bacchus and his cult, but there is nothing among the stories of Bacchus that includes a globe. One could argue that it represents an unusual confation of the stories of Hercules Supporting the Globe and Hercules at the Crossroads. In this interpretation the pan pipes and grapes represent the path of sin and indulgence, while the wreath in the fgure’s hair could be a victor’s wreath, having chosen the path of righteousness. While many of de Vries’s subjects are obscure - including the theory that the Dancing Faun in the Getty Museum is actually an Allegory of Hermetic Wisdom (ibid, no. 32, pp. 201-203) - it is possible that the subject of the present bronze was changed late in the process of creation. Was the fgure originally intended to be a Bacchus or bacchic fgure which was transformed into an Atlas by the substitution of a globe for the original attribute - perhaps a barrel or a wine skin? If the bronze was unfnished at the time of the artist’s death and was sold to someone other than the original patron, it is possible that the new owner asked for a globe to be created as a more classic or ‘noble’ subject to adorn a courtyard. Frits Scholten has suggested (personal communication) that the intermediate size of the bronze might indicate that it was meant for a multi-fgure fountain that was left incomplete at the time of de Vries’s death. In this scenario it would likely have been one of three or four fgures whose upraised hands supported a further basin. The subsequent addition of the globe would have made it a more autonomous object.
Another theory regarding the origin of this composition has been suggested by Eliska Fucikova (personal communication). It is known that Rudolf II commissioned de Vries to execute 10 statues for the Neue Saal in Prague Castle in 1611 which were never cast in bronze. Among these, one of the groups was a ‘Favon wie Er traget Bachum’ (‘Faun Carrying Bacchus’; document transcribed in Fucikova, op. cit., Anhang 1, p. 33). Fucikova suggests that the present bronze could have been a re-working of this composition. The 10 statues, which were executed in plaster, were part of a decorative scheme that remained at Prague Castle until a remodelling of the mid-18th century when they disappeared. Fucikova’s theory is that the original Faun of 1611 may have been familiar to a courtier through the plaster example in the castle or a bozzetto in de Vries’s studio. The courtier might then have asked de Vries to execute an example in bronze at the end of the sculptor’s lifetime.
Unless further documentation comes to light, the earliest history of this bronze cannot be known with certainty. To date, the frst known reference to it is in the form of an engraving dating from circa 1700 where it is clearly visible, surmounted by a globe and standing atop a column in the same location that it was found in 2010 (see Fig. 2 opposite). In this frst engraving the column appears to be on a square plinth, and is surrounded by a wrought iron railing. It does not appear to include a basin of water, although the scale of the engraving makes this diffcult to ascertain. The house was remodelled in the 1720s and a second engraving executed
shortly thereafter shows the bronze even more clearly. The iron railing has now disappeared, and the column stands in the middle of a square pool of water, the arrangement which existed until the recent discovery of the bronze and its importance was recognised.
There is no record as to how the bronze made its way from Prague - where it was certainly cast - to this later location. However, in 1693 an ancestor of the vendors married a woman named Margarethe, Gräfn Colonna von Fels. She was a member of a prominent family from Bohemia and, in fact, her great-grandfather Leonhard, Freiherr Colonna von Fels had participated in the Defenestration of Prague in 1618. It seems likely, therefore, that the bronze came with Margarethe, possibly as part of her dowry, to the family of the vendors in the late 17th century.
CASTING OF THE BRONZE AND A TECHNICAL ANALYSIS
The present fgure was cast in two pieces, with the main fgure cast integrally with the base, and the globe cast separately. Several X-rays taken of the bronze indicate that the large square iron peg protruding from the underside of the base is, in fact, the original armature, which runs up through the tree trunk, into the upper left thigh and into the torso. Smaller bars run down the two legs and the core is still contained in the main cavity of the bronze. This proves that, like most of de Vries’s works, the present bronze was cast by the direct lost wax process and is therefore unique.
With the direct lost wax process (as opposed to the indirect process which permits the sculptor to cast in multiples) a core is built up around an armature which provides the basic form for the composition. Over this core, a wax layer is applied with which the surface details of the bronze can be easily modelled. The fgure is then encased in a further fre-resistant material and the whole is heated in order to dry the core and melt out the wax. The original model is therefore lost at this point. Molten bronze is poured into the gap left by the wax and, once cool, the casing is broken off. The bronze then has any extraneous bits of bronze fled off, faws are patched or repaired, and the surface is patinated. Despite the fact that he seems to have trained as a goldsmith, Adriaen de Vries was considered by his contemporaries to be a master modeller, and the details of the present bronze are almost entirely executed in the wax, evidence of the skill of the founder. Even the fne details of the foliage on the base have not been chased after coming out of the mould, but accurately refect the work executed by de Vries in the original wax model. It is not known with certainty where de Vries cast his bronzes at the end of his life. Until 1620, de Vries was living in Prague Castle and is thought to have used the Imperial foundries,
which had been bolstered by the arrival of a specialist founder, Martin Hilliger, in 1602 (Amsterdam, op. cit., p. 23). In 1620, de Vries
moved to a house he had bought in Mala Strana (the ‘Small Side’ of Prague) which still exists and which had room for a large workshop on the ground foor, but it is probable that he was still using the Imperial foundry for the fnal casting.
Inevitably, some diffculties were experienced in the casting process of the present bronze, and it was necessary to patch several faws,
notably on the sides of the fgure’s lower right leg. Swelling of the core material due to dampness has pushed these patches out marginally, so that they are evident in a way they would not have been at the time of execution. In addition, the founder had diffculties with the raised right hand. If one considers that the bronze would have been upside down at the time of casting, the narrow fngers at the very bottom of the mould are an obvious area where the molten bronze might have had diffculty fowing. It seems that the frst three fngers, and possibly also the thumb, were only partially flled with bronze after the frst pouring.
It was therefore necessary for de Vries, in conjunction with the founder, to resort to a second pouring to correct this larger fawed area. A new mould would have been formed around the fawed original fngers and a second batch of molten bronze poured into it. The seam between the frst and second pourings is faintly visible when examining the hand from the top.
In recent years, the scientifc analysis of bronzes has advanced signifcantly, including the gradual accumulation of data relating to alloys used for casting. A number of works relating to de Vries’s bronzes have been published, and in his chapter ‘X-ray Fluorescence Alloy Analysis’, David Scott notes that de Vries is unusual among sculptors working in bronze in the 16th and 17th centuries for maintaining a consistency in the alloy he used (Bassett, op. cit., pp. 21-33). Bronze is made up principally of copper, along with tin, zinc and other elements including lead, all of which affect how the alloy pours, the extent to which it can be worked after coming out of the mould, and the patinas which can be created. Among most founders of the time, the alloys they used followed a basic pattern, but the proportions could vary widely depending on the materials that were available at the time of casting. The analysis of the alloys used for de Vries’s bronze indicate that he used the same, quite unusual, alloy from the time of his frst known independent works in the 1590s until his death in 1626. This alloy had the ‘expected’ amount of copper - roughly between 80% and 90%. However it had a quite high tin content and an almost total absence of zinc. Combined with the relatively low levels of lead, this would make the fnal alloy extremely hard.
X-ray fuorescent analysis (XRF) of the present bronze, carried out in fve places on the fgure and three places on the globe, give interesting results. Although the average copper content was lower, and the average tin content was higher than in most other bronzes by de Vries, this can be explained by the fact that XRF analysis only analyses the surface content and, as Scott points out (ibid, p. 25), such skewed readings may be the result of ‘inverse segregation’. This is a process whereby the tin-rich phases of the alloy rise to the surface during cooling. More importantly, all of the readings taken from the main fgure indicate only trace elements of zinc (between 0.1% and 0.2%) which is entirely consistent with de Vries’s known ‘personal recipe’, and quite different from most other sculptors working in bronze at this time. Results from the globe show similar levels of copper and tin but, signifcantly, levels of zinc between 3.8% and 5.3%, and levels of lead between 8.1% and 18.2%. This would suggest that the globe was cast at a different time or in a different foundry. It is, however, consistent with other alloys of the period, and does not suggest a much later date of production in the 19th or 20th centuries (Rupert Harris, personal communication).
THE MODERNITY OF ADRIAEN DE VRIES’S ALTERSTIL
Regardless of its earliest history, the present bronze fgure is important for being possibly the last fully autograph work by Adriaen de Vries, and represents him at his most highly developed Alterstil (literally ‘old style’, but more accurately a style - usually quite loose and spontaneous in feeling - that develops in old age). Although early works by the artist such as his bust of Rudolf II of 1603 (Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna; illustrated in Larsson, op. cit., fg. 67) betray his training as a goldsmith, de Vries developed a highly distinctive and impressionistic style in his later years, as did other artists such as Michelangelo, Titian and Rembrandt. This late style refects his growing interest in the blurring of outlines and the play of light on the surfaces of his bronzes, and it gives to these pieces an immediacy that is lacking in many of the highly fnished works he produced for the imperial court. It reached its apogee in the bronzes that he designed for the formal gardens of the Prague palace belonging to Albrecht von Wallenstein.
The bronze offered here displays these characteristics in abundance. As with so many of his later bronzes, de Vries used as his inspiration an antique prototype, in this case the celebrated Belvedere Torso which he would have studied during his visit to Rome in 1595. The forward curve of the muscular back, and the splayed angle of the legs both clearly recall the antique marble. However he has transformed the more static marble fragment into an energetic fgure striding forward. The elongated limbs and the elegant arrangement of the fngers of the present bronze - notably on the proper left hand - give the fgure the air of a dancer,
particularly when viewed without the globe. In this respect de Vries’s late work fnds many parallels with the work of the painter El Greco, who was a near exact contemporary. Although living at a great distance from each other, both men were artists of huge originality and seem to have worked independently toward many of the same ideals. Both were more interested in the impact of the abstracted human form than inconventional realism. The rippling musculature, for example, of the male nude fgures in El Greco’s Laocoon (National Gallery, Washington) is directly comparable to de Vries’s late works. The fgure to the extreme left of the painting in particular displays this same musculature, as well as the overall body proportions including the pinched waist and short, wide ribcage evident in the bronze offered here.
Other artists more readily accessible to de Vries had also shown a fascination with strong silhouettes and the abstracted treatment of the human form. Michelangelo, whose works would have been available to de Vries both during his time in Giambologna’s workshop in Florence in the 1580s and during his visit to Rome a decade later, sacrifced accuracy for the beauty created by the undulating outlines and surfaces of the male nude. In his Studies for the Crucifed Haman of circa 1511 (British Museum, London, reg. no. 1895, 0915.497), the sensuous but illogical outlines of the torso and the exaggerated treatment of the musculature betray a delight on the part of the artist in the almost tactile nature of the subject. The Bacchic Figure Supporting the Globe shares this fascination, notably through the abdomen, torso and upraised arms.
This indulgence in the tactile qualities of a work of art can, of course, be taken to an altogether higher level in the discipline of sculpture, and the brilliance of de Vries’s style is that he almost invites the viewer to participate in the creation of the work of art. The handling of the surface details is so loose and impressionistic that one can easily imagine the artist roughly applying pieces of wax and working them into place with his fngers. These details have then been left untouched after coming out of the mould, thereby emphasising the original process of creation. One feels an immediacy in the handling of the surface, as though de Vries’s hands have just left it and that by touching the surface oneself, one can somehow come closer to the artist. And this seemingly haphazard approach cannot be put down to blindness, laziness or any general deterioration of mental ability in old age. One need only look at the
delicacy and attention to detail paid to the shallow relief decoration of the base to see that de Vries is working at the height of his powers. He contrasts the highly worked details of the base, tree trunk, hair and wreath with the smooth surfaces of skin, which refect the light from countless facets.
It is this combination of a strong overall sense of form combined with the expressive modelling of surface details that makes these late works appear so modern and it would seem that de Vries did have a direct infuence on some sculptors of the late 19th and early
20th centuries. The similarity of his style to the work of Auguste Rodin (1840-1917), for example, has often been commented upon. Like de Vries, Rodin exploits the effects of light refecting off the surface of the bronze to emphasise the spontaneity of the modelling. Works by Rodin such as his Man with a Broken Nose, known in numerous casts, display a looseness in the details of
the eyes and nose which is directly comparable to the face of the present bronze. Rodin’s outdoor sculpture also has many parallels with de Vries’s work, not least in their dark surfaces which alternately swallow light or bounce it back at the viewer. Rodin’s Three
Shades (numerous casts including the Rodin Museum, Paris) displays this quality perfectly. Like de Vries’s Laocoon (De Vries Museum, Drottningholm; illustrated in Amsterdam, op. cit., no. 41, p. 238) the ThreeShades uses a powerful combination of form and pose to convey the psychological content of the group, which is highlighted by the way the light refects off the details of the surface.
Perhaps the most interesting convergence of the work by these two artists is regarding a bronze relief entitled Les Forgerons, long thought to have been an original composition by Rodin from early in his career (see Fig. 3 previous page). As noted in the exhibition of 1998/99 (ibid., nos. 27 and 28), it was only recently recognised that the relief is, in fact, a copy of de Vries’s bronze relief of Vulcan’s Forge, a celebrated work he had executed in 1611 (see Fig. 4). Copies of the de
Vries relief were widely disseminated in his own day, both in the form of plaster casts and paintings. Rodin is known to have been a keen collector of diverse works of art (see R. Masson and V. Mattiussi, Rodin, Paris, 2004, D. Dusinberre trans., p. 124), and the appearance of Les Forgerons suggests that he may have owned a cast of the de Vries bronze relief.
In this sense, then, de Vries can be said to be centuries before his time. The present bronze Bacchic Figure Supporting the Globe, coming as it does at the very end of the artist’s life, represents the apogee of his movement towards a new expressionism, and shows exactly why de Vries was so admired by sculptors of the late 19th and 20th centuries. The fgure seems to pulsate with energy, and the feet – which overhang the edges of the plinth – suggest that he is barely contained by this artifcial constraint. The fact that the present
bronze is completely unrecorded in the literature on the artist is remarkable in this day and age, and was only possible due to its remote location in a private aristocratic home. The appearance of an unrecorded masterpiece by one of the most important – and avant garde – sculptors of the late Mannerist period represents an unprecedented opportunity for lovers of both old master, and modern, sculpture.