‚Rokoko Plastik’ und ‚Europäische Bronzen um 1600’: Zwei aktuelle Ausstellungen in München
Große Skulpturen-Ausstellungen sind viel seltener als Blockbuster-Shows von Gemälden. Die Gründe dafür sind vielfältig: Weniger Werke, weniger Museen, auch logistische Probleme beim Transport der sperrigen und schweren Arbeiten. Ungewöhnlicherweise sind es derzeit in München zwei große Skulpturen-Ausstellungen von Weltrang zu sehen, zumindest für ein paar Wochen noch. Beide Ausstellungen sind nach Kunstepochen ausgerichtet: In der Hypo-Kunsthalle Skulptur des Rokokos (bis 12.04.), im Nationalmuseum europäische Bronzeplastik in Süddeutschland in den Jahrzehnten um 1600 (bis 25.05). Der Besucher kann zwei höchst signifikante Perioden der Geschichte der Skulptur erleben und auf der Grundlage der ausgestellten Meisterwerke Erkenntnisse gewinnen. Auch wenn beide Ausstellungen epochenbezogen sind, haben sie künstlerische „Hauptdarsteller”. In der Hypo-Kunsthalle sind dies die Brüder Asam, Johann Baptist Straub und Ignaz Günther. Im Nationalmuseum sind es Giambologna und Hubert Gerhard, die alle andere in den Schatten stellen.
Kurzinformationen zu den zwei Ausstellungen:
Mit Leib und Seele: Münchner Rokoko von Asam bis Günther,
12. Dezember 2014 – 12. April 2015, Kunsthalle der Hypo-Kulturstiftung. Eine umfassende Schau zum Rokoko: Die Ausstellung präsentiert zahlreiche herausragende Künstler, die zwischen 1720 und 1770 in München ansässig waren und das Rokoko maßgeblich prägten. Gezeigt werden rund 160 ihrer Meisterwerke, darunter vor allem Holzskulpturen und andere plastische Bildwerke aus Stuck, Ton, Porzellan und Silber, aber auch Gemälde, Zeichnungen und Druckgraphik. Werke und Leihgaben aus dem Diözesanmuseum Freising und aus Augsburg, Berlin, Frankfurt am Main, Ingolstadt, Karlsruhe, Landshut, München, Rom und vielen anderen Orten. Katalog mit Beiträgen von Peter Volk, Rainer Schmid, Carmen Roll, Alexander Heisig u. a. (416 S.).
Bella Figura: Europäische Bronzekunst in Süddeutschland um 1600,
6. Februar – 25. Mai 2015, Bayerisches Nationalmuseum. Mehr als 80 Meisterbronzen, darunter viele lebens- bzw. überlebensgroße, auch Kleinbronzen und etwa 25 Zeichnungen und druckgraphische Arbeiten, beleuchten die Verbreitung der von Florenz ausgehenden Bronzekunst der Spätrenaissance in den Norden. Hochwertige Leihgaben und Katalog mit Beiträgen von Dimitrios Zikos, Dorothea Diemer, Jens Ludwig Burk u. a. (420 S.).
Von Statua zu Fragment:
Im Bayerischen Nationalmuseum stehen die vielen Bronzefiguren im ersten, großen Raum – dem „Saal der nackten Männer“ – und auch sonst in der Ausstellung als selbstständige, isolierte Statuen (Statua), frei im Raum. Die meisten wurden für einen Sockel konzipiert und auch hier stehen fast alle auf einem Sockel. Bei den vielen ‚Merkuren’ handelt es sich vor allem um ‚fliegende’ Standbilder. In der zweiten Ausstellung, in der Hypo-Kunsthalle, ist das Vorbild der einzigen, selbstständigen Skulptur meistens durch ein einzelnes Bildwerk als einem fragmentarischen Bestandteil eines größeren Ensemble ersetzt, das durch die Verschmelzung der Architektur mit plastischen, dekorativen Formen gekennzeichnet wird, die auf der Grundlage von Rocaille-Ornamenten gestaltet sind. So wie die einzelnen Figuren im architektonischen Kontext stets in Bewegung gezeigt werden, erscheinen ganze Ensembles als dynamisierte Skulpturen. Die beiden Ausstellungen führen zwei gegensätzliche Auffassungen von Skulptur vor Augen, die ziemlich genau den gegensätzlichen Grundbegriffen von Wölfflin entsprechen.
There follows here a more detailed report about the exhibition in the Bayerisches Nationalmuseum of European bronzes before and after 1600.
Short references are keyed to the exhibition catalogue and its bibliography.
Bella Figura: Europäische Bronzekunst in Süddeutschland um 1600
Bella Figura: European Bronze Sculpture in South Germany around 1600, February 6 – May 25, 2015
Between 1570 and 1620 Southern Germany became an international centre for making works of art in bronze. Leading patrons, especially the Fuggers and the Dukes of Bavaria, brought sculptors to Augsburg and Munich, mainly ones from the Netherlands who had been trained in the Florentine workshop of Giambologna, the court sculptor of the Medici. Using technically sophisticated bronze-casting methods, large-scale works of art in bronze – fountain figures, garden sculptures, façade decorations, tombs, and altars – were commissioned to convey a fitting social or political self-presentation on courtly and urban stages. At the same time, bronze statuettes were acquired by princely and private collections as exclusive ‘Kunstkammer’ or cabinet objects. One of the principal themes of this late-Renaissance art of bronze was the nude figure, conceived in complex, contrappostal poses and so composed as to be resolved satisfactorily in a series of beautiful changing views as the beholder moved around the sculpture.
With approximately eighty masterpieces of bronze sculpture and about twenty-five drawings and prints, the Bayerisches Nationalmuseum in Munich illustrates in this exhibition the dissemination of the late-Renaissance Florentine art of bronze making in northern Europe. Many museums and collections throughout Germany and others in New York, Washington, Detroit, Los Angeles, Paris, Florence, Vienna, Liechtenstein, Oxford, Cambridge und London have contributed to the exhibition with loans from their holdings, making it a rare occasion to see exceptional pieces seldom seen outside their home collections and to compare the Italian works with masterpieces of South German bronze sculpture. This exhibition of bronzes is not the usual show of Kleinbronzen, most often smaller than around 30 cm, and displayed in vitrines that inhibit direct contact. Most rest only on their pedestals in the open spaces of the galleries, and a great many of these smaller bronzes are of a goodly size, approaching and often exceeding 50 cm, with, in addition, many nearly life-size and even over-lifesize works. The exhibition was organised by Jens Burk, who secured the collaboration of Dimitrios Zikos, for questions relating to Giambologna and his pupils, and Dorothea Diemer, whose expertise in South German sculpture in the wake of Giambologna is unsurpassed. Before 1978/1979 Giambologna was, outside of Italy, usually called Giovanni Bologna, especially in German and English speaking lands.
The exhibition is divided into five distinct sections, corresponding largely to the arrangement of the exhibition galleries. Four sections are on the upper floor. In a large first gallery is Section I., “Merkur: Ein Exemplum manieristischer Bronzeplastik”, succeeded by a room of small bronzes, Section II., “Bronzen für Kunstkammern und Sammler”, then, Section III., “Bronzeplastik im sakralen Raum” (first reliefs, followed by statues, statuettes, ecclesiastical furnishings, and portrait busts), and, finally, Section IV., “Bronzen ‘all’italiana’ für die Residenzgärten”. On the ground floor is found, in the Mars-Venus Saal, Section V., “Monumentale Brunnenanlagen der Spätrenaissance in München-Kirchhein-Augsburg”.
Why this exhibition now?
Once it is on display, this presentation of masterly bronze sculptures scarcely calls for any explanation. Nevertheless, ‘Bella Figura’ found its origin – beyond simply in the large number of significant South German and Italian bronzes in the Nationalmuseum’s collection – in an episode in the museum’s recent history. Between 1998 and 2010, Hubert Gerhard’s nearly one metre high bronze (illustrated on the front and back covers of the catalogue) was exhibited in the museum as a part of the ‘permanent’ collection. There it was a long-term, temporally unlimited loan (Dauerleihgabe). Towards 2010, the then owners, doubtless in light of vastly increasing prices of Old Master Sculpture during these twelve years, decided that they wished to sell their important bronze, which, in the meantime, was, as an acquisition, beyond the museum’s means. Only at the last minute could the Ernst von Siemens Kunststiftung – its primary purpose is to buy important works of art for public collections, especially in Bavaria – purchase the Gerhard bronze, in 2012. It surely cost a goodly seven-figure sum. Autograph works by Gerhard almost never come onto the market, and the sculptor has effectively no auction record, with the exception of an exiguous number of works merely ‘attributed’ to him. One such lot brought around €80,000 in 2001 (hammer price). The Siemens Stiftung remains the owner of the bronze, which was secured for the museum (“und damit für Bayern”) as a ‘permanent loan’. The rescue of Gerhard’s bronze provided the initial stimulus for the present exhibition two years ago, but the project appears to have grown in the course of its realisation.
Merkur: Ein Exemplum manieristische Bronzeplastik (Sektion I)
Mercury in the Art of Bronze in the Late Renaissance (Section I)
The large first section links Gerhard’s Mercury skilfully with the ‘Mercury Medici’ of Giambologna in Florence, in an exposition of the male nude represented in complex poses and turning movement, that is, as an exemplification of late-Renaissance bronze sculpture between Italy and South Germany. With ten and more statues of Mercury and some related works, this inspired idea succeeds, while focused on a single specific theme, in presenting essential aspects of ‘mannerist’ bronze sculpture. The charmed centrepiece of the first gallery was Giambologna’s famous Mercury, seen only once before outside of Florence, and for Munich secured in a sensational coupé as a loan from the Bargello Museum. Unfortunately it was conceded for only the first month of the nearly four-month long show, but it could be viewed in Munich in full light and to great advantage.
If the number of replications of Giambologna’s bronze counts for anything, his ‘Medici Mercury’ must be the most successful statue of all time. Through its omnipresence, one has become almost inured to its qualities, but in a new museum context, with new lighting, and together with the Mercury progeny it inspired, the ‘Medici Mercury’ of Giambologna (Cat. no. 3, ca. 1580) came brilliantly alive, not only as a nude male figure shown in dynamic contrapposto, but as a heightened representation of movement in a static figure that levitates weightlessly over a (now missing) streaming water-jet as he flies away. Here the visitor could see the almost early freshness of this work – there is nothing of the occasional pneumatic abstraction of the later works –, the soaring outburst of his movement, the figure from all sides perfectly resolved, and the vibrant, tensed Michelangelesque anatomy of his back, which appears to reflect his maker’s early study and admiration of Michelangelo. In Munich the Mercury seemed again lebendig, alive, in contrast to how he often looked on a dim cold winter’s day in the primo piano loggia of the Bargello.
Cat. no. 2. Giambologna, Sogennante Allegorie auf Prinz Francesco de’ Medici, Vienna, Museum.
This is one of two bronze versions (Vienna and Florence) of the original alabaster relief in Madrid. The rather elaborate symbolism suggests a courtly allegory, typical of the time, behind which lies, most likely, a written invenzione. As the catalogue observes, the relief displays a “Geist von Allegorese, die sonst in Giambolognas Werk nicht vorkommt.” The relief has defied a satisfying interpretation, despite many attempts. Here it is suggested that the relief can be entitled, ‘A New Golden Age’, or the ‘Wiederkehr des Goldenen Zeitalters’. For details of this interpretation, see the discussion at the end of this exhibition report (Excursus).
Cat. no. 4. Giambologna, Smaller Flying Mercury, Dresden.
In contrast to the tilting movement of the ‘Medici Mercury’, the much smaller bronze (61 cm) now moves vertically upwards, like an arrow or a flame, in a classic version of the figura serpentinata, more complex in pose, and slightly turning around himself.
Cat. no. 5. Johann Gregor van der Schardt, Mercury, Getty Museum.
Formerly owned by Paulus Praun, this bronze, in comparison to Cat. no. 4 (supra), is a lesser work, unsure in its movement, in its somewhat flaccid and slack pose, and in the irresolution of its views in three dimensions. The connection with the Apollo Belvedere is here overdrawn (as also in Cat. no. 14). Statues based on this ancient classic usually pay some specific visual tribute to it
Cat. nos. 6, 7, and 8. Willem Danielsz van Tetrode, Three bronze Mercury statuettes, Bargello, Los Angeles, Munich (ca. 1560 ff.).
The three bronzes by Tetrode also seem to miss Giambologna’s lessons, but Tetrode was in Florence earlier, as an assistant to Cellini, whom he imitates. The Dutch sculptor, called Guglielmo Fiammingo in Italy, has been rather in vogue in recent years, and he has achieved notably high prices at auction. Just yesterday, on 28 January 2015, at Christie’s in New York, his bronze Hercules Pomarius (39 cm) fetched €1,505,520 (hammer price; buyer’s price: €1,811,000 = $2,045,000). A year earlier, in 2014, a bronze Samson, only attributed to Tetrode, brought just as much (Sotheby’s, NY; $2,050,000, hammer). The small raw cast of Tetrode’s Mercury (Cat. no. 8) possibly inspired Gerhard’s Mercury in a mirror-image variant (Cat. no. 9).
Cat. no. 9. Hubert Gerhard, Flying Mercury, Munich.
The figure has been newly positioned with a metal rod raising his left foot, enhancing the impact of the bronze figure, who may have been balanced on a globus, as the organizers have suggested and as other bronze figures of Mercury, widely separated in time and place, do. It has been proposed (Dorothea Diemer) that this bronze Mercury may have served as a sort of late-Cinquecento logo for the Paller family and its business. They became rich through their interests in copper mines. ‘Paller’ also suggests ‘palla’ (‘ball’).
Cat. no. 11. Adriaen de Vries, Flying Mercury, Lichtenstein.
This impressive golden yellow Mercury is based on Giambologna’s earliest large Mercury (1565), which has now almost vanished in Sweden. Cat. no.11 is a muscular, athletic man who seems to run strenuously forward as much as to fly. In this he resembles Leone Leoni’s medal with a Mercury on its reverse (Cat. no. 1). Only a few months ago (11 December 2014, Christie’s, NY), Adriaen de Vries became the world’s most expensive Old Master sculptor, with his bronze Bacchic figure supporting a Globe (109 cm), which sold for the equivalent of €19,970,775 (hammer price; with buyer’s premium, $27,885,000). The medium-size bronze was bought by the Rijksmuseum, with a consortium of supporters. This may seem little beside the over 100 million dollars paid for a Giacometti sold by the Commerzbank (auctioned by Sotheby’s in February 2010 for $104.3 million). It numbers among the most expensive works ever sold at auction, but the present market is one for modern and contemporary art. In 1989, a bronze Dancing Faun by de Vries (ca. 1610) was auctioned for $10 million, at that time a record price.
Bronzen für Kunstkammern und Sammler (Section II)
The second section, “Bronzes for Collectors and Kunstkammer” (cabinets of art and curiosities), presents Giambologna as a producer of small bronzes alongside Kleinbronzen by his followers, mainly in the North. In 1979, on the occasion of the Vienna venue of the first major Giambologna exhibition of bronzes, one visitor remarked loudly in the midst of the Finissage, as if he had seen the emperor’s new clothes, “Aber sie sind sooo klein!” But the bronzes in this section, and in the Munich exhibition in general, are all over 30 cm, and most over 50 cm. This may reflect the taste of present-day collectors, who are willing to pay up for larger bronzes, the impact of which is more that of sculpture than that of a miniature. Mid-size bronzes and larger certainly make for a more exciting exhibition.
Giambologna did not invent the small bronze, but he certainly revolutionised the genre, by producing multiple examples of his designs and entrusting the casting and finishing of his models largely to assistants, thus satisfying an international demand for his works, especially for his heroic nudes and mythological groups, where the figures were often assembled in almost vertical towers and with their limbs and bodies entangled.
In Dimitrios Zikos’s knowledgeable catalogue essay there is found much information about Giambologna’s Kleinbronzen, about their early collectors, and about the relationships with contemporary history. The perfection of Giambologna’s bronzes caused them to be treasured and sought after by princes and collectors as never before.
In the wake of the 1978/1979 Giovanni Bologna exhibitions (Edinburgh, London, Vienna; cf. cat. no. 28) the study of the bronzes of the master and his followers has become the main area of Giambologna studies. Small bronzes abound in private collections and in museums, but there are very, very few large-scale Giambologna works found outside of Italy. Perhaps no more than three true statues remain in private hands. Of course the American government might sell its Cesarini Venus (U.S. Embassy, Rome), but what else does there remain for museums and collectors to buy than bronzetti? The Italian government ceded the Venus, as “rottame”, to the Americans along with the Palazzo Ludovisi, in 1946, when they sold the palace to the Department of State (www.mmdtkw.org/VGiambolognaVenusBrochure.html ).
The approach to bronzes represented in the catalogue by Dimitrios Zikos, based partly on insights of Herbert Keutner and other bronze experts, is in many respects new, and it has begun to change the ‘logistics’ of attribution and the nomenclature of labels in catalogues of museums, collections, exhibitions, and auctions. It has also begun to re-define the aesthetic for evaluating Giambologna bronzes in the direction of Giambologna’s own views and those of his contemporaries. It also attempts a more exact definition of what ‘autography’ (Eigenhändigkeit) might mean in light of the technical work phases and the technical practices (Arbeitspraxis) that prevailed in the production of Giambologna’s Kleinbronzen. Bronzes manufactured, for example, by Antonio Susini used Giambologna’s original forms, and the sculptor himself recommended Susini’s bronzes as his own work. Thus, in 1605, Giambologna referred a prospective buyer to his assistant Susini, declaring that Susini’s bronzes are “among the best things that can be had from my hands” (Zikos, 2013, p. 204; “ha gittato nelle mie forme di molte statuette [...]; quali sono delle più belle cose che si possino avere dalle mie mani”: Desjardins, 1883, App. L, p. 185).
In the history of sculpture, in which collaboration and replication play an enormous rôle, autography is something of a phantom. “Di sua mano” cannot mean for sculpture what it means for drawings drawn by a single hand, or even for easel paintings. Aside, perhaps, from smaller models in wax or clay, or small marble statues, sculptures are rarely ‘autograph’, made, that is, by one hand alone. Thus Dimitrios Zikos establishes four criteria for Giovanni Bologna bronzes that can make a claim to Eigenhändigkeit (p. 202). Based on an exacting examination of the bronzes, of their variable execution and finish, and of variations among the models, and against the background of a detailed knowledge of sources and documents, he has attempted to make sense of a large and disparate material, dividing the bronzes between earlier phases and later ones, and assigning them tentatively to workshops. Raffaello Borghini writes, in 1584 (p. 588), near the end of his account of Giambologna, “I have failed to mention an enormous number (“infinità grande”) of most beautiful figurines in marble and in bronze that he, Giambologna, has made, of which there are in circulation thousands formed after these” (i.e., aftercasts). And this as early as 1584, when the full-scale production of Giambologna bronzes had just begun. The method exemplified in the catalogue attempts to complement the treatment of traditional questions of connoisseurship with a systematic consideration of historical realities and of the history of taste.
The bronzetti section began with:
Cat. no. 18. Giambologna (after), Raub einer Sabinerin, Munich, Museum.
This reddish, copper-coloured example (Nationalmuseum) of Giovanni Bologna’s Rape of a Sabine has been called “the finest cast known” of this model, although it appears to date after the sculptor’s death in 1608. It is a bronze reduction of Giambologna’s celebrated colossal marble group in Florence, and is here ascribed to Antonio or Giovanfrancesco Susini, owing to the subtle and fine chasing of the surface and the textured treatment of the rock-like forms of the base. Small scale replicas in bronze of ancient sculptures had been made, in Florence, by Tetrode in the 1550s, and also earlier, but Giambologna was perhaps the first sculptor to disseminate systematically his own designs in small replicas on a large scale.
The acquisition of the present bronze by the Nationalmuseum, in 1952, was owed to Hans R. Weihrauch, the later Generaldirektor of the museum and the author of the still standard Europäische Bronzestatuetten, 15.-18. Jahrhundert (Braunschweig, 1967, 539 pp.). Other Weihrauch acquisitions enrich the exhibition (Cat. nos. 13, 27, 31; see also: Bronzeplastik: Erwerbungen von 1956-1973; H.R. Weihrauch zum 65. Geburtstag, München 1974, with 55 acquisitions of bronzes).
A signed earlier cast of the same model was sold less than a year ago in London (Christie’s, 10 July 2014) for the equivalent of €4,024,960 (with buyer’s premium, €4,611,723), setting a new auction record for a Giambologna bronzetto. Old Master Sculpture prices have changed dramatically since the early 1980s, when sculpture dealers began racing up and down the stairway of the Kunsthistorisches Institut in Florenz, hoping to catch sight of Herbert Keutner, the then Institute director, and the rather reserved world authority for Giambologna.
The qualitative difference between the Munich bronze and the bronze recently sold in London is slight, for most, probably negligible. As Dimitrios Zikos suggests, what mattered to Giambologna was his designs, his models. The sculptor worried that the chasers and the ciseleurs might ruin his designs, and it is true that they sometimes added new, unwanted details. He was not so attached to surface finish or varnishes as are today’s connoisseurs and collectors. He and his contemporaries often preferred a golden yellow bronze alloy, undarkened by heavy varnishes. Autography, all by his own hand, was for Giambologna different from authenticity. If this aesthetic sets itself through, new criteria may be established for the market.
A number of recent and present-day collectors, often relying on dealers for expertise and advice, have developed a new taste for small bronzes, driving prices upward. Large auction houses have, in their own words, decided to concentrate on the super rich, who can easily outbid most museums and who compete among themselves for Giambologna’s prize bronzes. Sellers are intent on re-establishing, or establishing a market for Old Master Sculpture, at least as a profitable niche alongside the current mania for recent and contemporary art.
Giambologna’s Rape of a Sabine is sometimes presented as a daring display of nudity with erotic overtones. Doubtless these may be read into the work, but there is really nothing erotic about the Sabine group. The preference for nudity in this new age of bronze is a reference to the perfection of ancient sculpture with its prevailing ideal nudity, and not a taste for nakedness as sexual display. Almost never do Giambologna’s male or female figures have an aura of erotic suggestion. The formal perfection of his bodies often convey a sense of immaterial materiality. His male bronzes have hardly ever called for a fig leaf, but when, then mainly in subsequent times, burdened by excessive modesty. Today his bronzetti seem almost chaste. In the exhibition, fig leaves and their substitutes appear mainly only in later German bronzes, often public ones.
Cat. no, 16. Giambologna, Nessus und Deianeira, J. Tomilson Hill, New York (2014).
This chased and detailed original bronze, polished and finely finished (1971-2014: Royal Ontario Museum, as a loan), has apparently been nearly stripped of its varnish and patina. Recently acquired, it was not included in the exhibition of the Hill collection at the Frick (2014). It appears to come from the Augsburg collection of Marcus Zäch (d. 1610) and shares its golden yellow colour with Giambologna’s Passion reliefs (Cat. no. 32), which also belonged to Zäch. Giambologna’s elegant little bronzes hardly seem calculated to appeal to anyone who possesses even a trace of contemporary taste, but the J. Tomilson Hills, media conscious collectors, are proud to display their Giambologna bronzes in their Manhattan apartment set before their Warhols, Bacons, and de Koonings.
Cat. no.17. Giambologna, Schlafende und Satyr, J. Tomilson Hill, New York.
This handsome bronze was also acquired in 2014 for the Hill collection (also not in N.Y. Cat., 2014, and also formerly a long-term loan in Toronto; also ex-collection of Marcus Zäch). Hill also owns a bronze of this model without the satyr, attributed to Antonio Susini. It is labelled Sleeping Venus. As is well known, the female figure is related to the celebrated Vatican Cleopatra Belvedere (modernly ‘Ariadne’), but she is certainly not a copy or even a moderately faithful imitation. The ancient Cleopatra is covered with extravagantly rich drapery, with only her arms uncovered and her breasts and abdomen partially exposed. The positions of all the limbs are very different in the statue and the statuette, although the raised arms do make similar impressions, as do, more unmistakably, the massive forms of the body and limbs, with, in the statuette, their heavy fullness, which is not typical for Giambologna in the specific character it has here, and which seems to contain a reference to the ancient Cleopatra. Michelangelo’s Notte (Medici Chapel) may have also played a rôle.
There is a question as to whether the sculptor first made the ‘Schlafende’ and then, somewhat later, added a Satyr to his concept, but the present bronze is considered Giambologna’s and there is no visual discrepancy between the two figures. It might be observed, however, that the satyr is distinctly smaller in scale, possibly suggesting that he was kept small to fit a pre-existing base.
Who is the ‘Schlafende’, who, in the catalogue, is not identified? She has often been called Venus or, alternatively, a sleeping nymph. In 1611, this particular example of the bronze is called, “un gruppo di una ninfa che dorme, con un satiro appresso” (Zäch). Earlier the female figure was called merely, “una nuda in atto di dormire” (1584), but a few years later, “Una Statua d’una venerina di metallo che dorme, con un satiro” (1588). The nymph and satyr image was popularised by an illustration in the Hypnerotomachia Polifili (1499; ‘Panton Takidi’), which inspired, inter alia, Renaissance fountains, where a nymph lies sleeping and is observed by a satyr aroused in prurient lust (cf. Ill. Bartsch, 31, p. 444: Monogrammist BB, Satyr and Nymph). Sleeping nymph fountains were found in the gardens of Angelo Colocci and Hans Goritz in Rome, and at the Villa Giulia in Rome a “Venere” reclined at the centre of the fountain of the Acqua Vergine of the Nymphaeum. She is also called a nymph. Colocci’s Sleeping Nymph fountain is illustrated in J. J. Boissard’s Romanae urbis topographiae (Frankfurt am Main, 1597-1602, part 4, plate 25), along with Colocci’s version of a famous pseudo-antique epigram (“Huis nympha loci, sacri custodia fontis [...]). She resembles Giambologna’s ‘Schlafende’ far more closely than does the Vatican Cleopatra. Cf. Aldrovandi, “una Ninfa ignuda (...) e giacendo dorme”; “una Ninfa che giace, e dorme”; “una Ninfa che giace, e dorme: è una Neride Ninfa de’ fonti”. Why would Giambologna turn to a statue clearly identified at the time as Cleopatra as a model for a Venus, especially in light of the many ancient Venuses he saw and copied in Rome? The Belvedere Cleopatra formed part of a fountain and was sometimes considered a nymph.
A statue cannot be a Venus and at the same time a nymph, even if both are associated with water, but between ‘ninfa’ and ‘venerina’ (1588) there is no genuine contradiction. ‘Venerina’ is an appellation occasionally encountered in sixteenth-century letters and other texts, applied to a usually three-dimensional figure, a younger female, possibly, but not necessarily small, and similar in appearance to a Venus, but often of uncertain identity, as in the case of antiquities, and sometimes slightly insignificant, as in ‘a pretty girl’; cf. “quella fontana che è alla vigna del Carpi, dov’è quella Venerina che giace” (Vasari, Nachlass, I, p. 360), or Bembo (Lettere), “la Venerina marmorea”, or even more tellingly, “Di Felice [Schiavoni pittore, 1803-1881], tre quadretti, una Venerina o Ninfa, con fondo a paesi” (Biblioteca italiana, LXXV, 1831). The term ‘Venerina’ is applied not infrequently to Giambologna’s models of women bathing (and others that may or may not represent Venuses, sometimes called nymphs), ones that contain references to ancient statuary types. A small marble statue called ‘Venerina’ has recently been re-installed within Giambologna’s Appenine at Pratolino (October, 2014).
The vagueness of the identities of many, often fragmentary ancient statues and the puzzled attempts to interpret them may have played a rôle in Giambologna’s apparent openness concerning questions of identity in his own sculptures. In Rome, and elsewhere, sculptors restored nameless ancient statues, giving them, ex post facto, new identities, and even combining unrelated fragments according to a new concetto. In large nude marbles, where identification depends largely on attributes, identity loss is common.
Cat. no. 21. Hubert Gerhard, Hercules, Nessus und Deianiera, Vienna, Museum, 1604-1605.
From the Kunstkammer of the Emperor Rudolf II, this three-figure bronze is not only somewhat static, but it seems to me, despite the characterisation “von alle Seiten (gleich) schön” applied to the sculptures shown here, to have been planned essentially only for the frontal view.
Cat. no. 22. Hans Mont van Gent (attributed), Mars und Venus, Getty Museum.
An interesting, if not excellent piece by a, to most, little or unknown sculptor. Dorothea Diemer introduces new material in support of the attribution.
Cat. 23. Huber Gerhard, Mars, Venus und Amor, Vienna, Museum.
This good size bronze is a brilliant example of Gerhard’s work. Especially appealing is the positioning of Amour on a step and his enframement by the diagonal movements of the legs of Mars and Venus. The group is planned only for the frontal and forward lateral views (cf. Zikos, p. 103). Dorothea Diemer proposes, sensibly, that the bronze may have been mounted on a piece of furniture. Venus holds a flaming heart (un cœur enflammé) which Mars seems to fix in his gaze (cf. Tervarent, col. 103). Mars pacified by love?
Cat. no. 30. Hans Reichle, Venus Kallipygos, Oxford, Ashmolean Museum.
The bronze (36.6 cm) is a small copy of the ancient marble Venus ‘Kallipygos’ (Greek for Venus ‘with the beautiful bottom’). The bronze has the same central motive as the marble statue, a maiden who looks over her shoulder and seeks to see her backside. The statuette had earlier been variously attributed to the circle around Giambologna, but Dorothea Diemer has recognised it as a typical work of Hans Reichle, a German pupil of Giambologna (2001). Now she places its making tentatively in Florence, ca. 1592-1594. The bronze is a faithful and conscious reproduction and reduction of an antique statue, but it also has individual traits. The face and the coiffure, with its ornaments, are Reichle’s own invention, and the grooved character of the drapery folds belong to him. In the limbs there is a trace of Giambologna’s conical abstraction, but the limbs and the trunk of the body, samt dem schönen Hintern, are slightly lumpy, or knotty, and drawn taut, alla tedesca. The ‘Venus’ (also she is a Venerina; cf. Athenaeus, Deipnosophistae) lifts her ornamented chemise to show her beautiful behind to her admirers, and she listens for their acclaim. Here the exhibition has found at last a taste of the erotic promised by ‘Bella figura’. The forms of her body, in the bronze, are very different from those of the ‘original’ as seen in a plaster cast in the Katharina-von-Bora-Straße in Munich, where the forms of Venus’s body are softer, more natural, and, indeed, more like a woman’s body. If one walks around the collection of plaster casts, one senses that, despite Giambologna’s dedicated study of antique works of sculpture in Rome, his sculptures are very different in appearance, even if his all’antica borrowings are obvious. One detects little resonance between these works and Giambologna. Giambologna always looks like Giambologna.
Cat. no. 31. Adriaen de Vries, Die Schmiede des Vulcan, Munich, Museum.
This handsome bronze relief (47 x 56 cm), which also numbers among H.R. Weihrauch’s acquisitions, represents the Forge of Vulcan (Vergil, Aeneid, VIII, 416-453). A, for me, puzzling aspect is the ornamented frieze of the architecture, which does not run parallel with the top border of the relief. The relief may have been a centrepiece of a sopracamino, where this subject was often placed.
Bronzeplastik im sakralem Raum (Section III)
The third gallery presents the first part of Section III, Bronze Sculpture in Sacred Spaces. Here the principal attraction is formed by six reliefs of the Passion of Christ (Cat. no. 32. Giambologna, Sechs Passionreliefs, Munich, Museum).
These reliefs are versions of the relief cycle made for the Grimaldi Chapel in Genoa (1579ff.). They represent the true beginnings of Giambologna’s relief style (although a few isolated reliefs are earlier) and his coming to terms with the problems of the religious relief. At this late date – the sculptor was well over fifty – Giambologna was, amazingly, able to elaborate a new and personal conception of narrative relief with a coherent and consistent relief system unifying the cycle (Zikos, guided tour of the exhibition, 8.03.2015). These examples come from the contemporary collection of Marcus Zäch (ca. 1610). The working of the bronze after the casting is here attributed to Antonio Susini (ca. 1608-1610). They are of the golden yellow colour often favoured by Giambologna’s contemporaries. That these reliefs were, in Genoa, installed to be seen from below, is reflected in their high placement in the exhibition, which means that they cannot be closely inspected except by the very tall.
Cat. no. 34. Giambologna, Grablegung Christi, German Private Collection.
This relief corresponds to the antependium of the altar of the Grimaldi Chapel in Genoa. The Genoa relief shows a flatter conception of the figures in relief, and is conceived to be seen from above, but this is also a development adumbrated in the last of the passion reliefs, the Kreuztragung (Cat. no.32). The version in this catalogue number has only recently come to light and is presented here as a novelty. The work is previously unpublished. The perhaps excessively green appearance is due to surface corrosion. The relief is here, following Kriegbaum and Holderbaum, rightly restored to Giambologna (and not assigned to de Vries or Francavilla). This discovery adds notably to an understanding of Giambologna’s Reliefkunst; some motifs are different from the Genoa version, and the new relief is more successful in the presentation of the plastic forms and contains new, authentic details.
Cat. no. 33. Giambologna, Geißelung Christi, Augsburg, Barfüßerkirche.
This version of a relief from the Genoa passion cycle belongs to the epitaph of Marcus Zäch. With its dark surface, the relief system seems to resemble that of the relief placed beneath Giambologna’s Sabine group in the Loggia de’ Lanzi (1582-1584): its isolated groups before a rather flat ground and its compressed, low relief architecture. There is nothing of the almost ‘shuffling’ together of the figures, almost as in a deck of cards, into groups, as in, for example, the Cristo portacroce (“mit gestaffelten Figuren”).
Cat. no. 46. Hubert Gerhard, Lazaruserweckung, Freisung, Diözesanmuseum, 1596.
In comparison to Giambologna’s Passion reliefs, with their highly controlled and disciplined arrangement of forms, this work manifests a far more uncertain grasp of the principles of narrative relief. This is evidenced, inter alia, in the looser disposition of figures and the, at times, almost spaghetti-like folds of the draperies. Here we see “Gerhards weichfließend, nicht mehr dem Florentiner Manierismus verpflicheten Altersstil” (Dorothea Diemer). It might be remarked here that ‘Mannerism’ (by which Diemer only means Spätrenaissance as a period term) is now a thankfully somewhat faded concept; even as late as the mid-1960s many art historians were still fretting about “What is Mannerism?”, although a lot of people had already decided that it did not mean much. In any event, Mannerism, whatever it might mean, does not seem a Begriff (concept) that applies at all to Giambologna’s highly rational art.
The remainder of Section III: Sakrale Kunst is displayed in a spacious last upper level gallery, together with Section IV: Bronzen all’italiana für die Residenzgärten.
Cat. 37. Giambologna, Der Kruzifixus, St. Michael, Munich.
Cat. 38. Hans Reichle, Maria Magdalena, St. Michael, Munich.
The Giambologna over-lifesize bronze Crucifix can be seen for what it is in the full-lighting and the much lower position accorded it in the exhibition: “ein Meisterwerk”, and viewing conditions for the Magdalena are much superior to those in the Kaufingerstraße. One sees immediately her resemblance to Reichle’s Kallipygos (Cat. no. 30), even if her gaze is upward, towards Christ. Cat. no. 47 presents a Kruzifixus from Wullenstetten newly and convincingly attributed to Giambologna (Diemer).
Cat no. 49 A-C. Hubert Gerhard, Madonna mit Kind, hl. Georg und hl. Elisabeth von Thüringen.
These three large bronzes (109, 45, and 55 cm) are important unpublished works, seen here for the first time (ca. 1599/1600). St. George and the Madonna testify to an early Dürer Renaissance around 1600. The catalogue rightly sees the Madonna as a “Hauptwerk Hubert Gerhards aus seiner letzten Schaffensphase.” Also noteworthy are the two gilt small bronzes of Cat. no. 50 by Gerhard (Maria and Johannes) from an American private collection and otherwise seldom to be seen and studied.
Bronze all’italiana für die Residenzgärten (Section IV).
Many of these works are familiar to those who live in Munich, but the exhibition is also a welcome opportunity to see works such as Carlo di Cesare del Palagio’s Putto mit zwei Delphinen (Cat. no. 52) in new circumstances and alongside the many other large bronzes on exhibit.
Cat. no. 54. Hubert Gerhard, Jagdhund, Munich, Museum.
This totally simpatico hunting dog is a show stealer. Dorothea Diemer rightly puts a question mark beside Gerhard’s name for a second bronze dog (Cat. no. 55), and several more might be added.
Cat. no. 39. Carlo di Cesare del Palagio, Büste von Herzog Wilhelms V. von Bayern, Royal Collection, England.
This is a newly identified work (both in terms of the artist and the sitter), which can now be seen in Bavaria (Kunstchronik, 62, 2009, pp. 153-158; cf. Cat. no. 56).
Cat. no. 59. Hans Krumpper, Allegorien der Vier Jahreszeiten, Munich, Museum.
These four characteristic dark bronzes (h 80, 86, 87, 83 cm) by Krumpper are a reminder (with reference to Cat. no. 2) that the four Jahreszeiten (Seasons) come most often, not alone, but in pairs or in fours, and that they are identified by their characteristic, almost canonical attributes.
Monumentale Brunnenanlagen der Spätrenaissance in München-Kirckheim-Augsburg (Section V)
The final section of the exhibition is held on the ground floor in the very large Mars-Venus-Saal, where Gerhard’s colossal Mars, Venus and Amour group (Cat. no. 65) is found. Here are assembled nine other larger bronzes, many by Gerhard, including a large figure from the Augustusbrunnen in Augsburg (Cat. no. 71).
Cat. no. 64. Hubert Gerhard. Lagernder Flussgott.
This bronze (34.5 x 52 cm) is a loan from Liechtenstein (Princely Collections). It came to light only in 2009 and is one of the finest of Gerhard’s early works.
Cat. no. 76. Adriaen de Vries, Junger Flussgott, Augsburg, Maximilianmuseum.
This is a masterly bronze and one of the most beautiful and poetic in the exhibition, a “weich nuanciert modellierte malerische Figur” (Diemer).
Here is a more extended version of the commentary to Cat. no. 2, Section I, above.
Cat. no. 2. Giambologna, Sogennante Allegorie auf Prinz Francesco de’ Medici, Vienna, Museum.
This is one of two bronze versions (Vienna and Florence) of the original alabaster relief in Madrid. The rather elaborate symbolism suggests a courtly allegory, typical of the time, behind which lies, most likely, a written invenzione. The relief has defied a satisfying interpretation, despite many Deutungsversuche. In 1978, Herbert Keutner recognized that the ‘prince’ in the alabaster relief was a real portrait of Prince Francesco de’ Medici as a youth (whereas in the bronze versions he is only an ideal portrait), a portrait that corresponds to Francesco’s beardless appearance in 1560 (medal of Pastorino, on which Giambologna’s portrait may be based). This determination appears to furnish two fixed points: Francesco as the ‘prince’, dressed all’antica, and a date of 1560 ff. (before 1564).
Most attempts at interpreting the relief seem somewhat unsystematic, and they have failed to acknowledge certain essential characteristics of this early relief, made by a sculptor who was still inexperienced in the relief medium. There are problems with the relief’s perspective, which are more acute in the bronze replicas. Further, there are difficulties in the positioning of the figures in the setting. A literary invention may have obliged the sculptor to include more figures and details than was congenial to his figurative imagination. One obstacle to a correct interpretation has always been the large nude female figure in the lower right corner. She has been called “Ceres, or Abundance”, but she has no spikes of grain. She has also been called Fiorenza, or Florence, but she has no flowers (fiori). These are obligatory attributes. In the left corner sits an old man, huddled before a flaming brazier, who warms his hands. He represents the season of Winter. Were he to stand he would be as tall as the relief itself (cf. Borghini, 1584, p. 588 (about a crouching figure): “che fosse dritta in piedi sarebbe alta cinquanta braccia”). The same is true of his counterpart in the right corner. Both figures are out-of-scale, and exist, as it were, on a different plane of reality. They are allegories of time: Seasons, or Jahreszeiten. Thus, not ‘Ceres’, and not ‘Fiorenza’, but 'Summer' (Estate), as the primizie in her basin indicate (no grain, no grapes, but leaved vegetables, fruit, a pomegranate). She does not encounter, despite her seeming proximity to them, the prince and Mercury, but represents the cyclic progression of forward-moving time. The prince and Mercury do not see her, but turn, it seems, a corner, intending to go towards the barrel-vaulted colonnade, to which Mercury points. The awkward representation of Summer’s platform and the crowding of the relief creates a misleading impression. The entire relief may, I believe, be seen as the “New Golden Age”, or the “Wiederkehr des Goldenen Zeitalters” (cf. brief hints in this direction in Marco Collareta, in: Palazzo Vecchio, exh. cat., 1980, p. 335, and Keutner, 1978, p. 155: “the succession of the ages”). Not only do the two seasons, in and of themselves, suggest an allegory of time, but two of the thinly clad damsels hold hourglasses. One touches Saturn (Chronos), or Father Time. There is also a contrast of ages: Winter and the very old woman who accompanies him (left) versus youth (right). In general, the relief appears to represent an allegory of time. The right side of the relief represents fairly clearly the Age of Saturn (aurea aetas or aurea saecula). One of the most striking motives of the relief is the figure of Saturn, the god of time, who devours his son: “(...) redeunt Saturnia regna” (Vergil, Ecologue 4: 5-8). Saturn is the symbol of the mythical Golden Age, of the Saturnia regna. The personifications of the Five Ages of Man (Hesiod) enter in the mid-distance. The largest “Età” holds her sandglass (clepsammia) next to Saturn, underlining her identification as a component of time. She will personify the Golden Age of Saturn. Next to her stands a nude Venus-like maiden. She turns modestly away, and she may be identified as the “nuova Età dell’Oro”, a common theme of courtly and specifically Medici iconography in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. In Domenico Mellini’s description of the apparato for the wedding of Francesco and Giovanna d’Austria (1565), the New Golden Age appears thusly on the Carro di Saturno (a part of the Genealogy of the Gods): “la felice Età [nuova], figurata per una vaga e pura vergine (...) tutta ignuda” (Vasari-Milanesi, 8, p. 594). The invention appears to be that of Vincenzo Borghini.
As a consequence, the right side of the relief must represent a New Golden Age in Florence. The Prince aside, the architecture at the right is Florentine, and the newest of Florentine architecture. It re-affirms the identification of place. A young ideal prince, still beardless, but with whiskers beginning to form before his ears (as with Francesco, about 1562 – his iconography is incredibly well documented), and armato all’antica, as Medici in the Principato often were, is led by Mercury, and they seem to turn toward the magnificient new columned corridor, which leads into the distance in a kind of perspective tunnel. Mercury holds a short snakeless, but banded staff, and not his usual caduceus. Possibly he is present only as the herald of a new age. The prince and his herald leave behind them a building that is under construction. If Mercury, who is known in myriad capacities, personifies here the god who “favorisce tutte le arti”
(Ragionamenti), then the new Golden Age of Francesco may be one in which the arts of disegno flourish, including the art of building, or architecture. Such a program of foundations is reflected in the eight small reliefs of the Acts of Francesco I, made from the designs of Giambologna (cf. Avery, 1987, pp. 271-273). As has been noticed, the only figures on the left side of the relief who take notice of the actions on the right side are the two female personifications here identified as the ‘Age of Saturn’ and the ‘nuova Età dell’Oro’. They look towards the figure of Amour (top right), who aims his arrow, in fact, at Mercury, and not at Francesco. It would seem probable, nevertheless, that the relief was connected with marriage negotiations involving Francesco, which began early and were long and changing, but this is not necessarily true. There are many more details of the relief that might be discussed, and others that still require clarification. Who, for instance, was the librettista of the invention? Vincenzo Borghini? That there was one is testified to by many details with a symbolic character unlike Giambologna, e.g., the ivy entwined trees at left, or the rivus indicated before the feet of the Ages. And, further, who commissioned the relief? Did Giambologna make it on his own volition, or, was it ordered by Francesco, or by Bernardo Vecchietti? Or even by “maestro Bernardo di Mona Mattea, muratore ducale, che ha condotto tutte le fabbriche del Vasari, con eccellenza”? (Vasari). This master builder is mentioned in connection with Giambologna only by Vasari, but he owned “di mano di costui [Giambologna] molte opere e bellissimi modelli di cose diverse”, just as did the better known Vecchietti (Vasari-Milanesi, 7, p. 630).
And should Mercury’s rôle also be seen in the light of Leoni’s medal of Maximilian II (Cat. no. 1) inscribed, “QVO ME FATA VOCANT” (Vergil), the Mercury of the Aenied, who reminded Aeneas of his destiny in Italy, an event which ultimately sets again into motion the cycle of the ages, as the harbinger of a new golden age? (cf. www.metmuseum.org/collection/the-collection-online/search/380572 ).
It is unfortunate that no museum seems to have had the courage to abandon, for a sculpture exhibition, ‘treasury’ lighting – so favoured by exhibition designers, who apparently believe that gloomy rooms with focused spot-lights enhance preciousness and dramatize exhibits – in favour of natural lighting, which does no harm to bronze or marble at all. Natural light from above has a long history of advocates, its archetype being the centuries-old Roman Pantheon ( archiv.ub.uni-heidelberg.de/artdok/volltexte/2007/273 ). It must, however, be admitted that in the Munich exhibition the galleries are scarcely cast into darkness, and the visitor has a close up, unobstructed view of the bronzes, which, for the most part, are not shown behind glass in vitrines. More problematic is the display of important reliefs too far above the viewer, in a mistaken attempt to simulate original collocations, a hopeless endeavour, doomed to failure. The purpose of such an exhibition is to allow a close and prolonged observation of the single works shown, one extended also to their relationships with the many other works present. What else justifies the expense and inconvenience that exhibitions entail?
The catalogue, Bella Figura: Europäische Bronzekunst in Süddeutschland um 1600, ed. Renate Eikelmann, Bayerisches Nationalmuseum/Hirmer Verlag, 2015 (€45.50 in the Museum; €49.90 in the book trade), contains a number of important essays, including that of the exhibition’s Curator, dedicated to the opening central theme, “Merkur in der Spätrenaissance” (pp. 50-87). The catalogue also contains many excellent new, often large colour photographs. Not all of the short-form citations found in the notes are included in the bibliography, but a large exhibition is a Herculean task.
The concept of ‘bella figura’, if it is a concept, is one which foreigners with a limited familiarity with Italy seem to like, according it an importance in understanding Italy and its people that it does not have. Here, in the title, ‘bella figura’ has the effect of a banal tag affixed to the manifestation to attract visitors. Whether it has been successful is questionable, but the exhibition was, nevertheless, well attended on the days I visited it.
6 February – 25 May, 2015
Open Tuesday-Sunday 10-17; Thursday: 10-20; closed Monday.
Entrance: €9 (reduced: €8)
A small guide to bronzes in situ in Munich and Augsburg was issued in conjunction with the exhibition: Merkur und Bavaria: Städteführer zu den Bronzen der Spätrenaissance in München und Augsburg, 84 pp.; € 10.
I was present for Führungen of the exhibition conducted by Jens Burk, Dorothea Diemer, and Dimitrios Zikos and have here benefited from their ideas.
POSTSCRIPT ZUR ROKOKO-AUSSTELLUNG:
Die Ausstellung zeigt noch ein Mal, dass Ignaz Günther zu den größten Meistern der Bildhauerkunst gehört, wie Michelangelo in Italien. Allein für Ignaz Günther wäre die Ausstellung einen Besuch wert. Ihm gewidmet sind ein sehr großer Saal und zwei nicht ganz so große Säle. Zu sehen sind zahlreiche Werke, die fast eine monographische Günther-Ausstellung bilden.
Berichte und Rezensionen (Auswahl):