During the course of the 15th and 16th centuries there was, without doubt, a fascination with capturing nature and reproducing it in a variety of media including bronze. It is perhaps this very fact that made Italian artists such as Andrea Briosco, also called Riccio, popular. Attributed to his name are a whole host of small-scale mythological beasts and wild animals but, more significantly, numerous models of domestic animals such as frogs, snakes, lizards and crabs. This fascination with nature was, however, not exclusive to north Italian artists. Many workshops, especially those of gold- and silversmiths in south Germany, were also producing similar animals in silver, gold and bronze - but while the Italian bronzes tended to be more spontaneous, vigorously modelled and less finished, the German equivalents were stylised, impeccably finished but lacking in some of the liveliness.
A number of bronzes, such as the lot being offered here did, however, demonstrate that there was a cross-over in the styles and techniques of both countries. In Draper's revision of Wilhelm Bode's authoritative study of Italian renaissance bronzes (loc. cit.), the latter identified a small bronze model of a cat, formerly in the J. P Heseltine collection, London, and now in the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, that is very closely related to the present lot. Bode thought the bronze to be North Italian and 15th century, but Draper's subsequent analysis concluded that it was South German, late 16th century or early 17th century. It is almost certainly the highly finished surface of the Fitzwilliam bronze - more reminiscent of a goldsmith's hand - that led Draper to this conclusion. However, in looking at the present lot, which is significantly taller than the Fitzwilliam bronze and has a rat placed to the other side of the mouth, one detects elements that are both Italian and German. The most strikingly Germanic feature is, of course, the highly chased surface, which is very reminiscent of a 1570-75 bronze figure of a monkey from the Judgement of Paris fountain in the Württembergisches Landesmuseum, Stuttgart (Smith, loc. cit.). This finishing is, however, juxtaposed with a very naturalistic depiction of a cat combined with varying tones of red and brown patina and a number of unrepaired casting flaws, which suggest an Italian origin.
The bronze at hand therefore seems to combine elements which are characteristic of both artistic schools. The chasing of the cat fur suggests a knowledge of South German goldsmith's work, however the more spontaneous feeling of the cast overall, and the rich dark tones of the patination are reminiscent of artists in Padua. The likelihood is that the author was an Italian active in the second half of the 16th century who had some exposure to the working practices of goldsmiths north of the alps.