Girolamo Campagna (b. Verona, 1549, d. Venice 1621) was one of the most significant sculptors to have worked in Venice in the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries. Gifted at working in marble, bronze and stucco, by the last decade of the Cinquecento, he had taken over from Alessandro Vittoria (c. 1525-1608) as the city's leading sculptor. He continued to receive major commissions from the state, church and private patrons until his death in 1621.
This beautiful, over-lifesize, classicising statue, prominently signed by Campagna, represents an exciting discovery: it is almost certainly one of the eight figures which the young Veronese sculptor carved between 1582 and 1584 for the funerary monument to Doge Nicolò Da Ponte (1491-1585) formerly in the Venetian church of Santa Maria della Carità (see principally Simane 1993; Davis 2003, pp. 93-99; Vicenza 2003, Howard 2011). Begun in 1582, this imposing Istrian stone and marble monument involved several key figures of the day. It was commissioned by Da Ponte in the fourth year of his dogeship; designed by the rising architect Vincenzo Scamozzi (1548-1616) and its construction was overseen by the eminent Venetian patrician Marc'Antonio Barbaro (1518-1595). In addition to Campagna's contributions, it was adorned with a portrait bust of the Doge by Vittoria, then Venice's leading sculptor, fashioned in terracotta but painted to simulate bronze (see Trent 1999 and Vicenza 2003, no. 17b).
Completed by April 1584, the monument dominated the right nave of the monastic church for over two centuries. In 1807, however, the Carità and its associated buildings (suppressed in 1792) were chosen as the site for the new Accademia di Belle Arti (now Gallerie dell'Accademia), which resulted in the removal of all the monuments, altars and tombs inside the church. The Da Ponte monument was duly dismantled with only the enormous Composite columns (c. 5.5m high) and pilasters left in place (Modesti 2005, p. 80). With the exception of the bust and principal epitaph (both now Seminario Patriarcale, Venice; see Vicenza 2003, no. 17c for the latter), it was believed, until now, that all of the statues by Campagna had been lost.
The monument's original appearance is recorded in two eighteenth century engravings: one by Vincenzo Coronelli (1650-1718); the other by Dionisio Valesi (active 1737-1768), which being the more detailed is illustrated here. The present figure is almost certainly the classicising female allegory shown in the left-hand niche, flanking the sarcophagus crowned with the Doge's bust. The general ponderation and disposition of the figure in terms of the position of the head and limbs, as well as the arrangement and fall of the drapery are identical. In addition, the engraved statue is clearly shown on a low square socle similar to that of the present figure. Minor discrepancies between the engraved and sculpted figure occur along its proper right side, but these may be accounted for by the fact that this part of the monument was obscured by heavy shadows cast by the outermost column. Certainly, the relationship between the engraved statue and the present one is far closer than that between the engraved portrait bust and Vittoria's extant terracotta. The fact that the present statue is unfinished at the back (and that the socle's profile is only carved on three sides) proves that it was to be placed against a wall or in a niche.
This compelling visual evidence finds further support in the surviving contract for the eight statues, which Campagna signed on 17 August 1582. Herein, the height of the two niche figures is specified as c. 5 Venetian feet (c. 1.91m), which tallies closely with that of the presentfigure. Moreoever, the contract states that these figures were to be carved from either 'bronzo da Verona' (a fine, white Veronese stone highly regarded for figural sculpture in this period) or marble, which also accords with the present statue.
Although the contract did not specify the subject matter for any of Campagna's figures (he was merely instructed to refer to Scamozzi's existing designs), a written description of 1604 refers to the two niche figures as 'virtues' (Sansovino-Stringa 1604, p. 427v). This guide also records the monument's various Latin inscriptions, including those that ran above and below the niche figures, which specifically celebrated Da Ponte's learning and erudition (Sansovino-Stringa 1604, p. 186r). Theunusual and overtly scholarly iconography of the present figure, with a large tome in her proper right hand, three more beneath her right foot and a fifth on the ground to her left, could therefore not be more appropriate.
Stylistically, the present figure is comparable to other works by Campagna of the early-mid 1580s, in particular a pair of stucco sibyls in San Sebastiano (signed and dated 1582; Timofiewitsch 1972, no. 5, pp. 244-5, figs. 19-24), especially as regards the highly elaborate, intricate coiffure; and a marble figure of Peace (c. 1585-6, Sala delle Quattro Porte, Doge's Palace; Timofiewitsch 1972, no. 8, pp. 248-9, fig. 31), in terms of the figure's general disposition and treatment of the drapery.
Rediscovered after an interval of over 200 years, the fine quality of Campagna's carving is clearly evident in the present statue. Imbued with his characteristic grace, beauty, dignity and poise, it surely ranks amongst the sculptor's finest early works, and represents a highly significant addition to his oeuvre. Its proposed provenance from a lost Dogal funerary monument to one of Cinquecento Venice's most notable statesmen, designed by one of the city's most renowned architects, renders it all the more important.
The present statue is the subject of a forthcoming article by Emma Jones, Department of History of Art, University of Cambridge.