Antiques & The Arts
Davide Gasparotto: “Bertoldo and the Revival of the Antique”

Davide Gasparotto: “Bertoldo and the Revival of the Antique”

(crosstalk) – Good evening, I’m Aimee Ng, curator here at the Frick Collection, and it is my great pleasure to welcome you to the Frick, and for our viewers around
the world to our live webcast. And just a reminder, that
nearly all of our lectures are live streamed, recorded
and available for you to watch on our website, frick.org. Last month we opened the exhibition on view in our lower level
galleries, Bertoldo di Giovanni: The Renaissance of Sculpture
in Medici, Florence. And the exhibition will remain open for 30 minutes after the lecture. So please feel free to
go downstairs after that. I’ll just ask you to take
a moment now to ensure that your phones will not ring
or buzz, during the lecture. This is the second in a
series of lectures given in conjunction with the
Bertoldo exhibition. Alexander Noelle, co-curator
of this exhibition with me, and with Chief Curator Xavier Salomon, gave an inaugural lecture some weeks ago that you can watch on the website, and mark your calendars,
Patricia Lee Rubin will be speaking on
Wednesday, December 18th. The Frick’s exhibition
happens to take place at the same time as another important show on a 15th century Italian
Renaissance sculptor. That is the exhibition, Verrochio: Sculptor and Painter
of Renaissance Florence, at the National Gallery
of Art in Washington D.C. It’s a remarkable moment on the East Coast of the United States to have
two landmark exhibitions, just a train ride away, New York And D.C., on almost exactly contemporary sculptors in Renaissance Florence,
Bertoldo, and Verocchio. Very different artists, but both of them worked for the Medici
family and especially for Lorenzo (in foreign
language) the Magnificent, one of the greatest art
patrons of Renaissance Italy. We are honored to have with us tonight, a magnifico from the West Coast. Dr. Davide Gasparotto is senior curator and head of the paintings department, as well as chair of curatorial affairs, at the J. Paul Getty Museum
in Los Angeles, California. We are so grateful to
have you here Davide, as a representative of the Getty, and I wanna take a moment to acknowledge that we are thinking of our colleagues, and everyone affected by the fires in L.A. We are at least heartened to
know that the art is safe, thanks to the extraordinary bastion that is the Getty Center. Before joining the Getty, Dr. Gasparotto was curator at the Galleria
nazionale di Parma, and in 2012 to ’14 he was director of the Galleria Estense in Modena. Davide’s publications,
exhibitions and acquisitions are far too lengthy for me to detail. So I will indulge in
only a few highlights. He organized with Guido Beltramini and Adolfo Tura the
exhibition Pietro Bembo (in foreign language) in Padua, 2013, the remarkable exhibition,
again with Guido Beltramini, Aldo Manuzio, (in foreign language) and that was at the
Accademia in Venice, in 2016, and in the last couple of years, two acclaimed exhibitions at the Getty, Giovanni Bellini: Landscapes
of Faith in Renaissance Venice, that was 2017 to ’18, and
Pontormo: Miraculous Encounters with Bruce Edelstein, which
some of you may have seen here in New York, at the
Morgan Library and Museum. All of Dr. Gasparotto’s exhibitions are of course accompanied by catalogs that have significantly advanced the understanding of each of these topics. Under Davide’s tenure
the Getty’s collection has been profoundly enriched,
by paintings by Parmigianino, Orazio Gentileschi, Watteau,
and most recently Bronzino, and that is just the tip of the iceberg. He is a scholar of deep
and broad erudition, and a connoisseur with
a sharp, sensitive eye. From Giovanni Bellini to
John Bologna and much more, his expertise reaches far
beyond the realm of paintings. A Renaissance man himself,
Davide is also an expert in sculpture, including portrait metals, and we have a soft spot for
metals here at the Frick. We are eager to hear him speak tonight on Bertoldo and the
Revival of the Antique. Please join me in welcoming
Davide Gasparotto to the podium. (audience applauding) – Thank you very much Aimee,
for this generous presentation, and also for the kind invitation to speak here at the Frick tonight, a venerable institution
which I always loved. One of my favorite places in New York, last I would say but not least because it preserves one
of my favorite paintings, Bellini’s magnificent St.
Francis in the Desert, which obviously could not travel to my exhibition at the
Getty, but I think in some way the exhibition at the Getty
would have complimented in a wonderful way this
masterpiece by Bellini. I’m really happy to see
that the Frick continues a well-established tradition
of focused exhibitions devoted to Renaissance
sculpture and bronzes, which were I think one of
the prides of its holdings, and after the exhibition
on the private collections of Claudia Quentin, and Tom Hill, and then the monographic
shows on Rizzo and Antico, it is now the time of
Bertoldo di Giovanni. And I saw briefly, in
the distance in the room Denise Allen who was sort of the heart of some of this exhibition
when she was here as a curator. I want to congratulate very,
very warmly, the curators of this really exhilarating
exhibition on Bertoldo, I spent three hours here this afternoon, Alexander Noelle, Aimee
Ng, and Zavier Salomon. This is not only a truly
beautiful installation, but it also provides an
extraordinary scholarly and research opportunity. It’s a real milestone, and I think also a new starting point for Bertoldo’s scholarship,
I’m very much looking forward to the study day on December 9th. I’m also grateful to Persephone
Allen here at the Frick, for efficiently assisting me
with all the practicalities of the organization of this talk. What I’m going to do
tonight is very simple. My aim was to provide a wider context for Bertoldo’s oeuvre
as a maker especially of small bronzes and reliefs in bronze, and then talk a little bit about some of the masterpieces
in the exhibition. And I would like to start with a question. Is it possible to establish a precise date for the birth of an art form? And I’m here referring to
the (in foreign language) the small bronze statuette,
which is generally considered one of the new art forms
invented in the Renaissance, and the protagonist of
this spectacular exhibition devoted to Bertoldo di
Giovanni here at the Frick. What do we mean when we speak
of the bronze statuette? We mean a figure of reduced size, about seven to 20 inches
in height, cast in bronze, using the Lost-wax
technique, with a sacred, or more often secular subject, and designed to be an independent object made for the sake of pleasure
and for a domestic setting, that could be handled and
admired from up close. Here you see one of the
statuettes in the exhibition, Bertoldo’s Hercules on Horseback from the Galleria Estense in Modena. We will come back to this later. Technically, we should
not speak of invention but instead of re-invention,
since a comparable art form already existed in classical antiquity. Despite the majority of
classical small bronzes had religious or votive purpose, we are well aware that
ancient Roman collectors particularly appreciated superbly
crafted bronze statuettes. Like Novius Vindex, an obscure Roman of the
early imperial period who clearly fits into
the pattern of Romans who used Greek art to enhance
their position and status. Novius Vindex is celebrated by Roman poets Statius and Martial, as a
collector of Greek sculpture, and as the owner of the
Hercules Epitrapezios, a bronze statuette by Lysippos, showing the Greek hero sitting on a rock on top of which he had
stretch out a lion’s skin, his club in his left hand,
and cup in his right. The two Roman poets celebrated
the majesty, the dignity, the precision of touch,
and the powerful form of the work despite its small size. They also detail the illustrious history of the object’s past ownership, which increased its value
in the eyes of its owners. Things it had, and I quote, “Watched over the banquets
of Alexander the Great, “aroused the admiration of Hannibal “and adorned the feasts of Sulla, “before entering obvious
being the sixth possession.” The name of one of the famous
Greek sculptors, Lysippos, the exquisite craftsmanship,
and the illustrious provenance, contributed to the very special aura which surrounded the
object, and by the way, are very similar to the
marketing strategies of today’s antiquities dealers. Big name, great quality, great provenance. An ancient small bronze of high quality, like the Hercules here on the screen, itself a reduction of
the famous Farnese type, the colossal marble sculpture which is in Naples from
the Farnese collection, helps us to visualize
the type of statuette, evoked so suggestively
by the two Roman poets. Small bronzes of this kind
would certainly have played an important role in the
modern rebirth of the genre. The equestrian figure of Marcus Aurelius by Antonio Averlino, known as Filarete, a Florentine sculptor and also architect who was trained in the
studio of Lorenzo Ghiberti, is often referred as the first
small Renaissance bronze. The statuette is a
reduction and an adaptation of one of the great bronzes
survived from antiquity, the colossal equestrian figure
of Emperor Marcus Aurelius, which at the time stood
in front of the Basilica of Saint John in Lateran, and is today in the center of the
Piazza del Campidoglio, actually replaced by a copy, the original is inside the Museo dei
Conservatori in Rome today. Some variations have been
introduced into the pose. An elaborate helmet with a
group of Nessus and Deianira in relief has been added under
the four legs of the horse. The harness is unreached with gilding, and by the use of the
(in foreign language) and enameling which is a peculiar feature of Filarete’s bronze doors at St. Peter’s. But the statuette itself tells us another interesting story. An inscription, on the base, probably added in two different moments, records that this bronze was given by Filarete to Piero de’ Medici, father of Lorenzo il Magnifico in 1465, but also suggests that he was cast in Rome when Filarete was engaged
on his pair of bronze doors for St. Peter’s Basilica,
that is between 1433 and 1445. The inscription indicates
also that Filarete believed that the statuette was a
portrait of Emperor Commodus, the infamous son of Marcus Aurelius. We know that during the Middle Ages, the original group, the antique group, attracted a wide variety of names, even if by far the most important of these was that of Constantine,
the first Christian emperor, which probably allowed the
statue to survive in tact after the downfall of Paganism. The humanist Bartolomeo Platina, who became librarian to Pope Sixtus IV, we are in the ’70s, early
’80s in the Quattrocento, is credited with having been the first to suggest the identification
with Marcus Aurelius, but it was not until about 1600 that this became universally accepted. The year before, in 1464, Filarete dedicated
to Piero de’ Medici, a copy of his treatise on architecture. The precious manuscript is
still in the National Library in Florence, where he eloquently
portrayed Piero’s passion for all small objects of
refined craftsmanship, in a beautiful passage which
is worth to quote in full. And I quote from Filarete. “Then on another day, he” Piero, “runs over all these volumes “with his eye for his pleasure, “to pass the time and to
give recreation to his sight. “Then the next day, he tells
me that he has effigies “and portraits of all
the emperors and noblemen “who have ever lived, made
in gold, silver, bronze, “jewels, marble, or other materials. “They are marvelous things to see. “Their dignity is such that only looking “at these portraits wrought in bronze, “excluding those in gold, silver “and in other noble stones, fills his soul “with delight and pleasure
in their excellence. “These give pleasure in two ways, “to anyone who understand
and enjoys them as he does. “First, for the excellence
of the image represented, “secondly for the noble mastery “of those ancient, angelic spirits, “who with their sublime intellects “have made such vile
things as bronze, marble “and such materials,
acquire such great price. “Valuable things such as gold and silver, “have become even greater
through their mastery.” End of quotation. The quality of the
materials and manufacture, (in foreign language) combined with the pleasure
of recognizing famous figures from ancient history, like
(in foreign language), are the main reasons for the
delight (in foreign language) that Piero derives from
contemplating these objects. And it would have been in the same spirit that Piero accepted the
gift of the bronze statuette from Filarete, and in the same spirit, he would have certainly admired some metals cast by Filarete himself, which are among the first
Italian Renaissance made with the portrait of an
ancient Roman emperor. In this case, the infamous Nero with a scene of the famous
suicide of the philosopher Seneca on the reverse. The birth of the bronze
statuette is closely related to two major phenomena which are happening in the early Quattrocento
between Florence and Rome. One is the revival of
bronze casting techniques, and the recognition of bronze, as the most noble material for sculpture. The other is the increasing
appreciation of the antique, fostered by the Humanist Movement. Arguably the most complex
of sculptural techniques, bronze casting involves a range of materials and diverse skills, and both small and
especially large-scale works were generally achieved
through collaboration between the sculptor who designed the work and created the model,
the founder who cast it, and a host of other
artisans and specialists. During the Renaissance, bronze sculptors were generally creating using
the ancient Lost-wax method, in which a wax model is translated into the finished work of art. And here you can see a sort of a short synthesis of
the casting procedure. The creation of the model, sometimes with an interior armature, in soft material like clay, the work with the wax,
so the precise working of really the shape of the
figures, then the creation of a funnel-shaped pouring
cup and gating system, made of cylindrical wax channels, and applied to the model
to facilitate the movement of the molten metal into the mold while at the same time
allowing the gases to exit. Then the creation of, with again, layers of clay, the creation of the so-called investment on top of the wax model, then baking. The form is heated to bake the clay, and at the same time to melt out the wax, and from these, the name
of Lost-wax process, because the wax is putting out, and then the metal is
poured into the mold. Then, once solidified, the investment is removed
and then the sculptor removes all the channels, the pouring cup, and works the finishing with
chisels, hammers, punches, and so work on the finishing
and then patination. So this is sort of in very brief, the method we are talking about when you see these statuettes, they were mostly created in this way. So the Lost-wax casting,
so-called because as you have seen the wax model is melted
out and thereby lost in the process of creating the bronze, is generally divided in
two basic techniques. In the direct method which is this one which you see on the
screen, a model of solid wax or a wax model over a clay core is cast resulting in the loss
of the original model. So, there is the creation
of one unique object. With the indirect
method, a duplicate model is created in wax by taking
molds from the original, offering possibility
for both model and molds to be retained for future use. This was developed a little bit later in the Quattrocento in the 15th century. It is generally accepted that
during the medieval period and in the Early
Renaissance or our period, the direct casting method was used. The most fitting example of the revival that bronze sculpture enjoyed in the Early Renaissance
is the famous competition, held in Florence in 1401
by the Arte di Calimala, the Guild of Foreign Wool Merchants, for a pair of bronze
doors for the baptistry. The competition was
entered by seven sculptors, each of whom produced a bronze relief on the subject of the Sacrifice of Isaac. Only the reliefs realized
by the two finalists, Lorenzo Ghiberti and Filippo Brunelleschi survived ’till today, and we know that the commission was
awarded to Ghiberti, at the time 20 years old
and not yet matriculated, apparently on the basis
of the technical economy of his relief in comparison
to the one by Brunelleschi. The use of less piecing in
of separately cast elements, and therefore of less metal, was the crucial factor
for Ghiberti’s victory. You have to imagine that
Brunelleschi’s relief is seven kilos heavier than Ghiberti’s. So, an enormous economy
in terms of the material which obviously was very expensive. In the mid 16th century,
Giorgio Vasari in his life, celebrated the skill of the
sculpture of his own time, saying that they were
able to produce casts (in foreign language) thin
as the blade of a knife. And we generally tend
to project this image over the Renaissance in general. But over the course of the 15th century casts came out from the
foundry in pretty rough shape, and often most statuettes were
solid cast instead of hollow. The doors took Ghiberti a
quarter of a century to execute, and not only for the complexity
of the casting process but for the enormous amount
of chasing and cold work, which was necessary to take the reliefs to the desired level of finish. Within a year of the completion
of the first set of doors, the order was placed for a second pair, which will become the
famous Gates of Paradise, which occupied Ghiberti until 1452. So both the doors took basically Ghiberti’s entire career to make. These two commissions
were of immense importance for the future development of
Italian sculpture as you know. The large new foundry, which
Ghiberti setup opposite the Hospital of Santa Maria Nuova for the casting of the doors
was to be the training ground for a new generation of
Florentine sculptors, who became versed in the
skills and fascinating by the possibilities of
a sculptural technique, which revived one of the
principal media of antiquity. But looking at the relief by Brunelleschi, we notice that none of the figures attains the degree of isolation than the little attendant here, in the pose of the ancient Spinario, the (in foreign language) who occupies the bottom left hand corner of the (in foreign
language) by Brunelleschi. It is in fact this figure adapted from a famous classical source which was obviously visible at the time in the capitol in Rome,
completely uninvolved in the drama in progress behind it, and actually molded and cast separately, and soldered to the background. It is this figure which
stands as the source of the way of thought,
which ultimately produced the independent classicizing statuette. The Spinario is a good case in point to introduce the other major factor which lie behind the creation
of the bronze statuette. The interest and passion
for classical antiquity. A series of written
sources has handed down the enthusiasm for antique sculpture expressed by some of the leading artists in Early Renaissance Florence. Here we only need mention
the journey to Rome by Donatello and Bruneleschi,
where they were nick-named (in foreign language)
those of the treasures, because they were looking for antiquities, described by the Florentine
architects’ first biographer Antonio Manetti, or the
famous anecdote retold by Vasari concerning a Roman
sarcophagus at Cortona. Inspired by Donatello’s enthusiasm, Bruneleschi walked all
the way from Florence to the small Tuscan
town, just to admire it. This is not the place to discuss the enormous impact that
the study of the antique had on the work of
Bruneleschi and Donatello. But it is essentially
to the experimentalism and to the prodigious artistic imagination of Donatello that we owe the rebirth of the bronze sculpture
of secular subject. Donatello’s creations in bronze enjoyed an immense prestige
among his contemporaries. With his musician angels from the baptismal font
of Siena Cathedral, one of them today in Berlin, on the right, Donatello literally reinvented the type of the putto l’antica, known
at the time as spiritello. While with the so-called
(in foreign language) he ingeniously recreated an antique figure with a mysterious, complex meaning, as if it were a newly excavated sculpture. With the bronze David
made in the early 1430s on the other hand, Donatello
revived the antique genre of the male nude sculpture in the round. Significantly, in the late
14th and early 15th centuries, artists and connoisseurs expressed an increasing appreciation
for the formal qualities and craftsmanship of antiquities. A good example of this
outlook and approach to ancient sculpture can
be found in the commentary by Lorenzo Ghiberti, a theoretical
treatise which contains the first modern
autobiography of an artist. Ghiberti describes in glowing
terms, two antique sculptures, an Hermaphroditus and a standing Venus that he had seen in Florence. He stressed that the learning,
art and masterfulness, la Doctrina in Italian,
(in foreign language) of the execution, dwelling
on the supple rendering of the flesh, and the refined
craftsmanship of the drapery. Surviving bronzes from antiquity like the famous Spinario,
(in foreign language) which we have seen the She-wolf,
the equestrian monument of Marcus Aurelius, newly
excavated sculptures like the Capitoline bronze Hercules, unearthed in Rome during
the papacy of Sixtus IV, and description of lost masterpieces by the most celebrated antique sculptors, scattered around the texts
of classical Orthrus, primarily in the natural
history of Pliny the Elder, fueled the imagination
of artists and patrons. Collectors soon followed artists in their appreciation of the antique. Contemporary inventories
certify the abundant presence among the most prestigious collections of the time, such as the ones of the Patriarch of
Aquileia, Ludovico Trevisan, of Cardinal Pietro Barbo,
future Pope Paul II, and of de’ Medici, of ancient coins, engraved gems, and cameos, and small bronzes. In Florence, the success
of the small bronze of secular subjects seems
to be well-established in the 1470s, especially within the circle of Lorenzo il Magnifico,
who like his father Piero was attracted by objects
of precious craftsmanship. If we turn our attention to the inventory drafted in 1492 after Lorenzo’s death, we find a pretty large
number of small bronzes without a clear distinction between ancient and modern pieces. One of them, undoubtedly
relates to a figure inspired by an ancient statuette, whose real subject is the satyr Marsyas playing a double flute,
in reference to the story of Marsyas’s musical
context with the god Apollo. The subject of the work was not recognized in the 15th century, and the posture of arms and
hands which hold no flute, as well as the expression of the face, earn the figure the name
of (in foreign language) literally The Fearful Nude, with which it is registered
in Lorenzo’s inventory. A recently discovered
document shed further light on the origin of the small bronze. It is a record of a payment
dated October 26th, 1457, to Giovanni di Bartolomeo intagliatore, the brother of the better known sculptor Maso di Bartolomeo, for
(in foreign language) A Fearful Nude in Bronze,
probably an example of the type intended
for the Court of Naples. This important document
provides not only the earliest (in foreign language) for this
particular type of statuette, for its unusual denomination
(in foreign language) and its presence outside of Florence, but it is also the very first document to make specific reference to
a Renaissance small bronze. The more than 30 known surviving examples of the (in foreign language),
of which the one in Modena seems to be one of the earliest, so the one you see on the
screen seems to be really one of the earliest example
of this type of statuette, testify to the extraordinary popularity of the figure in Renaissance collections, as well as the fact that it was probably commonly used in workshops, as
a model for young apprentices to study the human figure in motion, due to the complexity of its posture. And this is one like a sketchbook, preserved in the Gallerie
dell’Academia in Venice where you see that a contemporary
artist a little bit later, studied one of these figures,
one of these bronzes, to study really the placement
of space of the figure. Despite the 1492 inventory, recorded a Hercules crushing
Antaeus, all in bronze, the discrepancy in size and
the low value assigned to it, only two florins, make
problematic the identification with the celebrated bronze
by Antonio Pollaiolo today in del Bargello in Florence,
which is otherwise recorded in de’ Medici inventory from 1587. So, we know that the statuette
was created in Florence, at the end of the 1460s, is believed that could of
made for Lorenzo il Magnifico. It was linked to this description in his inventory, but there is a slight problem
because the size is different and the value is really low. But maybe the statuette was
commissioned by Lorenzo. The statuette best exemplifies
the highly original style of one of Bertoldo’s most
gifted contemporaries and competitors, documented
as a goldsmith, sculptor and painter closely
associated to de’ Medici. A heavy solid cast, in a piece with its triangular base, the group requires the viewer
to adjust and re-adjust his point of view, observing the work from multiple sides to
appreciate the different aspects of the physical configuration
of the two wrestlers, which are described with
incredible anatomical precision. The artist had made clever
use of the lion’s skin, by dangling it from Hercules’s waist to provide additional support, reminiscent of those
required in marble sculpture. Despite some casting flaws, there is careful attention to the surface. The body’s smooth skin is
disrupted by muscles, tendons, veins, Hercules’s lion’s
skin, and the hair of both men are intricately worked after casting. Unlike the bronze by Filarete, the Marcus Aurelius which
we have seen before, the composition appear
peculiarly independent from classical models, and
its archeological appearance is achieved more by artifice, and by a process of assimilation than by direct imitation
of antique sources. In the same inventory,
Lorenzo il Magnifico’s post-mortem inventory
from 1492, three bronzes by Bertoldo di Giovanni are also recorded. The figure of a centaur is the
only one explicitly labeled as (in foreign language)
by the hand of Bertoldo. There are few instances
in Lorenzo’s inventory where there are attributions of bronzes, and the only instances are
these bronzes by Bertoldo, these only ones, and the
bronzes by Donatello. But unfortunately the centaur
is apparently a lost work, it didn’t survive to us. The second sculpture which is recognizable as Bertoldo is (in foreign language). So a crucified Christ in
the middle of two thieves with eight figures on the ground, estimated at 10 florins,
and (in foreign language), a history in bronze with
several horses and nudes that is a battle, estimated 30 florins, which is a high value. Some of Donatello’s bronzes have the same value. And these last two are easily recognizable with two bronze reliefs today in the del Bargello in
Florence, and in the exhibition. The Crucifixion is probably
the most compelling visual evidence we have
of the relationship of Bertoldo with Donatello. The type of shallow relief
(in foreign language) would have been labeled by
Vasari, and the focus on movement with the wonderful floating
draperies, and the expression, which culminates in the
desperation of the Magdalene tearing off her hair at
the foot of the cross, these incredible details
of the women with the hair, with the sort of locks of
their hair in the hands, is clearly inspired by
similar works by Donatello. Vasari, in an important passage of his “Life of Michelangelo”
is our main source of information for Bertoldo’s
apprenticeship with Donatello, and his high reputation
as a bronze sculptor. And I quote from Vasari. “At the time the magnificent
Lorenzo de’ Medici “kept the sculpture Bertoldo in his garden “on Piazza San Marco, not just
as the custodian or guardian “of the many beautiful antiquities “that he had collected
and gathered together “at great expense in
that place, but more so, “desiring very earnestly
to create a school “of excellent painters and sculptors. “He wishes that they should
have as their chief and guide “there above named Bertoldo,
who was disciple of Donatello. “Bertoldo, although he was old
and he was not able to work, “was nevertheless a well-practiced master “and in much repute, not only because “he had polished with great diligence, “the pulpits cast by his master Donato, “but also on account of
many castings in bronze, “that he had executed himself, “of battles, and certain
other small works, “in the execution of
which there was no other “to be found in Florence at
that time who surpassed him.” End of quotation from
Vasari’s important passage of Vasari’s “Life of Michelangelo”. The information provided by Vasari is entirely confirmed by
contemporary evidence, especially by a famous letter
of July, 1479, addressed by Bertoldo to Lorenzo de’
Medici, in which he declares himself (in foreign
language) pupil of Donatello. Recent archival research
by Lorenz Boninger and Luca Boschetto has
moreover provided scholarship with what is thus far the
only documented record for a direct relationship
between Donatello and Bertoldo, while the former was still alive. On March 7, 1466, so a few
months before Donatello died, Bertoldo, then involved in a
legal dispute regarding a debt, presented himself as an artist who is skilled in bronze
work (in foreign language) promising the opposing
party that, and I quote, “If he were to exercise his craft “with Donatello and be in his workshop, “and for as long as the
condition might last, “the master himself
could be his guarantor.” What is still today object of debate, is the extent of Bertoldo’s contribution to the bronze pulpits of San Lorenzo, and also his relationship
with the role of another pupil and collaborator of
Donatello, Bartolomeo Bellano, whose hand is clearly recognizable in several scenes of the pulpit. The third work by Bertoldo
recording in Lorenzo’s inventory is the spectacular relief
with a Battle Scene, which was originally
installed above a fireplace in a small room in Lorenzo’s apartment facing the sala grande
of the Palazzo Medici, which was used as a dining room. The battle does not have a
recognizable subject matter. 25 warriors, some on
horseback, other on foot, are furiously fighting to no obvious end. One horseman in the
middle, is distinguished, this one, by his position and his costume, a winged helmet and a lion’s skin. So wing helmet would be,
sort of more like a Mercury, lion’s skin like more a Hercules, but his identification is uncertain. Four taller figures are
flanking the crowded malaise. A nude woman and a nude man, together, with two winged figures, one, two, who reach upward to support volutz. The composition has a
precise visual source. Bertoldo derived it
from a Roman sarcophagus now in the Camposanto in
Pisa, who when Bertoldo saw it it was probably at the Bay of San Zeno. A close comparison of the Sarcophagus with the bronze reliefs reveal
how Bertoldo adapted it. What he understood or did not understand, and how he consciously
decided to modify his source. Roman sarcophagi were often
displayed in public in Rome as in Pisa and elsewhere in Italy, and they were highly regarded
already during the Middle Age. An exemplary case is that of a Sarcophagus with the myth of Phaedra
and Hippolytus in Pisa, or also in the Camposanto, one scene of which was
quoted and repurposed by Nicola Pisano, for
the scene of the Nativity in his pulpit, in the baptistry, in the end of the 13th century. So this figure is clearly
quoted by Nicola Pisano there. The approach of Bertoldo is very different from that of his medieval predecessor. The Pisan battle relief was probably already badly damaged
when Bertoldo started it. And the center, which probably contained the most important figure
has been entirely lost. The bronze relief is about
one-fifth of the size of its prototype, but its
proportions are extremely close and Bertoldo adopted
this general structure, replicating faithfully
some of the figures, creatively completing
the fragmentary ones, and inventing from scratch
a new set of figures. These schema which is in
the catalog is very helpful to see what Bertoldo
completed, what he changed, and so all the variations
from the original prototype of the Roman Sarcophagus. The scene on the Sarcophagus
is clearly identifiable as a standard representation of Romans triumphing over Barbarians in battle, and the two sides are mainly characterized by markers such as clothing,
beards, and weapons. Bertoldo chose to remove the
clothing of the protagonist and inserted a hybrid mythological hero, perhaps Hercules, perhaps
Mercury, we don’t know, at the center of the skirmish, thereby completely transforming
the meaning of the historia. In this way, on one side, he
painstakingly reconstructed with a sort of philological process, the figures missing in the original. But on the other side he completely reinvented the scene, avoiding to impose an overarching narrative
into the composition. Bertoldo’s reconstruction,
finds a close analogy in the philological exercises
of Florentine humanists, particularly those of Angelo Poliziano, who like Bertoldo was an
intimate of the Medici household, and dedicated much of his time to the correction of
corrupt ancient texts. The type of composition
that Bertoldo created has also several conceptual
affinities, with a famous print, with the Battle of the Ten
Nudes, by Antonio Pollaiolo. The engraving shows a group
of men, completely naked, except for ribbons in their
hair, fighting in pairs, with different types of weapons. Unlike the relief by
Bertoldo, Pollaiolo’s image does not have a precise classical source, but very much like Bertoldo’s it is meant to evoke antique battle scenes without a specific subject matter. Like Bertoldo’s relief, the
engraving is a true piece of bravura in the depiction
of the nude male body in different attitudes and poses. Finally, both the relief and the print are sophisticated display (in
foreign language) of invention in which the artist adopted the vocabulary of ancient relief with
violent battle scenes, to demonstrate their artistic
ingenuity, in genuine Italian. It maybe that both the
print and the bronze, with their emphasis on violent brutality relates to a new interest in primitivism in Florentine humanist
circles, a fashion derived from a revived interest in
Lucretius’s (in foreign language) “On the Nature of Things” the famous poem, which described the bestial lives of early inhabitants of the earth. As the presence of his work
in Lorenzo’s inventory shows, Bertoldo enjoyed a very close relationship with the Medici family, and in particularly with
Lorenzo il Magnifico. At the end of his life as we know, he was living in Palazzo Medici, where a room of Bertoldo is
listed in the 1492 inventory, sparsely furnished with a bed, a table, a chest and a wardrobe. And when Bertoldo died at Lorenzo’s villas at Poggio a Caiano, in December, 1491 the chancellor of the
Opera del Duomo noted the particular regret of Lorenzo, who loved him as his
(in foreign language). And the notary Benedito
today described him as “A most worthy sculptor, and
an excellent maker of metals “who always made fine things
with Lorenzo il Magnifico, “who is now very troubled,
for there is no other artist “in Tuscany, or perhaps even Italy, “of such grand ingenuity and
artistry in these things.” But there are at least
two surviving masterpieces by Bertoldo which were
not executed for Lorenzo or any member of the Medici
household, even if it’s possible that they were employed by
Lorenzo as diplomatic gifts, since they were apparently executed for personalities close to de’
Medici for political reasons. The Hercules on Horseback
is one of the most beautiful and original bronzes by Bertoldo and also one of my favorites, last but not least because
I know it intimately having been the director of
the Galleria Estense in Modena, where the statuette is preserved. Despite the sculpture as a
privileged point of view, this one from the left
side, also the right side, reveals details of remarkable power, like the hand of Hercules grasping the jaws of the lion,
exhibited as a trophy. These beautiful details, of the horse and the rider,
horse is very much a l’antica, with a sort of cured mane, very similar to the horses
of San Marco in Venice, and this is detail, I was mentioning the beautiful detail
of the head of the lion with the hand of Hercules
opening sort of, the jaws. The hero, is naked, except for the lion’s skin, and a thick festoon of floral bulbs blossom in fruits pinned on one side between the head and the rider’s knee, wraps around the back of the figure fastened to the rear of the horse by a sort of a goat’s
head, these things here. The chasing is not always meticulous. Beautiful here, you can see this sort of, not meticulous chasing, beautiful, leaving some details
like a little bit rough, resulting in a vibrant surface that reflects the original
modeling of the wax. Is it possible to establish who the bronze was
originally intended for? Information is scant. The statuette is recognizable
for the first time in an Este inventory drawn
up on August 12, 1684, where it is described as a horse figure with club in hand and pedestal. The presence of the club, a
rare attribute for a rider, makes certain the identification
with our statuette. The Este provenance
makes plausible to think that the work could be connected with Ercole I d’Este, who succeeded his brother Borso as
Duke of Ferrara in 1471. Ercole loved to identify
himself with the Greek hero, and made it one of the themes of his self-celebration through images. At the time, in the castle of Ferarra one could for example
admire some tapestries, known as (in foreign language), which celebrated the
Greek hero as a knight. While in the novel (in foreign language), “Hercules’s Labors” by Pietro
Andrea Bassi, dedicated to the Marquis Niccolo III D’Este, on the occasion of the
birth of Ercole in 1431, the figure of the Greek
hero was assimilated to the Perafan Knight
of the Arthurian novels, then a fashionable reading
in the Italian course. Over the course of the
celebrations organizing Rome for the wedding of Ercole with
Eleonora d’Aragona in 1473, among the exquisite pastries
served during the banquet, there were four life
size figures depicting the labors of Hercules, and
at the end of the banquet a group of dancers performed a ballet, which represented the
fight between Hercules and the centaurs, in the episode of Hercules, Deianira
and the centaur Nessus. Even Pellegrino Prisciani,
in his (in foreign language), proposed a comparison between the hero victorious on the Hydra,
and the duke who drained the marshes that surrounded Ferrara. It is also possible, and it was suggested several years ago by Olga Rosso, that the insistence on the vegetal element relates to the so-called Feast of May, a popular event in Ferrara at the time. In this occasion the duke alongside with other gentlemen of the court used to offer vegetable
crowns and other fresh fruit at the door of the young
maidens of the city. All these elements seem
to point to a celebration of prosperity and fecundity,
perfectly appropriated for a festive occasion like a wedding. Is it therefore possible to believe that the statuette would
have been a wedding gift, perhaps from Lorenzo himself,
to the Duke of Ferrara in the event of his wedding
with Eleonora d’Aragona in 1473, a date which seems to be
perfectly appropriate, also considering the style of the bronze. Another key work, the
Bellerophon Taming Pegasus, was admired in the 1520s
by the Venetian patrician and connoisseur Marcantonio
Michiel when he visited the Paduan home of its then
owner, Alessandro Capella, who possessed the several
antiquities and works of art. It has been persuasively suggested that the original patron or
recipient of the statuette was his father Febo who
was the Venetian ambassador in Florence from 1460 to 1480, documented in close relationship with Florentine humanist circles, in particular with the
philosopher Marsilio Ficino. The sculpture is heavy
and not easy to handle, being cast virtually
solid, apart from the belly of the horse and its upper four legs. But it is expertly composed. The melding of Bellerophon’s
body with that of Pegasus provides support for the rearing horse, which even on this case was an
issue with such a heavy cast. Actually, the figure of
Bellerophon is solid cast, so it provides really support
for the rearing horse. The club links the
protagonist’s raised arm to the back of the horse, at
the edge of his right wing. Similarly, the left hand
of Bellerophon connects to the open mouth of the horse, and this particular
placement of limbs and club equates two screws along which
the metal could circulate. The group was evidently inspired by this beautiful detail,
you can see the bronze in the exhibition, a beautiful
detail of the chasing, the marvelously detail in this case, chasing of the wings of
the horse, of the Pegasus. The group was evidently inspired by the (in foreign
language) or horse tamers on the Quirinal Hill in
Rome, which famously bear the double signature of
Phidias and Praxiteles, two of the most celebrated
sculptors of antiquity. Obviously the signatures
are sort of apocryphal, but they made the fame, the celebrity of these two colossal figures
which are still standing in front of the Quirinal
Palace in Rome, as the works of two of the greatest Greek
sculptors of antiquity, and they were very popular
in the Renaissance. Bertoldo could have seen
the colossal sculptures during an undocumented visit to Rome, but he was also familiar with them through the bronze pulpits by Donatello. This is a detail of one
of the bronze pulpits by Donatello in San Lorenzo, in Florence. According to the legend recounted by the Greek poet Pindar,
Bellerophon was able to tame Pegasus after the
goddess Athena appeared to him in a dream and gave him a golden bridal for the purpose, which can be associated with the strap over the man’s shoulder. The detail of the club
is not present in Pindar, and must of been an
addition of the sculpture. Bellerophon became overproud and tried to ride Pegasus to the heavens. Instead he fell to earth and
was condemned to madness, while Pegasus was ultimately turned into a constellation by Zeus. The bronze can therefore be read, perhaps, as a moral warning that
pride comes before a fall. Marcantonio Michiel I
who described this bronze in the Paduan home of
Alessandro Capella in the 1520s, mentioned that the bronze group
was by the hand of Bertoldo but cast by Adriano, his disciple, indicating that he had most likely seen underneath the sculpture,
where an inscription incised on the wax
provides this information: (in foreign language) “Bertoldo designed me, Adriano cast me.” The inscription signals in a new, humanistic fashion, very sophisticated wording, in some way the use of words, (in foreign language) signals the relationship
between sculpture and founder, which was not unusual in Bertoldo’s and his contemporaries artistic practice. We know for example that several specimens of the famous metal of
the Pazzi Conspiracy, designed and molded by Bertoldo in 1478, were cast by Andrea Guazzalotti, were cast by someone else,
not Bertoldo himself. In regard to bronze sculpture, a distinction between Fichtor, the inventor and author
of (in foreign language), responsible for the
mechanical task of casting, is clearly stated by Leon Battista Alberti in a passage of his
treatise on architecture. “The Albertian distinction between “the creative work of the mind, “which is reflecting in the
conception of the model, “and the purely mechanical
process of casting “will become a common
place in the 16th century, “as exemplified by this
passage from a lecture “of the sculptor Accursio Baldi,
regarding the relationship “of John Bologna with this founder.” So we are one century later. We are at the end of the 16th century, and Accursio Baldi writes, “Neither Donatello nor della Robbia, “very famous sculptors that they were, “were less distinguished for not knowing “how to fire their works without the help “of furnace operators
(in foreign language.” “Does it then detract from the praise “due to John Bologna for his excellence, “not to mention the due to others “that it’s not he, but
a monk from San Marco “who cast all of his figures and reliefs?” So here Accursio Baldi
was referring to this monk from San Marco was Fra’
Domenico Portigiani who cast many bronzes for John Bologna. In the Quattrocento, artists
like Ghiberti and Pollaiolo, were trained as goldsmiths. Therefore they had an intimate knowledge of handling precious metals,
and of casting procedures. Sculptures like Donatello and
Bertoldo on the other hand, despite certainly familiar with the basic techniques
of bronze casting, relied on specialized
founders for their creations. They were inventors, in the sense that they created the models,
and then stamped their mark after casting during the time-consuming and elaborate cold work
and chasing process. The appearance of the
15th century small bronze, after casting, but before
the chasing was completed, is documented by another
statuette by Bertoldo, also in the exhibition,
beautiful statuette, the Orpheus today in del Bargello. The largest of Bertoldo’s small bronzes. The Orpheus is unusually
ambitious in terms of scale, being almost 18 inches tall, which is bigger than the average size of Early Renaissance bronze statuettes. The bronze figure is
documented already in existence in 1471, when Bertoldo handed it over to a wool merchant to whom he owed money, and we don’t know who
the original patron was. It is possible that the
serious casting flaws, which the sculptor attempted
but failed to repair, prompted Bertoldo to
abandon the statuette, instead using it to repay his debt. Even if we don’t know the
following history of the piece until when in 1556 it was
donated as an antique bronze, so classical bronze, to
Duke Cosimo I of de’ Medici, the statuette must of have been familiar to the young Michelangelo,
who frequented as we have seen the Medician garden of San Marco, when Bertoldo was its
custodian and guardian at the beginning of the 1490s. As it has been already noted, the Cupid, carved by Michelangelo, which you can see very close
to the Frick at the Met, the Cupid carved by Michelangelo for the Roman banker Jacopo
Galli around 1496-97, in the delicate twist of the slender torso and in the position of the head, thrown back and to the
left, is clearly reminiscent of the statuette of his first teacher. Thank you very much. (audience applauding)

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