Upcoming Auctions and Events

Global notice COVID-19 Important notice
A POLYCHROME WAX RELIEF OF A PLAGUE SCENE
No VAT will be charged on the hammer price, but VA… Read more THE PROPERTY OF A LADY
A POLYCHROME WAX RELIEF OF A PLAGUE SCENE

ATTRIBUTED TO GAETANO ZUMBO (1656-1701), LATE 17TH CENTURY

Details
A POLYCHROME WAX RELIEF OF A PLAGUE SCENE
ATTRIBUTED TO GAETANO ZUMBO (1656-1701), LATE 17TH CENTURY
Depicting three dismembered and decaying bodies in a gRotto, with two cloaked bearded men in the background; in a later rectangular ebonised wood frame with glass front; repairs and restorations
6¾ x 9 3/8 in. (17.2 x 23.8 cm.) the scene; 8¼ x 11 in. (21 x 28 cm.) the frame
Literature
E. J. Pyke, A Biographical Dictionary of Wax Modellers, Oxford, 1973, pp. 162-3.

COMPARATIVE LITERATURE:
Marquis de Sade, Juliette or Vice Amply Rewarded, abridged from the translation by Pieralessandro Casavini, London, 1966, pp. 238-9.
G. Pratesi, Repertorio della Scultura Fiorentina del Seicento e Settecento, Turin, 1993, III, nos. 709-716.

Special notice

No VAT will be charged on the hammer price, but VAT at 15% will be added to the buyer's premium which is invoiced on a VAT inclusive basis.

Lot Essay

Although his artistic career was extremely short-lived, Gaetano Zumbo was arguably one of the finest wax modellers active in the second half of the 17th century. Born to noble parents in Syracuse, Sicily, he took up art after a long period of self-criticism and self-tuition. He made his debut as an artist in Bologna in 1691 and was soon after taken into the service of Cosimo III, Grand Duke of Tuscany. By 1695 Zumbo left Florence for Bologna, and then went on to Genoa where he entered into partnership with Guillaume Desnoues, a French surgeon, for whom he made exact models in coloured wax of the human anatomy to assist medical studies. His collaboration with Desnoues was, again, short-lived and by 1700 he had moved to Paris and obtained a royal privilege for the manufacture of anatomical preparations in coloured wax. He died in Paris in 1701.

Zumbo's work demonstrates a rigorous and scientific observation of the various stages of decomposition of the human body and, essentially, the inevitable decay of human beauty and power. The present lot, which is identified by Pyke (loc. cit.) as C.68 in Zumbo's oeuvre, is extremely comparable to Zumbo's other documented works (see Pratesi, loc. cit.) in terms of style, composition and details, and combines formidable realism with almost romantic images of young, well developed, bodies comdemned to the vilest metamorphoses. The Marquis de Sade's first impressions upon seeing Zumbo's work are as follows:

'So powerful is the impression produced by this masterpiece that even as you gaze at it your other senses are played upon, moans audible, you wrinkle your nose as if you could detect the evil odours of mortality… These scenes of the plague appealed to my cruel imagination: and I mused, how many persons had undergone these awful metamorphoses thanks to my wickedness?' (Sade, op. cit.).

More from Important European Furniture, Sculpture and Tapestries Including Reflected Glory: A Private Collection of Magnificent Mirrors

View All
View All