Lorenzo Vaccaro was a multi-faceted sculptor, architect, silversmith and painter who lived his entire life in Naples and died in nearby Torre del Greco. Despite initially pursuing a career in law he later studied both sculpture and architecture under the equally dynamic Cosimo Fanzago. Judging by his extant works, Vaccaro seems to have worked almost exclusively on ecclesiastical projects and, more specifically, on altars and funerary monuments (Fittipaldi, op. cit., p. 77). Indeed, many fine portraits by his hand can be seen throughout Naples' churches such as the 1677 bust of Giacomo Galeota in the Capella Gentilizia of the Naples Duomo and the 1678 monument to Consigliere Francesco Rocco in the church of the Pieta dei Turchini. The finesse of these figures no doubt contributed to him receiving further commissions for works in bronze and silver in San Gennaro, Naples, marble in Santa Croce, Torre del Greco, and stucco figures in the Gesu delle Monache, Naples.
It is likely that through the success of the 1689 silver altarpiece in the Santa Maria la Nova, Naples - on which he collaborated with the silversmith Matteo Treglia - Vaccaro won further commissions for works in silver, among them the 1692 allegories of the Four Continents in Toledo Cathedral. This connection to Spain - which effectively ruled the Kingdom of Naples from 1504 until 1707 - was strengthened by the execution of the high altar in the church of San Giacomo degli Spagnoli (Fittipaldi, op. cit., fig. 40) and, most significantly, with the execution of the bronze equestrian monument of Philip V of Spain, of which the bronze offered here is one of three known reductions.
Although this monument was Vaccaro's most ambitious and important project its life was short. Vaccaro executed its model between 1702-3 - at the same time that Philip V visited Naples - then cast the monument with the founder Antoni Perrella (Coppel Areizaga, loc. cit.) and erected it in the piazza del Gesu Nuovo by 1705. The monument was later destroyed by Austrian troops in 1707 in an act that signalled the end of Spain's 200 year rule over the Kingdom of Naples.
Despite the destruction of the monument, Vaccaro's distinguished composition has survived in three known bronze reductions: two in the Museo del Prado, Madrid (Coppel Areizaga, loc. cit.) and in the newly discovered example offered here. Of these bronzes, one of the two in the Prado is unquestionably the prime version on account of its provenance and elaborate base with lengthy dedicatory inscription (Coppel Areizaga, op. cit., no. 54). This bronze is documented as having been commissioned by the Duke of Popoli with the aim of being taken as a gift to the King 'pour marque de sa fidelite et de sa reconnoissance' (as a mark of his fidelity and gratitude; quoted in Bottineau, loc. cit.) on July 14th, 1705. The bronze is subsequently documented in the Royal collection by 1734 (Madrid, loc. cit.). The second bronze in Madrid, which is cast differently, is more tentatively given to Vaccaro on account of its less fine finish and lack of an early provenance; it is first mentioned in an inventory of Fernando VII in 1834 (Coppel Areizaga, op. cit., no. 55).
In both the 1998 and 2010 catalogue entries that Coppel Areizaga wrote on the prime Popoli example, she quotes a passage written between 1742-5 by Vaccaro's biographer, de Dominici, that refers to the authorship of a reduced-scale bronze (Madrid, loc. cit.). In this text, written approximately 40 years after the original commission (and Vaccaro's death), de Dominici is quoted as saying that Lorenzo's son, Domenico Antonio, executed many works with the designs, models and assistance of his father and that he also produced a reduced scale bronze after his father's monument in Naples. While at first this might appear to suggest that Domenico Antonio is the author of the small scale bronzes, Coppel Areizaga convincingly argues that since the Popoli example was executed in Lorenzo's own lifetime, and it was destined as a gift to the King, Lorenzo would have made it himself rather than delegating the job to his son. This idea is further strengthened by the fact that the surface of the Popoli bronze, which is directly comparable to the bronze offered here, is more finely worked than the secondary version in Madrid, thereby indicating that either two different hands finished the bronzes or they were made at different times. In addition, the Popoli example and the bronze offered here are cast in an identical way that is different from the second version in Madrid (the bodies of the two former horses are cast in two halves with the legs pinned in and, judging by the number of pins and lead infill in these horses, it would appear that the founder encountered very similar problems with the pouring; the latter horse was cast in one piece with the legs pinned in and seems to have been a successful cast with, seemingly, very few pins and lead fill required).
Taking this into consideration, there can be little doubt that Lorenzo cast the prime example, and since the bronze offered here is cast, and finished, in a virtually identical way it is likely that the two were made by the same person at a similar date. Furthermore, since Domenico Antonio is known to have taken over his father's workshop - which no doubt included his father's designs and models - it is probable that he cast the second Madrid version at a later date and using a new mould taken from the 1702-3 model possibly because he felt confident enough to cast the body of the horse in one piece. This would explain why all the bronzes are the same height but with one of them cast in a different way, and why the surface of this same bronze is less finely finished. Couldn't the confusion over de Dominici's reference therefore be a result of the fact that 40 years after the original commission, de Dominici was himself unaware of the existence of the Popoli bronze and was describing only the later example cast by Lorenzo's son?
Another intriguing question that, for now, will have to remain unanswered is who commissioned the bronze offered here? High quality bronzes such as this were expensive to produce and for such a piece to have been cast by the master himself would suggest that the patron must have been both important and wealthy. It is possible that the Duke of Popoli himself commissioned two bronzes, one to be given to the king and the second one to be kept for his own collection. Unfortunately, research in the Elias-Vaes archive provides no clues regarding its provenance so for now this sophisticated, impeccably finished and extremely rare sculptural portrait of a Spanish monarch must be admired for its sheer quality and bravura alone.
Philip V was the first Bourbon king of Spain. He was born in the purple on December 19th, 1683 in the Palace of Versailles, the second son of Louis, the Grand Dauphin, and Maria Anna of Bavaria, Dauphine Victoire. His illustrious paternal grandparents were Louis XIV and Maria Theresa and his maternal grandparents were Ferdinand Maria, Elector of Bavaria and Princess Henriette Adelaide of Savoy, the daughter of Victor Amadeus I, Duke of Savoy. When Charles II, King of Spain, died childless in 1700 his will named Philip, the 16-year old grandson of his sister, Maria Theresa, as his successor. Although the possibility of Spain and France united under a single Bourbon monarch ultimately led to the War of Spanish Succession between 1701 and 1714, Philip retained the Spanish crown. His reign, lasting 45 years and 21 days, is the longest in Spanish history.