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BY PIETRO PAOLO OLIVIERI (1551-1599), CIRCA 1580-1590

BY PIETRO PAOLO OLIVIERI (1551-1599), CIRCA 1580-1590
Depicted chained to rockwork and with a monkfish and crab opening a shellfish at her feet, signed on the base P . PAVLI . OLIVIERII . OPVS
63 in. (160 cm.) high
Ciriaco Mattei (died 1614), Villa Mattei, Rome, 1580s.
Thence by descent in the Mattei family until at least 1752 (although probably at the Villa Mattei until the 1770s).
Anonymous Sale; Finarte, Rome, 20 November, 1985, lot 267.
Anonymous Sale; Sotheby's, New York, 23 November, 1987, lot 44 (when the Mattei provenance was unknown).

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Lot Essay

February the 13th, we went through the Amphitheater, and so up through the Garden of the Prince Matheus…we…arrived at another little house [Casino di S. Sisto], where we saw…also an Andromeda, chaind to a Rocke, so sweet and Beautiful, that it seems to be very picture of Beauty.

So wrote Francis Mortoft in 1659 in his …Travels through France and Italy: 1658-1659. From Antiquity through to the 20th century, Andromeda, chained to a rock to be sacrificed to a sea monster but saved by Perseus, has been a thrilling and seductive subject for sculpture. In a city crowded with both Ancient and ‘Modern’ sculpture, Pietro Paolo Olivieri’s ravishingly beautiful, life-size marble sculpture of Andromeda, originally at the Villa Mattei, was once on everyone’s list of Roman marvels to see. Ciriaco Mattei’s gardens were among the most famous in Italy and his sculpture collection was the focal-point of the gardens. And of the sculpture, Andromeda was one of the most celebrated pieces. The gardens were not only a destination for Italians – Romans, in particular, of course – but also for the Grand Tourists coming to the Eternal City from all over Europe. English, French, Dutch and German visitors all remarked on the beauty and artistry of the Mattei gardens and its collections. Andromeda is first recorded by a visitor to the Villa Mattei in 1599 and for the next 150 years she impressed visitors and was commented-on constantly. However, by the late 18th century, all mentions of her cease. A 1779 publication that lists other sculpture at the Villa Mattei does not include Andromeda. She had vanished. Now, over 400 years after she was created by Olivieri -- and 264 years after she was last recorded at the Mattei Villa -- a long-lost Renaissance masterpiece is revealed.

Originally part of the Baths of Caracalla, by the time the Mattei family purchased the land in 1553, the landscape had been turned into vineyards. But it wasn’t until the 1580’s, after Ciriaco Mattei took over the property, that the farmland was turned into a celebrated garden with a ‘country’ villa. Although documentary evidence for the purchase or restoration of sculptures for the Villa Mattei garden only begins from 1595 onwards, it is probable that Ciriaco’s decoration program had already begun earlier, with the arrangement of the ‘Theatre’, which included the erection in 1587 of the Capitoline obelisk, which has been given five years earlier by the Municipality of Rome to Mattei (F. Cappelletti, L. Testa, Il trattenimento dei virtuosi. Le collezioni secentesche di quadri nei Palazzi Mattei di Roma, Roma 1994, pp. 137-141). For this project, Mattei engaged some of the most important contemporary sculptors working in late-Renaissance Rome, all of whom were working on the various private and public projects under both Pope Sixtus V (1585-1590) and Pope Clement VIII (1592-1605). Mattei’s inventories record payments to the Flemish sculptors Egidio della Riviera (Gilles van Vliete), Nicolò Pippi d’Arras (Nicolas Mostaert) and Pierre de la Motte-Lombard, the Ticino sculptors Silla Longhi and Giovanni Antonio Valsoldo, the Florentines were represented by Francesco Landini del Gagliardo and Pompeo Ferrucci, the Neapolitans by Francesco Vannelli and the Romans by Alessandro Rondone and Flaminio Vacca. In later work, finished before Ciriaco’s death in 1614, additional sculptors as Pietro Bernini, father of Gian Lorenzo, and Egidio Moretti, Angelo Landini and Cristoforo Stati would also all be engaged. Amazingly, the gardens have survived – though stripped of most of the sculpture – and can still be visited to this day. The Villa Mattei, also remains intact and is now known as the Villa Celimontana and houses the Società Geografica Italiana.

It was a dazzling roster of artists working for Mattei. In addition to the sculptors mentioned above, Ciriaco was an important patron of Caravaggio and owned some of his most iconic pictures. There exists a Portait of a Gentleman, attributed to Caravaggio and dated to 1604-1605, that has been suggested depicts a patron of Caravaggio and could possibly be Ciriaco Mattei himself (private collection, New York, M. Gregori, A new portrait of Caravaggio, in ‘Comparison. Art’, 49, 1998 (1999), S. III, 21, pp. 3-14). There is another possible depiction of Ciriaco Mattei in an engraving of 1601. Titled Baruffa, and dedicated to Ciriaco by the artist Francesco Villamena, it depicts Ciriaco's cook, Bruttobuono, who died during a politically-motivated stone-throwing melee which occurred right below the Villa Mattei. Hidden among the brawling commoners – with angry faces and ragged clothes -- there is a gentleman with a mustache, hat and ruff and with a handkerchief in his left hand. The difference in rank is striking and the inclusion of this gentleman, together with the dedication to Ciriaco (and the apology by the artist in the inscription for the low subject matter), might suggest that the 57-year-old Ciriaco was indeed depicted.

It was into this exalted artistic atmosphere and high-profile project that Olivieri was introduced. However, Ciriaco Mattei’s relationship with Olivieri goes back much further than the 1590’s. Olivieri and Mattei would have met as early as 1576, when the twenty-five year old sculptor took part in the competition for statues of Popes Gregory XIII and Sixtus V at the Capitol. Ciriaco, as ‘Deputato per le Fabbriche Capitoline’, together with his cousin Muzio Mattei, was supervising the completion of the Campidoglio, started by Michelangelo, and still unfinished at Buonarroti’s death. The Mattei’s awarded Olivieri with the commission of Gregory. It was finished the following year and inaugurated with great ceremony on May 25th in the Palazzo Senatorio: on the base was inscribed the signature P. Pauli Oliveri opus (V. Forcella, Iscrizioni delle chiese e d'altri edificii di Roma dal secolo XI fino ai giorni nostri. Vol. I, Roma 1869, p. 39, n. 62; R. Lanciani, Il Codice barberiniano XXX, 89 contenente frammenti di una descrizione di Roma del secolo XVI, in Archivio della Società Romana di Storia Patria, 6, 1883, c. 500). The relationship between Olivieri and the Mattei family quickly became even closer and Olivieri’s profile increased correspondingly. At the end of the 1570’s, Olivieri was accepted into the most important artists’ associations of that time, the University of Marmorari, the ‘Compagnia’ of San Giuseppe di Terrasanta and, finally, the Academy of San Luca, among whose protectors was Asdrubale Mattei, Ciriaco’s younger brother (V. Tiberia, La Compagnia di S. Giuseppe di Terrasanta nel XVI secolo, Marina Franca 2000, p. 149 and R. Barbiellini Amidei, Pietro Paolo Olivieri, in M.L. Madonna (ed.), Roma di Sisto V. Le arti e la cultura, Roma 1993, p. 561). In 1584, Olivieri received another, even more important, public commission, also through the support of Ciriaco Mattei, the tomb of Pope Gregory XI. The work had been discussed in the July 23rd session of the ‘secret’ council of the Conservatori, in which Ciriaco Mattei participated, and the commission was approved three days later in a public session, with his cousin Muzio Mattei also present. In the August 31st assembly, the project was approved, with the sum of 1000 scudi, and commission was officially entrusted to Olivieri (Ibid. pp. 413-414). The work, then placed in Santa Maria Nova (now Santa Francesca Romana), is a wall tomb with a central ‘altarpiece’, depicting the return to Rome of the Pope and the papal court from Avignon; at the sides, within two niches, are located the statues of Faith and Hope. The ‘altarpiece’ is prominently signed, in an inscription on the ruins of an ancient monument at the right end side of the composition, Petri Pauli Oliverii Opus; in the dedicatory inscription placed on the pedestal of the tomb, between the coat of arms of the Municipality of Rome, appears the name of Cyriaco Matthæio, among the Conservatori of the City.

Another important link to the Mattei family was the commission and construction of the iconic Roman Quattro Fontane -- built under the direction of Ciriaco’s cousin Muzio – with much of the stone being donated by Pope Sixtus V in 1589. And, despite the lack of direct evidence linking Olivieri to the Quattro Fontane (although there are multiple records of payments from Mattei to Olivieri in 1590 and 1591 for other municipal projects including fountains), considering the close relationship with the Mattei family, we can assume that Olivieri participated in the construction of the fountains, even if today it is difficult to identify precisely signs of Olivieri’s own hand.

The presence of Olivieri in the gardens of the Villa Mattei is confirmed by documents that reveal that the sculptor had prepared an estimate, between August 1597 and January 1598, regarding the monumental decoration work of the ‘Theatre’, the area of the Villa south of the principal casino where, in 1587, the obelisk donated to Ciriaco Mattei in 1582 by the Conservatori of Rome had been erected (E. Schröter, Der Kolossalkopf "Alexander des Großen" im Cortile della Pigna und andere Antiken der Villa Mattei im Vatikan, in Bruckmanns Pantheon, 51, 1993, p. 111). It is also possible – and even likely – that Olivieri played an important role in the arrangement of the collection of antiquities in the garden and inside the Villa. Ciriaco Mattei, who was aware of the sculptor’s skills thanks to his municipal commissions, was also looking for an artist with other skills to act as an advisor and curator. So, perhaps starting from 1597 the Roman sculptor, was responsible for the placement and exhibition of the collection, and he could also have played a role in advising Ciriaco on the enormous number of ancient and ‘modern’ works he purchased. In fact, from July 1595, Mattei’s acquisitions accelerated greatly and his collections were additionally augmented by pieces discovered in excavations for the garden and Villa construction.

The first mention of Pietro Paolo Olivieri’s Andromeda in Ciriaco Mattei’s garden was in 1599, as noted above, when the German architect Heinrich Schickhardt, traveling in Italy on behalf of the Duke of Württemberg, Frederick I, noticed Andromeda in the ‘Loggia di San Sisto’ (H. Schickhardt, Beschreibung einer Reiss, welche der Durchleuchtig Hochgeborne Fürst und Herr, Herr Friedrich ... im Jahr 1599 ... auß dem Landt zu Würtemberg in Italiam gethan..., Mömpelgard 1602, pp. 30v-31r). Actually Schickhardt refers to ‘a snow white marble Cleopatra, all naked, chained up’, that he describes as ‘realized with delicacy and artistic talent’. This confusion of Andromeda with Cleopatra will not be corrected in the next two printed editions (1603 and 1604), where there is only a generic identification of the depicted character (‘Cleopatra, completely naked’). Proof that Schickhardt refers to the Andromeda is supported both by the inclusion of the ‘chain’, not included in Cleopatra’s usual iconography, and by the fact that in the following inventories and in many traveling testimonies, Andromeda is always described as ‘tied to a rock'. Interestingly, Olivieri had, in fact, sculpted and signed a Cleopatra in 1574 that, despite the noteworthy stylistic resemblances, provides unequivocal attributes to identify the character so they were clearly not being confused by visitors. The first source that actually attributes Andromeda to Pietro Paolo Olivieri is Richard Lassels’ travel diary of 1654 as he mentions he has seen: ‘the incomparable statue of Andromeda exposed to the Sea monster, it’s of pure white marble and of the hand of Oliviero[sic.]’ (R. Lassels, The Voyage of Italy, or a Compleat Journey through Italy. The Second Parts…, Paris 1670, pp. 119-120).

With the link between Pietro Paolo Olivieri and Ciriaco Mattei and his family now firmly established, the next question is, perhaps, how did Andromeda arrive there? Was it commissioned by Mattei from Olivieri – who died in 1599 the year it was first recorded at the Mattei Villa – or was it already finished by Olivieri and then purchased by Mattei either from Olivieri himself or from an intermediary? The more likely – and more interesting theory – is that it was a direct commission by Ciriaco Mattei, with precise iconographic instructions and designed specifically for the gardens at the Villa Mattei. Olivieri’s Andromeda is closely linked to his Cleopatra, signed and dated 1574, now at the Palazzo Corsini and mentioned above (E. Borsellino, Una nuova acquisizione sulla collezione Corsini: la ‘Cleopatra’ di Pietro Paolo Olivieri, in Paragone, 17, 1989, pp. 3-14). Both Olivieri’s Andromeda and Cleopatra are very similar and, with their strong Antiquarian positions, are clearly influenced by the Antique Medici Venus which had been on view in Rome since 1576. Olivieri’s Cleopatra is full of symbolic elements such as the crown and the asp, typical attributes of the queen of Egypt, and, on the base, a crocodile appears in the flowing waters of a river that pours out from the Earth, beneath Africa, with obvious reference to the Nile. Further clarity to the subject is given with the inscription on the base: ‘Reginæ regum filiorum / regum Cleopatræ’. With Olivieri’s Andromeda, however, the allegorical symbols are more subtle and, perhaps, more personal, that link Olivieri to Ciriaco Mattei. The creatures at the feet of Andromeda, the monkfish and the crab with an oyster in its claws, are emblems of moral and behavioral concepts, rather than the more obvious attributes of Cleopatra. Another link between Olivieri and Mattei is, literally Andromeda’s chain – which relates closely to the chain depicted on the city gate in Olivieri’s funerary monument to Pope Gregory XI of 1584 – a project also supported by Ciriaco Mattei. Another work by Olivieri from late 1580’s, an oval relief of Saint John the Baptist in the Desert dedicated to Carl Emanuele I, Duke of Savoy, now in the Palazzo Madama, Turin also relates closely to Andromeda not only because the details of the fishing crab and other animals are depicted as carefully as they are with Andromeda, but ‘the steep and levitating construction of the rocks’ appears similar to the rocks of the cliff where the unfortunate Andromeda is chained. (L. Principi, Un rilievo di Pietro Paolo Olivieri con la Creazione di Eva e appunti sul leonardismo a Roma alla fine del Cinquecento, in ‘Commentari d’arte. Rivista di critica e storia dell’arte’, 58-59, 2014, pp. 61-62, but L. Mallé (Le sculture del Museo d’Arte Antica. Catalogo, Torino 1965, pp. 209-210, dates it to around 1590). So, based on some of the comparisons above, these details lead us to suppose Andromeda might date from the second half of the 1580’s.

Andromeda’s story is immortalized in Ovid’s Metamorphoses (Ov., Met., IV, 663-752). Perseus arrives and, ‘enchanted by the sight of so much beauty’, decides to save her. The young virgin, silent and shy, turns modestly towards the hero only after his repeated insistence in asking her the reason for that cruel punishment and, weeping, she tells him that she has been sacrificed by her parents in the hopes that their Kingdom of Ethiopia will be spared from the ravages of the sea monster. The sea monster then emerges to devour her, but is defeated by Perseus. Andromeda’s head, defenseless and tilted backwards, is evidently facing towards Perseus’ appearance on his winged horse, almost in an imploring attitude. However, despite the sinuous nudity, of which there is no trace in the Ovidian original, the figure expresses a modest, calm and, aristocratic attitude, revealing her royal status also stressed by the pearl necklace and pearl strands in woven into her hair.

There are, however, considerable differences with both the Ancient and 16th century translations. Contemporary iconography tended to favor the horrific and savage quality of the scene and Andromeda was frequently represented with hair down and often windblown, unlike Olivieri’s Andromeda with her complex and elegant hairstyle. Most contemporary sculptors depicted Andromeda disheveled not only to honor the literary sources, but also, perhaps, to add further drama. Two of these more emotional versions of Andromeda were done by contemporaries of Olivieri, Egidio delle Riviera (Gilles van den Vliete) and Pietro Bernini, both of whom worked on sculpture at the Villa Mattei (the former sold Sotheby’s, London, 8 July, 2005, lot 75 and the latter in the collection of the Accademia Carrara, Bergamo).

The composure of Olivieri’s Andromeda is extremely unusual and makes his version perhaps unique. At present, there appears to be only one previous or even similar example: a plaster relief located in the ‘intrados’ of the north-eastern gate in the oval court of the Casino of Pius IV in the Vatican Garden where Andromeda, is depicted ‘composedly’ tied to a rock, her hair tied back and reclining her face left towards Perseus. Designed by Pirro Ligorio between 1560 and 1563, and created by Giovanni Antonio Dosio starting in 1561, it may have influenced Olivieri as Dosio collaborated with Guglielmo Della Porta, the master of Olivieri.

There are probably multiple iconographic layers to Olivieri’s Andromeda, representing both the stoic ideal of enduring pain and maintaining dignity in the face of an unjust and fatal destiny, at the same time as a more Christian attitude, the hope for mercy, and the arrival of a savior (Natalis Comitis Mythologiæ sive explicationum fabularum libri decem, Venetiis, 1581, pp. 615-616). The allegorical meaning of the sculpture is further enhanced, and complicated by, the marine life at the feet of Andromeda, the monkfish and the crab, with its claw opening a shell or oyster. Surely these two creatures represent more than just the fact that Andromeda is at the edge of the sea? The monstrously ugly monkfish has traditionally had several allegorical meanings. Some negative, influenced by its hiding in the mud to attract prey, but others positive, such as being the symbol of industry, alluding to men, who with their labor and commitment, earn the necessities of life such as nourishment (P. Bellonii Cenomani, De aquatilibus, libri duo. Cum eiconibus ad vivam ipsorum effigiem ... expressis, Parisiis 1553, pp. 85-88). The crab preying on the shellfish also has traditionally had multiple meanings – and, like the monkfish, not all of them attractive – but here it is probably a positive attribute as, according to the Henri du Four (Henricus Farnesius) the image of the crab preying on the oyster – using a pebble to hold open the bi-valve in order to reach the interior -- could be described as ‘not by force but with art’ in reference to using educated principles to govern people not with terror but fairly and justly (H. Farnesius Heburonius, Diphtera Iovis, sive de antiqua principis gloria ...: Libri III, Milano 1607, pp. 85-86).

How might these allegorical symbols have been specifically linked to Ciriaco Mattei? It is difficult to answer since, as mentioned earlier, the statue could have been commissioned for another patron and then purchased by Ciriaco so therefore its symbolic meaning would not be connected to Mattei. However, given the cultural educations and sensitivities of both Mattei and Olivieri, it seems very likely there is a connection.

The creation of the gardens at the Villa Mattei was Ciriaco Mattei’s life work – and his greatest contribution as a true Renaissance Prince. The cost was absolutely staggering. Four years before Ciriaco died in 1614, 60,000 scudi had, to date, been spent on the gardens. It is interesting to note, for example, that in 1602 Mattei commissioned Caravaggio’s Supper at Emmaus (now National Gallery, London) and the painter was paid 150 scudi (F. Cappelletti, L. Testa 1994, op. cit., p. 139). It is clear from both his actions and words that Ciriaco intended the gardens to be his legacy. As Ciriaco dictated to the notary Ottavio Capogalli on July 26th, 1610: [the garden] ’…arranged in the good state in which it is now… was of great comfort and amusement and prestige for my family, being daily visited not only by celebrities and people of Rome but also by commendable and famous foreigners, and this is said without ostentation and vanity but only for love of the truth and to encourage my posterity to preserve it’ (R. Lanciani, Storia degli scavi di Roma e notizie intorno alle collezioni romane di antichità, Volume terzo, Roma 1908, pp. 83-86, and L. Guerrini (ed.), Palazzo Mattei di Giove. Le antichità, Roma 1982, pp. 57-59). The transformation was a triumph of artistry, engineering, sheer will and extravagance. The vineyard on the Celio Hill, which after his wife Claudia Mattei inherited the land from her father in 1566 was described as ‘half-abandoned and uncultivated…’ had been transformed into one of the most celebrated sites in Italy. (C. Benocci, L'ideazione e la realizzazione della villa Mattei al Celio tra Cinquecento e Seicento: l'interpretazione dei documenti (II parte), in Studi romani, 54, 2006 (2009), 3-4, p. 99).

It has been suggested that there was a parallel quest between Ciriaco Mattei and Perseus, Andromeda’s mythical champion. Ciriaco rescued the landscape – the sad and abandoned vineyards – and turned it into a place of cultivation and beauty much like Perseus saved the young princess Andromeda from certain death. Impossible to prove, of course, but Ciriaco-as-Perseus is an appealing image. But whatever Mattei’s motivations, Andromeda clearly was intended for center-stage in his gardens and now, for the first time in more than 250 years, her grand provenance is re-established and she can be properly appreciated once again.

Christie’s would like thank Dr. Alessandro Cremona, Curator and Art Historian, Superintendency of the City of Rome, for his invaluable contribution to this catalogue entry. His archival research and additional writing on Andromeda and the Mattei family collections have been essential to linking Andromeda to both Ciriaco Mattei and to the gardens of the Villa Mattei and to placing Andromeda within the larger context of late-16th century Rome. Andromeda will be further discussed in Dr. Cremona’s forthcoming article on the sculpture in the Villa Mattei.

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