Published: September 14, 2004
From September 28 through January 2, “European Bronzes from the Quentin Collection” will be at the Frick Collection. It is the first public exhibition of a distinguished, little-known private collection devoted to the art of the statuette from the Sixteenth through Eighteenth Century. This will be the sole venue.
The exhibition features almost 40 sculptures, including exemplary works by Italian masters of the genre such as Giambologna, Giovanni Francesco Susini and his uncle Antonio Susini, Francesco Fanelli and Massimiliano Soldani-Benzi, as well as examples by their equally gifted northern contemporaries such as Hendrick de Keyser and Barthélemy Prieur.
Primarily consisting of bronzes, with some works in terra-cotta and precious metal, the collection has been discriminatingly assembled over the last 25 years. Many, like Giambologna’s “Mars” and “Sleeping Nymph,” are outstanding examples of famous compositions. Other masterpieces, such as the mysterious “Allegorical Deity Seated on Grotesques,” are new discoveries exhibited here for the first time. The Quentin Collection presents some of the best examples by generations of European master sculptors who were inspired by the human form.
The exhibition, coordinated by the Frick’s associate curator Denise Allen, is made possible through the generosity of The Quentin Foundation with additional support from the Fellows of The Frick Collection.
Most of the sculptures, including Giambologna’s “Mars,” will be shown freestanding and without vitrines. This freedom of viewpoint allows the visitor to experience how the artist used the expressive logic of pose to identify the god of war with martial readiness. His muscles taut and eyes fixed on the enemy, Mars halts his stride, exploiting the force of arrested motion to swing his body and sword arm backward in preparation for attack. His free arm sweeps forward to balance his rotating movement, his hand poised at the instant it most resembles a gesture of command.
“Mars” displays the sculptor’s ability to depict the subtle movements of muscles bunching under skin, of eyes tightening in concentration, and of lips parting to draw in breath. This virtuoso combination of illusionism and technique is even more astonishing when one considers that “Mars” is little more than 15 inches tall.
“Allegorical Deity Seated on Grotesques,” is sometimes attributed to the Dutch sculptor Adrian de Vries. The robust muscular ease with which the idealized nude deity sits astride bat-winged monsters so effectively subjugates the creatures that the group has been interpreted as an allegory of good triumphant over evil – all in a work that can be comfortably held within one’s hands. Composition, scale and meticulously crafted detail provide insight into this sculpture’s meaning even though its exact subject and function have yet to be discovered.
Each small bronze was made to evoke multiple associations that captivated the rulers and wealthy educated classes who collected them. The more is known about this history, the richer the understanding of this art form becomes. During the Renaissance collectors and sculptors often looked back to classical antiquity as a model.
The anonymous northern Italian master of the “Hercules and Antaeus,” for example, based his composition on an over-life-size classical marble fragment, then known even in its ruined state as “the most beautiful statue in Rome.” By imaginatively reconstructing the monumental, fragmentary marble in small-scale bronze, this sculptor rivaled the greatest achievements of the past and literally placed those achievements, miraculously restored, into the hands of his patrons.
Renaissance statuettes were often displayed in the more private confines of the collector’s house or palace, where they were occasionally placed on tables so that they could be turned, touched and held. This intimate relationship between viewer and object frequently inspired sculptors. Giambologna, for example, crafted the smooth, silken, lacquered surfaces of the voluptuous “Sleeping Nymph” to invite the sense of touch. His sensual conception springs from the Sixteenth Century’s interest in the sleeping female figure.
Seventeenth Century bronze statuettes, like Francesco Fanelli’s “Mercury and Cupid,” were often larger than their earlier Renaissance counterparts. At almost three feet tall, the “Mercury and Cupid’s” size and dramatic, sweeping forms were meant to harmonize with grand public spaces, like the picture galleries typical of this period. The sculpture’s subject is drawn from Apuleius’s tale of the star-crossed lovers Cupid and Psyche and illustrates Mercury about to proclaim that Psyche must be returned to the bondage of Cupid’s jealous mother, Venus. Fanelli depicts the winged god with his messenger’s trumpet in hand, poised at the instant of flight on cloudy winds that loft him skywards.
The little Cupid clutching Mercury’s leg appears heavy by contrast, as he yields his weight like a ballast stone in a desperate attempt to halt the fateful flight. Cupid merely earns Mercury’s backward glance, and the lover’s cruel separation is sealed by the messenger god’s elegant, inexorable ascent.
The sculptor’s concise language of pose and gesture is movingly expressed by Massimiliano Soldani’s “Pietà with Two Putti.” Made during the early Eighteenth Century when Soldani was a master medallist to the Florentine Grand Dukes, the “Pietà” is one of the latest works in the Quentin Collection, and one of the few masterpieces in terra-cotta. Soldani’s dead Christ with mourning angels is a compianto, a work intended for use during the Catholic devotions that aroused compassionate empathy for the Savior’s passion and death.
The loosely flowing, masterful freedom with which Soldani modeled the wet clay tempers the harrowing subject and endows the sculpture with a hushed, graceful lyricism that inspires meditation. Soldani produced many larger more complex versions (which include the Virgin accompanied by numerous angels) in terra-cotta and in bronze, while porcelain examples were created after his death. The Quentin “Pietà,” however, is the only surviving version of this composition by Soldani in any medium.
The exhibition is accompanied by a 360-page catalog, co-authored by Dr Manfred Leithe-Jasper, director emeritus, department of sculpture and decorative arts at the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna, and Patricia Wengraf, esteemed sculpture dealer. Leithe-Jasper and Wengraf introduce many heretofore unknown sculptures, backing their arguments and attributions with thorough research, the most up-to-date technical evidence and the kind of expertise that can only be acquired by years of focused study in the field.
In preparation for the publication, ten of the Quentin bronzes underwent full technical analysis at the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. Shelley Sturman, conservator and head of objects conservation, has written detailed technical reports on this group.
The catalog, published by M.T. Train/Scala Books, is illustrated and includes a large number of comparative images, which are essential to the understanding of the intricacies of attribution inherent in this field. The catalog is $125 through the museum at , or 212-288-0700.
On Wednesday, September 29, at 6 pm, Manfred Leithe-Jasper will give a free lecture entitled “Learning by Doing: Cataloging European Old Master Bronzes in the Quentin Collection.”
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