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A PAIR OF GILT-BRONZE-MOUNTED CARVED MARBLE BUSTS OF A MALE AND FEMALE MOOR
A PAIR OF GILT-BRONZE-MOUNTED CARVED MARBLE BUSTS OF A MALE AND FEMALE MOOR
A PAIR OF GILT-BRONZE-MOUNTED CARVED MARBLE BUSTS OF A MALE AND FEMALE MOOR
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WORKS OF ART FROM THE COLLECTION OF GREGORY DE LIGNE GREGORY (D. 1854) AT HARLAXTON MANOR (LOTS 7 - 11)
A PAIR OF GILT-BRONZE-MOUNTED CARVED MARBLE BUSTS OF A MALE AND FEMALE MOOR

ITALIAN, PROBABLY VENETIAN, SECOND HALF 17TH CENTURY

Details
A PAIR OF GILT-BRONZE-MOUNTED CARVED MARBLE BUSTS OF A MALE AND FEMALE MOOR
ITALIAN, PROBABLY VENETIAN, SECOND HALF 17TH CENTURY
Carved from black, white and coloured marbles; the turban of each head removeable and the inlaid eyes inset from the reverse; each on a square black marble socle; minor damages and restorations
34¼ and 32¾ in. (87 and 83.2 cm.) high; 41½ and 40¾ in. (104.8 and 103.6 cm.) high, overall (2)
Provenance
Acquired by Gregory de Ligne Gregory (d. 1854) for Harlaxton Manor, Lincolnshire and by descent to Sir Glynne Earle Welby-Gregory of Denton (1806-1875).
Moved to Denton Manor, Lincolnshire, circa 1880 and listed there in the 1936 valuation of contents.
Literature
Valuation of contents, Denton Manor, Lincolnshire, 1936, 'Pair of 40 inch busts of male and female negroes in black marble, with white marble cloaks and head-dresses, chased ormolu feathers and straps French 18th century'

COMPARATIVE LITERATURE:
J.-P. Samoyault, 'Oeuvres d'art saisies chez les émigrés et les condamnés sous la Révolution: l'exemple de deux bustes récemment identifiés', in Bulletin de la Société de l'Histoire de l'Art français, Année 1992, pp. 141-145.
D. Bindman and H. L. Gates, Jr. eds., The Image of the Black in Western Art, from the "Age of Discovery" to the age of Abolition, III, Part 1, 2010, Part 2, 2011.
P. Malgouyres, 'Coloured Stones, Sculpted Objects: Subjects for Sculpture', in Revival and Invention: Sculpture through its Material Histories, S. Clerbois and M. Droth eds., Bern, 2011, pp. 153-169.

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Elizabeth Wight
Elizabeth Wight

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Lot Essay

The depiction of negroes in art has existed since antiquity, but it was given new impetus in the Age of Exploration, when European powers sailed out from the known world in search of alternative trade routes to the east. In the late 15th and early 16th centuries, inhabitants of North and South America were viewed as both exotic and innocent, and the feathered headresses and costumes which they wore quickly entered the artistic vocabulary of European artists who attempted to depict them.

Although slavery certainly played a role in the European perception of coloured people, there was also a strong belief in the nobility of the American and African races, clearly demonstrated in the spectacular coloured marble bust of the Marquess of Ne Vunda, a diplomatic emissary from the Congo to the Papal States, who died shortly after his arrival in Rome in 1608 (illustrated in Bindman and Gates, op. cit., III, part 1, p. 160). Commissioned by Pope Paul V for Ne Vunda's funeral monument in Sta Maria Maggiore, his severe gaze and the net-like shirt originating from his native Congo evoke both admiration and curiosity.
It is this combination of the exotic and the noble - even royal - which obviously fascinated the author of the present two busts. The white marble used for the turbans and drapery contrasts strongly with the black marble used for the skin passages. These are then enlivened by the addition of ormolu mounts - incorporating European decorative motifs - across the chest of each. The female sitter also has ormolu feathers and a jewelled pin on her turban while her male counterpart wears feathers and a crown.

Although numerous busts of moors appear on the art market today, remarkably few of them can be dated with any certainty. A reference in the Harlaxton inventory of 1865 which probably corresponds to the present busts ('A pair of Busts of Negros formed of different colored Marbles ornamental with Ormolu heroic size') states that they were in 'the Exhibition of 1851'. However no reference to them has been found in any of the Great Exhibition catalogues, and it may be that this reference is to another exhibition altogether. A more important point of comparison is to a pair of marble busts of moors in the reserves of the Louvre, Paris, published by Jean-Pierre Samoyault in 1993 (op. cit.).

The busts in the Louvre clearly originate from the same workshop as the present busts. Although lacking the ormolu mounts, the Louvre moors use the combination of white and black marble, along with European decorative motifs from the late mannerist era including modified strapwork cartouches and a jewelled pin on the female moor's turban. The facial types are extremely close to the busts offered here, and the turbans themselves are virtually identical, with their thick rolls of fabric forming a point over each sitter's forehead, where only a few curls of hair are allowed to poke out. Above these rolls are three feathers arching forward - less dramatic in the case of the Louvre busts, but this can be accounted for by the fact that they are executed in marble and not ormolu, which exploits the tensile strength of the material. Perhaps most distinctively, the turbans of all four busts can be removed to reveal a hollowed out head where the eyes have been inset from the reverse.

The added significance of the Louvre busts is that they have been traced back to the collection of the prince de Condé-Bourbon when they were among the works of art seized from the emigré prince on 15 June 1796 (Samoyault, loc. cit., p. 144). Samoyault traces them back further to Condé inventories of the château d'Ecouen in 1740 and again in 1709 where they are described: 'item deux busts de marbre repreésentant des maures à draperie et bonnet de marbre blanc' ('item two busts representing moors with drapery and bonnets of white marble').

The Louvre busts - which appear to be from the same workshop as the busts offered here - therefore existed by 1709 at the latest. However, stylistically they probably date from even slightly earlier to the 1660s or 1670s. An engraving of Ginnaeghel, King of Ethiopia and Egypt, dated 1660 (illustrated in Bindman and Gates, op. cit., III, 2, p. 138, fig. 86) depicts the king at half-length, with a chain running diagonally across his chest just as one sees on the male bust at the Louvre, and wearing the same distinctive turban with the thick roll coming to a point over the forehead decorated with a jewelled pin on one side. Similar examples can also be found in numerous paintings of the period.

The busts offered here can therefore be dated with confidence to the second half of the 17th century, based on firmly dateable sources such as the Ginnaeghel engraving of 1660 and the appearance of the Louvre busts in an inventory of 1709. With their luxuriant use of materials, the sense of movement created by the draperies, and the confident swagger of the sitters, the present busts display all the characteristics of High Baroque sculpture.

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