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An important roman gilt bronze group of the dead christ, upon lapis-lazuli
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About the object

The scantily draped figure reclining on a cushion and drapery covered rock, the tools of the Passion surrounding Him, two apertures for figures of angels (lacking) flanking Him, upon a lapis lazuli-veneered marble ground, set into an elaborate gilt bronze shaped base embellished with gadrooning and a guilloche chain border, with floral flourishes and two wreath-form handles at the sides, the front center fitted with a scrollwork cartouche surmounted by a cardinal's hat, a lion to the right, and with the arms of the Rezzonico of Venice, fitted with a gilt bronze and lapis lazuli-veneered marble cross engraved with a crown of thorns on the reverse.\nThere were three cardinals in the noble Rezzonico family including Carlo Rezzonico born in 1693 and created cardinal in 1737. He was the nephew of Pope Clement XIII and received the present lot, a lavish gilt bronze and lapis-lazuli gift, from his nephew's new father-in-law, Gaetano Ludovisi Boncompagni.\nThe Ludovisi were a family of ecclesiastics, rulers, patrons and art collectors, one of whom, Alessandro Ludovisi, became Pope Gregory XV in 1621. Giambattista Ludovisi died without heirs in 1699, and his sister Ippolita married Gregorio Boncompagni, which allowed for the continuation of the family line.\nCamillo Rusconi (1658-1728) was one of the last great Roman sculptors to champion the late Baroque style while infusing some of the new Rococo taste in his works. He first studied with Giuseppe Rusnati, a Milanese sculptor who had worked with Ercole Ferrata in Rome. Rusconi soon went to Rome to work with the master and quickly learned the styles of the two most influential Roman sculptors of the previous generation, Algardi and Bernini.\nAmong his first independent works are four female allegorical figures for the Ludovisi Chapel in S Ignazio, Rome. His most important large-scale religious works are the four marble statues for Borromini's niches in the Cathedral of S Giovanni in Laterano, Rome.\nA Gift for the Boncompagni Ludovisi-Rezzonico Wedding\nby Jennifer Montagu\nThis lot, made in 1767/68, consists of the dead Christ, cast in gilt bronze from a silver figure by Camillo Rusconi (1658-1728), originally mourned by two Angels (now missing). The sculptural group rests on a marble slab veneered with lapis lazuli, and the whole is on a base of gilt bronze; the cross behind, of lapis lazuli-veneered, gilt bronze-mounted marble, with its associated rays, skull and bones identifying Golgotha, and the snake with the apple in its mouth, some of the rocks and the gilt bronze base with its handles and the arms of Cardinal Rezzonico, were all designed, and in part modeled, by Pietro Bracci (1700-1773).\nThe silver sculpture was admired by Orazio Fracassati, who gave an oration in praise of Rusconi in 1720 when Pope Clement XI visited the sculptor’s studio and honoured him by making him a Cavaliere di Cristo. After speaking of other works in silver by Rusconi, he continued: “Obligarei l’altrui pietà fissar gl’occhi almen per un poco sopra quell’orrida maestà del morto Salvatore che steso sopra la bara ha gl’Angeli di pace intorno, che amaramente piangono; tal nobil lavoro, formato pure in argento, è la più bella, e preziosa suppellettile che concorra ad ornare il Palazzo della Principessa di Piombino.” The Princess of Piombino, in whose palace this was “the most beautiful work of art”, would have been Ippolita Ludovisi, the last of her line, whose marriage with Gregorio Boncompagni united the two families; it would have passed into the collection of her grandson, Gaetano Ludovisi Boncompagni, Prince of Piombino, etc.\nIt is therefore not surprising that Gaetano should have chosen this superb model to have cast as a gift for Cardinal Carlo Rezzonico, nephew of Pope Clement XIII, one of a number of sumptuous presents he distributed to various members of the Rezzonico family when his daughter Ippolita Boncompagni Ludovisi married the Pope’s nephew Abbondio Rezzonico in February 1768. This appears to be the only such gift to have survived, and it is fully documented in the family archives. It will be fully discussed in a forthcoming article.\nThe casting and gilding was done by Felice Sciffone, who is best known for the Baldachin he made for the church of São Roque in Lisbon; here he describes himself as “brass-worker and metal-founder”, but he seems to have worked more often in the former capacity. He charged 110 scudi for his Christ and angels “gettato col modello di Camillo Rusconi”. He asked a further 80 scudi for “The models added for the completion of the group, that is: various rocks, the serpent, the death’s head and bones, the Cross with rays, inscription, and the base, all cast with its decorations, cardinal’s arms, two handles, etc.” This is followed immediately by the statement that he had paid 20 scudi to “Signor Pietro Bracci, sculptor, for the direction of this work, some clay [models] composed by him, and much trouble taken”. The gilding of the whole cost a further 250 scudi.\nThe marble with its lapis lazuli veneer was made by the stone-mason Sebastiano Dell’Oste.\nThe model of Christ on his shroud lying on a rocky ground (certainly not on a bier) can thus be securely ascribed to Rusconi. From the fact that they are not included in the list of additions, one may assume that he was also responsible for the half-open jar and cloth, as for the crown of thorns and nails.\n That the Christ was modelled by the greatest sculptor of early 18th century Rome is evident: the pathos of his dead body fully justifies Fracassati’s praise, and the sensitivity of the modelling is preserved in this bronze. Despite numerous casting repairs that can be discerned beneath the gilding, Sciffone has chased the cast with great care, bringing out the beauty of Christ’s head with its half-open mouth, nearly closed eyes, and delicately modelled hands. The hair cascades over Christ’s shoulder, and the textures of the flesh, rock and textiles are defined by the varied working of the surface. That the additions were designed by an artist capable of incorporating figures created some fifty years previous into a harmonious and well-proportioned ‘modern’ whole, is equally evident.\n At Cardinal Carlo Rezzonico's death in 1799 it was highly estimated in comparison to his other works of art, and the Cardinal bequeathed it (appropriately) to his younger brother Abbondio. Eleven years later Abbondio was to decide that it should remain within the family (which lacked any male heir), and left it to Andriana Giovanelli Widmann, wife of his nephew Antonio. Its subsequent peregrinations remain to be established, but there can be no doubt as to the identity of the sculpture.\nDespite the loss of the Angels and the scars they have left, it remains a remarkable and rare example of a princely gift, modeled by the two leading Roman sculptors of their respective periods, and executed with a finesse worthy of both the donor and the recipient.\nWe are extremely grateful to Dr. Montagu for sharing her research on this sculpture and for her invaluable contributions to this entry.
US
NY, US
US

dimensions

Height 37¼in; length 33½in; 94.6cm; 85cm

literature

Frank Martin, “’Si descrivono ancora ornatamente tutte le opere del sudetto Sig. Cav. Rusconi’: eine neue Vita Camillo Rusconis”, Römisches Jahrbuch der Bibliotheca Hertziana, vol. 32, 1997/98 (pp. 507-531), p. 528. RELATED LITERATURE: Grove Art Online, Oxford University Press, 2005


*Note that the price is not recalculated to the current value, but refers to the actual final price at the time the product was sold.

*Note that the price is not recalculated to the current value, but refers to the actual final price at the time the product was sold.


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