A BRONZE GROUP OF THE VIRGIN AND CHILD
THE PROPERTY OF A GENTLEMAN (LOTS 15 AND 16)
A BRONZE GROUP OF THE VIRGIN AND CHILD

ATTRIBUTED TO ANTONIO SUSINI (D.1624), CIRCA 1610-20

Details
A BRONZE GROUP OF THE VIRGIN AND CHILD
ATTRIBUTED TO ANTONIO SUSINI (D.1624), CIRCA 1610-20
Depicted holding Christ in her right arm; on an integrally cast plinth and a later rectangular ebonised stepped wood base; warm brown patina with extensive traces of a reddish gold lacquer; very minor scratches and damages
15 1/8 in. (38.4 cm.) high
Literature
COMPARATIVE LITERATURE:
W. von Bode, Die Italienische Bildwerke der Renaissance und des Barock - Bronzestatuetten, Büsten und Gebrauchsgegenstände, Berlin and Leipzig, 1930, no. 177, pl. 49.
C. Avery and K. Watson, 'Medici and Stuart: a Grand Ducal Gift of 'Giovanni Bologna' Bronzes for Henry Prince of Wales (1612)', The Burlington Magazine, CXV, August 1973, reprinted in Studies in European Sculpture, 1981, pp. 94-113.
Edinburgh, London, Vienna, Royal Scottish Museum, Victoria and Albert Museum and Kunsthistorisches Museum, Giambologna (1529-1608) - Sculptor to the Medici, 19 Aug. 1978 - 28 Jan. 1979, C. Avery and A. Radcliffe eds., no. 92, p. 137.
W. Bode, The Italian Bronze Statuettes of the Renaissance, ed. and rev. by J. Draper, New York, 1980, p. 104, pl. CLXXXIV.
C. Avery, Giambologna - The Complete Sculpture, Oxford, 1987, no. 107, pp. 196, 227-8 and 265.
Florence, Museo Nazionale del Bargello, Giambologna: gli dei, gli eroi, 2 Mar. - 15 June 2006, B. Paolozzi Strozzi and D. Zikos eds., no. 8, pp. 349 and 352.

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Lot Essay

Perhaps the most celebrated artist to have worked in bronze in the mannerist period was the Medici court sculptor Giambologna (1529-1608) and many of his most beautifully executed compositions have been attributed to his assistant Antonio Susini (died 1624). Susini is known to have worked in Giambologna's workshop from about 1580 until 1600 when he set up on his own in the via de' Pilastri and had considerable independent success. The emergence of the present group - hitherto unrecorded in any of the literature - provides a rare opportunity to study a bronze which is thought to have been designed, as well as executed, by Antonio Susini himself.

The Medicean Grand Dukes of Tuscany were among the most important patrons of the arts in the late 16th century, and Giambologna's workshop was kept busy with commissions for monumental sculpture as well as smaller bronzes which were often given as diplomatic gifts. To meet the demands placed upon him, Giambologna trained a series of assistants who assimilated his style and were able to execute bronzes from the master's models. Antonio Susini is today perhaps the best known of these assistants and the casts which were executed by him are among the most beautifully finished examples of the period.

In 1600, Susini clearly felt that he was ready to work for himself, and he left Giambologna to set up his own workshop nearby. He continued to cast bronzes from models by his former master but he was evidently also responsible for the design and casting of independent compositions. Today, it is not always easy to distinguish between the works conceived of by Susini and those by Giambologna, because Susini's style closely followed that of his master. However, occasionally signatures or specific references in existing documentation allow us to assign the authorship of a particular work to Susini himself.

This appears to be the case with the present composition of the Virgin and Child, which is known in only four other examples. These are today housed in the Bargello Museum, Florence, the Bode Museum in Berlin and the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston. A fourth cast, in gilt-bronze, is referred to in the catalogue of the Giambologna exhibition of 1978 as having been in the collection of 'A. Barker, Esq.' in the mid 19th century (loc. cit.). It is known only from photos in the archives of the Victoria and Albert Museum.

The Berlin example of the Virgin and Child was attributed to Susini by Wilhelm von Bode, on the basis of its stylistic similarity to a female figure in the signed group of the Farnese Bull from 1613 (Galleria Borghese, Rome). Bode noted that the incised eyes - as seen also on the present bronze - were typical of bronzes which could be confidently attributed to Susini (Bode, 1930, loc. cit.).

Another stylistic basis for the attribution can be drawn from the close similarity of the Christ Child in the present group and a standing figure of Christ in the Bargello. The body type, the finishing of the figure and in particular the gesture of the upraised right arm all suggest they are by the same artist. In an entry of the Inventario della Tribuna in 1619, the standing figure of Christ is described as coming from 'the hand of Susini' (cited in Giambologna: gli dei, gli eroi, op. cit., no. 4, p. 352). A cast of the small bronze figure of Christ was sold in these Rooms, 7 December 2006, lot 255.

However, the attribution of the Virgin and Child is not based on stylistic grounds alone. In 1973, Charles Avery and Katherine Watson published an article relating to the gift of a series of 'Giambologna' bronzes to Henry, Prince of Wales in 1612 (op. cit.). This gift was part of a long negotiation between the Florentine and English courts to try to arrange the marriage of the future king to Caterina de' Medici, sister of Cosimo II. The negotiations were broken off following the premature death of the prince at the age of 18.

One of the documents publised in the article was an inventory of the inheritance of Lorenzo, son of Jacopo Salviati, Marchese de Giuliano, who died on 17 July 1611. Number 974 of the inventory lists 'Una Madonna di bronzo di tonto [sic] rilievo con Il Nostro Signore in braccio con la sua basa di legno, nero, di mano di Antonio Susini e sua invenzione' ('A bronze Madonna in high relief with Our Lord in her arm with its wood base, black, from the hand of Antonio Susini and his invention'; ibid., p. 110). Other items in the inventory refer to bronzes merely executed by Susini but taken from models by Giambologna, and a single example which was both designed and executed by Giambologna. The clear reference to the fact that the Virgin and Child group was from the hand of Susini 'and his invention' is therefore an important distinction which demonstrates that the composition was Susini's own.
Further references to a Madonna by Susini exist in different Florentine archives. In the catalogue entry for the Bargello example of the Madonna and Child mentioned above (Giambologna: gli dei, gli eroi, op. cit., no. 8, p. 354) a reference is cited in the archives of the Guardaroba Medicea - the office charged with looking after the household goods of the Medici family - for a payment to Susini in February 1611 for a 'madonna di bronzo'. There is also an inventory listing in the archives of the Uffizi for a 'Madonna di bronzo di rilievo con il suo bambino in collo di mano del Susina' ('bronze Madonna in relief with her child on her shoulder [?] from the hand of Susini') in the stanza di Madama in the same year, which the authors equate with the Bargello bronze. The bronze is listed with certainty in the Uffizi Galleria inventories of 1704, 1753, 1769 and 1784. When considered together with the reference in the Salviati inventory, it seems clear that the Bargello group is the same composition as the Salviati bronze and that both are the invention of Antonio Susini.

The Bargello bronze retains the reddish gold lacquer that characterises so many Florentine bronzes of the period, and it displays some minor details not evident in any of the other extant examples of this composition. However, these details are all executed during the final finishing of the bronze after it has come out of the mould such as the engraving of the hem of the Virgin's cloak which is done to resemble an embroidered border. On the present lot, this hem is finished with two parallel lines. In terms of the actual cast, the two bronzes are almost identical, with every clump of hair or fold of drapery mirrored from one bronze to the other. There is only a slight variation in the relative positioning of the feet and the size of the block support under the Virgin's proper right foot which may account for the slight difference in height of the two bronzes. The Bargello cast is listed as having a height of 37.5 cm but this is presumably from the top of the bronze plinth which is inset into its wood pedestal. The present bronze measures 38 cm from the top of its plinth.

Despite these minor differences, the present bronze group remains a confident expression of a major sculptor working at the height of his powers. The languid contrapposto of the Virgin contrasts with the energy of her Son, who is not a baby but a young boy seemingly ready to jump out into the world he is meant to save. The exquisite detailing evident in the hair, the incised eyes, Christ's dimpled knuckles and even the cuticles of the Virgin's toe nails all suggest this hitherto unknown group was a major commission executed by Antonio Susini, one of the most important sculptors working in bronze in the early 17th century.
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