Wednesday, November 26, 2008
The Shouting Horseman,c. 1510-15,
Bronze, Victoria and Albert Museum, London
Italian Renaissance bronzes - how can that be of interest to me? Take a chance for some visual joy and intellectual stimulation. Go see the masterly bronzes by the Paduan sculptor Andrea Briosco, (1470-1532), called Riccio for his curly hair, that are on view at The Frick Collection now through January 18, 2009. Riccio created intricate and intimate sculptures, many of which were made for a scholar’s study. His work includes figures, functional and non-functional objects, religious and mythological scenes. The detailed iconography and programs of his elaborate pieces suggests Riccio probably had the advice of Padua’s learned scholars. Padua, as now, was a university town brimming with intellectual activity. is work expresses complex ideas in three-dimensional form. You can easily imagine how his sculptures engendered discussions about philosophical ideas and antiquity.
A little background: Riccio was the son of a goldsmith who gave him his early training. It has been postulated Riccio pursued sculpting in wax and clay instead of following his father’s vocation because of some medical ailment. He studied with the sculptor Bartolomeo Bellano who had assisted Donatello. Donatello had had a studio in Padua and among his major projects created the life-size bronze equestrian statue of the condottiere called “Gattamelata” appearing as a Roman hero in front of the Church of Sant’Antonio as well as large narrative reliefs in bronze on the high altar of the church.
Donatello, The Gattamelata Monument, Bronze,
c.1443-53 (in place), Piazza del Santo, Padua
Riccio was also influenced by the work of Mantegna whose classically detailed frescoes, on the walls of the Ovetari Chapel in the Church of the Eremitani, must surely have impressed him.
Andrea Mantegna, St. James Led to his Execution,
1454-57, Fresco, Formerly Ovetari Chapel,
Eremitani Church, Padua
What we see at the Frick Collection is a large sampling of Riccio’s oeuvre set out in an atmosphere that induces study – like a scholar’s study. The pieces are placed in well-lit glass showcases, many of which allow for viewing on all sides. There are excellent juxtapositions – similar works are exhibited next to one another. There is an orderly pace to the exhibit - just enough work to engage but not too much to become visually exhausted. The exhibit is set in two large rooms separated by an introductory foyer. The foyer contains a bronze relief panel, The Triumph of Humanist Virtue, c. 1516-21, Musée du Louvre, Paris and a life-size painted terracotta of the Virgin and Child, c.1520-21, J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, which serve to initiate the viewer into the characteristics of Riccio’s work such as engaging narratives, creative approaches to complex ideas, and the classicizing of Christian imagery. In the relief, fame of intellectual achievement insures the scholar’s triumph over death. The Virgin in the Virgin and Child has become a Roman goddess holding an antique robed child.
Virgin and Child, c. 1520-25,
Terracotta with traces of polychromy,
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles
The Shouting Horseman, c. 1510-15, Victoria and Albert Museum, London, next to Orpheus, after 1510, Musée du Louvre, Paris, greets you as you enter the first large gallery. This gives the viewer ample opportunity to examen Riccio’s rigorous modeling and detail work. The classical costumes, richly decorated and the rippling muscles of the chest and back attest to Riccio’s talent. The horse is poised miraculously on three slender legs while his rider shouts fearsomely. We can think of Donatello’s famous bronze horse who does not dare raise a leg off the ground (one hoof rests on a bronze ball) or small Roman bronzes of Alexander the Great on his rearing mount.
Oil Lamp, c.1516-24, Bronze
The Frick Collection, New York
One glass case contains the remarkable lamp from the Frick Collection with others from London, Oxford, and Paris. Three of these are attributed to Riccio and one in the manner of the artist. The fabulously decorated bodies of the Frick’s, Oxford’s and London’s lamps, all attributed to Riccio, balance on elegant sinuous footings. Placed near these lamps and celebrating writing is an intricate bronze vessel from Florence reunited for the first time with its cover from London. There are many gems in this room to ponder. I may just point out, that some of Riccio’s early figures, let’s say before 1516, tend to have rather disproportiately large hands and rubbery arms. When you look close at some of these figures, compare the arms, wrists and hands to the well-developed and well-modeled chests and backs.
Drinking Satyr, c. 1515-20, Bronze
Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna
In the second large gallery room, the home of the previously discussed Satyr and Satyress, are statuettes and narrative reliefs. The ithyphallic figure identified as a Satyr (Pan)?, c.1520, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, is near a showcase of three Drinking Satyrs ,united for the first time, from Paris, Padua and Vienna. There is much to compare in another vitrine housing four similarly posed seated males, a Pan, a Faun, and two Shepherds from four different collections. Another case holds a Warrior, c.1513-20, Private Collection, United Kingdom and a Strigil Bearer, c.1515-10, The Collection of Mr. and Mrs. J. Tomilson Hill, that are in the identical posture but whose modeling and surfaces are finished quite differently.
Entombment, c. modeled after 1516, Bronze,
Daniel Katz, Ltd., London
You will also see an Entombment, modeled after 1516,Daniel Katz, Ltd., London near the large relief of the Entombment, c.1516-20’s, the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. and the beautifully rendered Saint Martin and the Beggar, 1513-20, Galleria Giorgio Franchetti alla Ca’d’Oro, Venice.
St. Martin and the Beggar, 1513-1520, Bronze,
Galleria Giorgio Franchetti alla Ca' d'Oro, Venice
When you think of who was working and producing sculpture in Italy at the time of Riccio or earlier, his work may diminish. There was Andrea del Verrocchio, Desiderio da Settignano, Antonio Rossellini, and the great Michelangelo just to name a few. Yet, Riccio brought much talent and creatively and his legacy is presently on view for you to enjoy.
Note: The National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., has a significant collection of Renaissance bronzes including a large group of Riccio plaquettes most of which from the Samuel H. Kress Collection.
Altar with Female Bust, Bronze,
National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.
There is also a sample of Riccio’s teacher Bartolomeo Bellano.
Bartolomeo Bellano, Dead Crist with Two Angels,
Gilt Bronze, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.
On your next visit to Washington, D.C., treat yourself to some time in the National Gallery of Art West Building, Ground Floor.
Wednesday, November 19, 2008
Victoria and Albert Museum, London
They are mythological figures, followers of the Greek god Dionysos, known for their reveling and wantonness. Yet here, they look longingly at each other, more love than passion. Their lips are puckered for a kiss; their cheeks puffed up. Her right thigh, slung over his left, exposes her labia majora swollen with excitement, the deep cleavage of her sex, and perfectly coiffed pubes. She is a big breasted, large-handed female with an elaborate hair style and head piece. He and she have pointy ears, goat-like hairy lower limbs and hooves that befit a satyr and satyress. His large right hand, about to caress her face, approaches her chin. Such a chin-chuck gesture along with the slung-leg motif was identified by the distinguished art historian Leo Steinberg as deriving from antiquity: the former expressing affection, sacred or profane while the latter communicating erotic love. Meanings of which would have been obvious to the learned scholars of Padua. It’s love not just sex! The artist, Andrea Riccio, modeled the figures in wax, the facial expressions are formed as if he squeezed the figure’s cheeks between his index finger and thumb, details are delineated with sharp, pointed instruments and the metal enlivened with hammer strokes. As this work was most probably meant for a shelf in a scholar’s studio, with the figure’s legs dangling off the ledge, the explicit sexuality could not be denied. Here it is for contemplation – eroticism in the intellectual sphere. Eros is in power. See them in the exhibition Andrea Riccio: Renaissance Master of Bronze at The Frick Collection. More on this exhibit to come.
Sunday, November 2, 2008
Satyr and Satyress, c. 1510-20, Bronze, Victoria and Albert Museum, London
Don't miss one of the funniest and masterly bronzes ever created. And don't miss some 30 other sculptures by the Renaissance artist, Andrea Riccio (1470-1532) now in New York at The Frick Collection.
Watch for my next blog to learn about the Satyr and Satyress including the erotic symbolism of the slung leg motif and chin-chuck. Also, learn how best to view the bronzes and deepen your understanding of active looking. More is coming soon.