C. Avery, Fingerprints of the Artist: European Terra-Cotta Sculpture from the Arthur M. Sackler Collections, Cambridge, 1981, pp. 28-30, no. 1.
G. Bonsanti and F. Piccinini, Emozioni in terra cotta, exhibition catalogue, Modena, 2009, pp. 208-209, no. 52.
This powerful, moving bust of Christ as the Man of Sorrows is characteristic of a type of terracotta statuary that flourished in the second half of the 15th century in several Italian cities near the Po River in Emilia-Romagna and the Marches, most notably Bologna and Modena. There, artists such as Niccolò dell'Arca, Guido Mazzoni, and Antonio Begarelli modeled numerous life-sized statuary groups in terracotta, taking full advantage of the medium's plasticity to create figures with a heightened level of naturalism and emotional expressivity. This Christ's large, almond-shaped eyes and furrowed brow are set rather high on his narrow, gaunt face and are reminiscent of those of the Dead Christ in Guido Mazzoni's Lamentation group (1477-79) in the church of San Giovanni Battista, Modena (Bonsanti, loc. cit.). The present sculpture's broad shoulders as well as the disposition of the folds of his tunic are also consistent with those found on figures by Mazzoni from this period. Further similarities may be found in a terracotta bust of Christ in Arthur M. Sackler Collections in Washington, D.C., catalogued by Charles Avery (loc. cit.) as 'Circle of Guido Mazzoni, late 15th century.' In addition to possessing a remarkably similar physiognomy, especially evident in the long, narrow nose, the Sackler Christ assumes the same doleful position with his head tilted to his right, looking down with heavy eyelids and an open mouth.
Guido Mazzoni was born in Modena around 1450, and enjoyed a successful career as a sculptor, painter and designer of ephemera until his death in 1518. Often working directly from life-casts, Mazzoni refined his terracotta sculptures to endow them with a heightened sense of psychological drama. In 1496, he traveled north to France, where he became the court sculptor to Charles VIII, receiving knighthood from the king along with a commission for his royal tomb in Saint Denis (executed by Mazzoni, but destroyed during the Revolution). Mazzoni continued to work for Charles' successor, Louis XII, but returned to Italy after the latter's death in 1515. Back in Italy, Guido created several additional Lamentation groups, such as his renowned composition for Santa Anna dei Lombardi in Naples (1492).
The present lot is accompanied by a thermoluminescence test from Oxford Authentication stating the terracotta was fired between 350 and 600 years ago.