The Rape of a Sabine Woman offered here belongs to a small group of bronzes modelled, cast, and finished in a similar way: those in the Bayerisches Nationalmuseum, Munich (inv. 52/118, published in Weihrauch 1956, pp. 84-87, cat. 110); with Mr. and Mrs. J. Tomilson Hill, New York (Kryza-Gersch, in Wengraf 2014, pp. 148-155, cat. 9); in the Liechtenstein Princely collections, Vaduz-Vienna (inv. SK 115, Draper, in: Frankfurt 1986, p. 177, cat. 16); and in a private collection. Among these, it is the only one bearing an inscription with Giambologna’s name. Because its technical features and artistic quality are consistent with bronzes known or likely to have been produced under Giambologna’s supervision, this inscription amounts to a signature.
Bronze groups representing the Rape of a Sabine Woman with three figures are not documented in Giambologna’s lifetime. However, a cast described in the inventory of the Kunstkammer of Emperor Rudolph II (1552-1612, r. 1576) as ‘a group after the one Giovan Bologna made in Florence of white marble, being three figures of bronze, is a Rape of a Sabine’ (‘Ein gruppo nach dem Giovan Bolonia so er zu Florentz von weissem marmo gemacht, sein 3 figurn von bronzo, ist ein rabimento Sabine’; Bauer/Haupt 1976, p. 101, no. 1907) must have been an autograph work. Rudolph probably knew Giambologna personally. He knighted him on 26 August 1588 (Desjardins 1883, App. E 172-174), and according to the above-mentioned inventory, which was drawn up between 1607 and 1611, he had what must have been the largest collection of Giambologna bronzes that anyone had assembled while the sculptor was still alive.
Another cast that must date from Giambologna’s lifetime is a Rape of a Sabine Woman documented as belonging to Markus Zäch (d. 1620) in Augsburg in 1610 as part of a group of Giambologna bronzes, described as ‘opere del Gio. Bologna’ (‘works by Giovanni Bologna’). As suggested by the author in 2006, these casts must have been acquired by Markus’s father Sebastian Zäch in Italy in the 1590s directly from the artist (Zikos 2006, pp. 24-25): on 29 October 1592 Giambologna signed the Liber Amicorum that Sebastian kept during his stay in Florence and Pisa, citing the ‘longa amitie’ that united him to Sebastian. Sebastian died in 1598 (Diemer 2006, p. 116), so his collection of Giambologna bronzes must have been assembled before that date. What remains of it is divided between the collections of the Count von Schönborn (small bronzes, published in part by Hans R. Weihrauch and Corey Keeble) and the Bayerisches Nationalmuseum, Munich (six reliefs with scenes from the Passion of Christ; Diemer 2006, pp. 115-119). All these bronzes, including a cast of the Rape of a Sabine, passed to the Schönborn family in the seventeenth century when they were acquired from Zäch’s heirs. At an unknown date the Passion reliefs were sold by the Schönborn to a branch of the Wittelsbach family and are documented in the 1730 inventory of Johann Wilhelm, the Elector Palatine (Diemer 2006, p. 118). A series of technical and stylistic elements, discussed below, suggests that the lost Zäch/Schönborn cast of the Rape of a Sabine Woman could very well be the present bronze.
THE MARBLE RAPE OF A SABINE WOMAN
As mentioned above, the Rape is described in the inventory of the Emperor’s Kunstkammer as a copy after a famous Giambologna marble group, the Rape of a Sabine in the Loggia dei Lanzi in the Piazza della Signoria, Florence – the iconic Mannerist sculpture. Nothing is known about the commission of the marble but according to a letter of 27 October 1580 by Simone Fortuna to the Duke of Urbino (Barocchi/Bertelà 1993 pp. 180-183, no. 196), Giambologna was then at work on a marble group of three statues (‘un gruppo di tre statue’) soon to be finished and destined for the Loggia dei Pisani, a loggia that once stood opposite the Palazzo Vecchio in the Piazza della Signoria. Because it is Giambologna’s only marble composed of three figures, and because of its destination for a loggia in the same piazza where it was finally placed, this must have been the Rape of a Sabine Woman (Kryza-Gersch, in Wengraf 2014, pp. 150-151, with references to earlier literature). The marble was finished, apart from the ‘ultima mano’, by 30 July 1582, when Donatallo’s Judith was removed from where it had stood under the right-hand side arch of the Loggia dei Lanzi and replaced, on 28 August, by the ‘miracoloso gruppo’ of Giambologna’s Rape of a Sabine (Settimani, in Dhanens 1956, p. 235, note 1). It was, however, covered for Giambologna to add the finishing touches ‘a suo piacere senza essere veduto da nessuno’ (‘at his leisure, without being seen by anyone’), as the diarist Settimani reports for that date. Its unveiling took place on 14 January 1583 and caused a stir of emotion and excitement.
Raffaello Borghini, Giambologna’s second biographer after Giorgio Vasari, tells us that the sculptor had not chosen to represent a specific subject matter from the start but only ‘un giovane fiero che bellissima fanciulla a debil vecchio rapisse’ (‘a proud youth who seizes a most beautiful maiden from a feeble old man’; Borghini 1584, p. 73). The marble must have been a Grand Ducal commission (perhaps initially destined for the garden of the Medici villa of Pratolino, as Herbert Keutner has suggested) but somewhat after the date of Fortuna’s above-cited letter Grand Duke Francesco decided to have it placed in the Loggia dei Lanzi. There it cannot be easily appreciated for it was conceived to be observed in a succession of viewpoints by moving constantly around it, and it is impossible to do that where it now stands. Nevertheless it enjoyed a great reputation, and it is natural that copies of it would have been required. Among those who expressed such a desire was Henry, Prince of Wales, who asked in 1609, a year after Giambologna’s death, for a stucco reduction (Watson/Avery 1973, p. 498).
However, neither the present bronze group nor any of the above-listed casts are a slavish copy after this work. There are minor compositional variations including, in particular, the base. Most important, in the bronzes the Sabine Woman does not betray the anguish Giambologna conferred to her in the marble (Kryza-Gersch, in Wengraf 2014, p. 154). Moreover, she does not wear a diadem, as she does in all five bronzes.
Another small difference between the marble and the bronzes is worth mentioning. It would appear that the marble is the first Giambologna large-scale work where iris and pupil are inscribed in a figure, the Sabine Woman (Zikos 2013, p. 196, note 17). The eyes of the Roman who abducts her and of the old Crouching Man are left blank. But in the bronzes the eyes of all three figures are shown with iris and pupil – a feature common to all bronzetti known or assumed to have been made in Giambologna’s workshop after 1587, when four Giambologna bronzes were sent to Dresden as a gift by Grand Duke Francesco and by Giambologna himself to Christian, Elector of Saxony (Zikos 2006 Dresden).
Whether the model for the bronzes preceded the large-scale model for the marble group or follows its unveiling, is impossible to ascertain. But if the latter were the case, we would expect the bronzes to be faithful to the marble. So it is likely that the bronzes depend from one of the many models that Giambologna must have made before preparing the full-size model that served for carving the marble (preserved today in the Galleria dell’Accademia, Florence). The use of the same diadem in a two-figure Rape, documented by 1579, favours such an assumption. Two waxes in the Victoria & Albert Museum (inv. nos. 4125 and 1092-1854) testify to this laborious phase of preparation, but neither served as a model for the bronzes. Certainly, the bronzes reflect the marble’s fame and would have been cast after its unveiling, but they do not copy it precisely. Nor does any other bronze statuette from Giambologna’s workshop.
The facture of the cast suggests a date after 1584, at which point Giambologna is known to have produced at least one bronze by the indirect casting process: it is, in fact, consistent with that of the Giambologna bronzes so far analysed, the oldest of which is the Bargello Crouching Venus of 1584 (inv. 62B; Sturman 2001, p. 126).
Inspection of the underside and X-rays both show that the group has been expertly cast: its walls are evenly thin, and since great care has been taken to empty it of its casting core, it is light and easy to handle. There are only five noticeable holes: between the Roman’s right leg and the torso of the Crouching Sabine Man, under the right knee of the Roman, at the right temple and the right foot of the Old Man and to the right side of the neck of the Sabine Woman. No other flaws or repairs are visible either to the naked eye or in the X-ray. X-rays also reveal wax to wax joins in the arms of the Sabine Woman and the Old Man. This is consistent with documented Giambologna bronzes.
Extensive wire brushing follows the plasticity of the bodies in a manner typical of bronzes from the Giambologna workshop. The colour of the alloy is yellow, perhaps because of a relatively low copper content and higher amount of tin indicated by XRF analysis. Substantial traces of an original reddish varnish are preserved – a typically Florentine varnish we know was used by Giambologna’s assistant, Antonio Susini, in 1586 (Heikamp 1963, p. 245, docs. 5 and 6). Traces of a reddish core, consistent with that found in Giambologna bronzes are also preserved.
Details are modelled in the wax in a way typical of Giambologna, especially the eyes with iris and pupil, eyelids (upper eyelids longer than lower) and tear duct. The backs of the two men’s hands, forearms, and feet are covered with veins indicating the strain of the lifting Roman and the force the Old Sabine Man requires to remain in his position.
Fingernail and toenails, designed in an almost square shape in the wax-casting model, are again a typical hallmark of a Giambologna bronze. Dividing lines are engraved between the different bodies, the body of the Crouching Old Man and the base; and to indicate body folds, as between the upper and lower legs of the Old Man and between his back and upper right arm. Such extensive cold work is a key element of any Giambologna bronze, as is attested to by the 1580 Fortuna letter, according to which ‘la maggiore spesa è nella pulitura, nella quale va tempo et grandissima diligenza’ (‘the greatest expenditure is in the cleaning, which requires time and the greatest diligence’; ibid. Dhanens p. 346).
THE DATE AND THE MAKER OF THE CAST
Although there can be no doubt that the bronze was made under Giambologna’s supervision, it is more difficult to suggest a date. The detail of the eyes with iris and pupil points to a date after 1587, after, that is, the bronzes given to the Elector of Saxony.
Until recently it was widely thought that only Antonio Susini was responsible for casts in Giambologna’s workshop. But, as suggested by the author in 2013, there is no evidence for this in contemporary documents (Zikos 2013). Susini was an expert assistant to Giambologna for preparing large- or small-scale casts from around 1580 to 1605, in which year the old master suggested that the best works that could be had from his hand were bronzes after his own models made by Susini. But Susini is first documented as having produced such works only in 1598, 1599, and 1601, when he gave Giambologna models to cast in the foundry of fra Domenico Portigiani. Only after Giambologna’s death did he open a foundry of his own where he continued to produce his late teacher’s models.
Another expert chiseller in Giambologna’s service was Felice Trabellesi, described in 1588 as the best man in Florence for casting and chiselling bronzes after Giambologna models (Zikos 2013, p. 198). Although Filippo Baldinucci, Susini’s biographer, claims that Trabellesi was Susini’s teacher, it is more likely that they were the same age, as both entered the Florentine Accademia del Disegno in 1589.
It is impossible to say unequivocally that the present bronze was finished by Trabellesi. But, compared to the other four, it is the only one that shows a strength in modelling that distinguishes it both from the cast in Munich (which is the most subtle and must therefore be the latest of all) and from those in the private, the Hill, and the Liechtenstein collections. These latter four are all consistent in the definition of the surface. If we need a name for the Giambologna assistant who helped to produce this bronze, then Traballesi is therefore the most likely candidate. The fine differences between our bronze and the others of the group are evinced by a precise comparison between them, which has also proved that they all depend from the same model, since they all have the same internal measurements.
The inscription ‘GIO BOLONGE’ appears on two other Giambologna bronzes of exquisite quality but different finishing: the Astronomy in the Kunstkammer of the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna (inv. KK5893) and the Architecture in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (inv. 40.23). The three inscriptions are not identical. Exact comparison of that on the present bronze and on the Boston Architecture shows, for instance, that they have a different length, that the space between the two words varies, and that the height of the letters is not the same. The technical examination of the inscription on the Rape by Rupert Harris suggests it was present on the wax casting model. The same seems to have been the case with that on the Boston Architecture, which was examined for the purpose of this paper thanks to the kindness of Marietta Cambareri and Abigail Hykin. Since these two inscriptions were thus likely part of the wax casting model and since the facture and quality of the two bronzes are consistent with the high level of Giambologna’s bronzes, they should be read as indicating that the bronzes are by him. This applies also to the Vienna Astronomy. Although its primacy has been recently challenged (Kryza-Gersch, in Wengraf 2014, pp. 113-116), it is impossible not to admit that it is one of the finest casts associated with the name of the great Flemish sculptor. Certainly, the autography suggested by the inscriptions ‘GIO BOLONGE’ is of a different kind from that implied by Giambologna’s signatures on his early bronzetti – e.g. the Rape of Deianira in The Huntington, San Marino, California, or the Crouching Venus in the Museo Nazionale del Bargello, Florence. As his commissions grew, Giambologna delegated the production of small bronzes but they were still produced under his supervision and authorised by him. And even for the two above-mentioned early bronzes, where the amount of cold work is inferior to that of later casts, it would be hard to imagine that Giambologna himself would have done the casting or the chiselling. Moreover, Giambologna himself abbreviated his Christian name to ‘Gio’ in many of his autograph letters (Dhanens 1956, pp. 329-372). The surname ‘BOLONGE’, although present on the two other bronzes mentioned, does not appear in written documents recorded to date.
THE ZÄCH RAPE?
The present cast compares well in every way with the Zäch-Schönborn reliefs in the Bayerisches Nationalmuseum. The tooling of the surface in the relief of the Carrying of the Cross there is very similar to that on the base of the present Rape and again totally different from the thinner and more refined one on the Munich Rape of a Sabine. Another aspect strengthens the similarities between the Passion reliefs and the present bronze: the colour of the alloy and of the varnish are entirely consistent. A bronze group of the Rape of a Sabine is among the bronzes which were acquired from the heirs of Markus Zäch by the Schönborn family in 1660, although at some subsequent date it left the Schönborn collection. It is therefore likely that this is the lost Zäch Rape, which must have been acquired by Markus Zäch in Italy in the 1590s, when it would have been made.
X-rays and an XRF analysis of the composition of the alloy have been carried out and are available upon request.
A thermoluminescence report from Oxford Authentication Ltd stating that the bronze core was last fired between 300 and 500 years ago is also available upon request.