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Post Lot Text
A BRONZE HEAD OF JANUS
CIRCLE OF FRANCESCO PRIMATICCIO (1504-1570), THIRD QUARTER 16TH CENTURY
The double female heads each with centrally parted hair classically arranged, on later gilt-bronze stiff-leaf border and modern cylindrical modern porphyry base; on a cylindrical marble pedestal column with square foot; dark warm brown patina with chocolate brown high points; minor casting flaws and very minor chips to base and column
This impressive bronze double head is unusual in both its iconography and its scale. Iconographically, it is much more common for a double head to represent the male figure Janus, god of beginnings and endings whose name is the origin for the month of January. Following this theme, it is also quite common to see an old and a young face. The god had his origins in Roman antiquity and was frequently used to symbolise change or transition. He could be invoked at harvests, marriages, births and other beginnings. It is interesting to note that at Fontainebleau there was listed in the 1707 Royal inventory of bronzes 'au dessus de la porte du jardin de l'Etang: Une Teste de femme a double visage, de quatorze a quinze pouce' ('over the door of the Pond Garden: a female double-faced head, between 14 and 15 inches; inv. 0/1/976 A, p. 979). Although smaller than the present example, it does show that such heads were in use in France in the 17th century.
The fact that the artist here is closely following an antique prototype makes it difficult to determine who the author might be. Parallels can be made with a bronze head of Cybele which was in the collection of the artist François Girardon (1628-1715) and is now in the Cabinet des Médailles, Paris. Like the present bronze, the Cybele (illustrated in Souchal, op. cit., fig. 113) displays the same classicising features, centrally parted wavy hair and distinctive, cylindrical neck with pronounced wrinkles.RHowever, an even closer stylistic comparison can be made with a full-length bronze figure of the Belvedere Venus, today in the Chateau de Fontainebleau. The head of that bronze displays an almost identical treatment of the hair, extremely classicising features and the distinctive treatment of the neck as can be seen on the double head offered here. The Venus formed part of a series of bronzes which were executed under the direction of Francesco Primaticcio, who was sent by Francois I in the 1540s to obtain casts of some of the most important antiquities in Rome so that they could be cast in France (for a discussion of the Belvedere Venus see Bronzes Français, op. cit., no. 1).
The highly stylised nature of the present head and its unusually
large scale suggest that it was also part of an important
commission sometime in the third quarter of the 16th century.
We would like to thank Franoise de La Moureyre for her
assistance regarding the French Royal inventories for this