Sir Francis Chantrey, attributed to
(Jordanthorpe 1781 – 1841 London)
Portrait bust of King George IV (1762 – 1830)
On a circular marble socle
Height: 52 cm / 20½ in; 71.7cm / 28¼ in. incl. socle
Collection of Ian Dawson Grant (1925-1998), first Secretary of the Victorian Society;
Bequeathed by the above to a private collection, UK
Baker, M., Potts, A., et al (eds.), An Edition of the Ledger of Sir Francis Chantrey R.A., at the Royal Academy, 1809-1841. The Volume of the Walpole Society, Vol. 56 (1991-1992), p. 166
Roscoe, Ingrid, A Biographical Dictionary of British Sculptors 1660-1851 (Yale University Press, New Haven, 2009), p. 249, no. 429
Gunnis, Rupert. Dictionary of British Sculptors 1660-1851 (The Abbey Library, London, New Revised Edition), p. 94
This striking bust is closely related to an official portrait of the King by Sir Francis Chantrey from the early 1820s, when Chantrey’s reputation as a portrait sculptor par excellence was at its zenith. Like the official composition, of which the first 1822 version resides at Chatsworth House, the present bust portrays the King in an heroic manner, with his head turned to sinister, a partly bared chest, long manly neck and hair carved intricately in luxurious curls. Both are reminiscent of Sir Thomas Lawrence’s famous painted portrait of King George IV of 1821, where the King is styled as a confident patrician ruler, with a haughtily turned gaze and flowing curls of hair.
The present composition, of which no other copies are known, is a more informal and intimate study than the official version, with the classical drapery reduced to a small piece of garment on the left shoulder. This type of drapery is a common feature in other busts by Chantrey, such as his bust presumed to be of Samuel Shore (Victoria and Albert Museum). Furthermore, the facial features of the King in the present bust are quite realistically modelled, in a manner which is toned down in the more idealised official portrait, but which can be seen in Chantrey’s original studies for the bust (National Portrait Gallery), where the nose, jowls and shadows under the eyes are more pronounced, as in the present composition. Whilst there are also slight differences in the rendering of the hair, the similarity of the facial features and expression, as well as the quality of the carving itself, evident in the abundant all’ antica curls and drill-work, are all indicative of Chantrey’s authorship. Consequently, this bust was probably a private commission from the King made by Chantrey after 1821 (following his initial drawings of George IV), which either preceded the official bust or was a special version made for the King. It possibly may be related to an unsigned and undated bust of George IV recorded in the Chatrey Ledger (op. cit.), which on 22nd April 1822 was delivered on the King’s orders to Lady Elizabeth, Marchioness Conyngham (the King’s mistress) at Hamilton Place, London.
Sir Francis Chantrey was the outstanding British portrait sculptor of his generation, celebrated for his simple yet powerful studies of character. He was born in 1781 in Jordanthorpe, near Sheffield. Initially apprenticed to a carver and gilder, Chantrey was later taught drawing by John Raphael Smith. He began his career painting portraits but soon turned his hand to sculpture. By 1809 he had settled in London and his first major success was a strong but naturalistic bust of Horne Tooke (Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge) exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1811. This led to further commissions for portrait busts and for the rest of his prolific career he was never short of work in this area. Chantrey travelled to Paris in 1814 and Rome in 1819, where he visited the studios of Canova and Thorvaldsen. He became a member of the Royal Academy in 1818 and in 1835 he was knighted by King William IV, for whom he was Sculptor-in-Ordinary from 1830. By the end of his life Chantrey had built a considerable fortune, most of which he left to the Royal Academy for purchasing work by British artists.
A Renaissance Putto Playing the Lute
First half 16th century
Possibly workshop of Giovanni della Robbia
Dimensions: the figure 47.5cm., 18 3/4 in., 52cm., 20 1/2 in. overall.
An important German collection, Bavaria
This painted terracotta figure of a naked boy or putto playing a lute is typical of Florentine Renaissance sculpture in both subject matter and material. The contraposto stance of the present figure is characteristic of Florentine sculptors’ attention to classical form, based on the study of antique statuary. This anatomical equilibrium is expressed in the manner in which the figure places his weight on his left side (which holds the weight of the lute), while his right foot is raised in the air in order to counterbalance the opposing force.
The figure probably belonged to a larger sculptural ensemble or architectural monument, evinced by the holes on the reverse, which possibly acted as struts for placement, or where wings were inserted. Furthermore, the fact that the figure is largely unfinished at the back and top of the head, with the modelling focussed on the front of the figure, suggests that it was intended to be seen from below, so was originally placed atop a sculptural monument. This high positioning of this type of figure is fairly common in Florentine works of the late fifteenth and early sixteenth century, such as Andrea della Robbia’s Ciborio for the Sacred Host (c.1490-95), in which three putti surmount the tabernacle frame.
The present theme of putto or youths playing musical instruments is also a common one in Florentine sculpture of this period. One of the most famous early examples is Luca della Robbia’s famous Cantoria or “Singing Gallery” (1431-8, Museo dell’Opera del Duomo), where a youth plays a lute in contraposto stance. A closer comparable in both subject and date to the present figure is Giovanni della Robbia’s figure of a putto playing a lute in his altarpiece of the Sant’ Anna presenta l’Immacolata (c.1517) in the convent of San Lucchese a Poggibonsi. Giovanni’s figure plays a very similar type of lute, as well as having the same fleshy anatomical modelling. Other figures of putti playing musical instruments are relatively common in works attributed to Giovanni and his workshop.
The della Robbia family is famous for its production of glazed terracottas, pioneered in the mid-15th century by Luca della Robbia (1400-1482). Luca was regarded by the great fifteenth-century humanist scholar Leon Battista Alberti as being one of the five artists – along with Brunelleschi, Masaccio, Ghiberti and Donatello – who had set the course of Renaissance Florentine art. This was a result of his masterpiece, the marble Cantoria in Florence Cathedral. The della Robbia workshop was prolific and continued to operate into the mid-16th century, first under Luca's son Andrea (1435-1525) and later under Andrea’s sons Giovanni (1469-1529), Luca di Andrea (1475-1548) and Giralomo (1488-1566). As well as producing pieces in glazed terracotta, the della Robbia workshop also moulded works in unglazed terracotta (Cambareri, op. cit.). These unglazed terracottas were often painted in oils (Marquand, op. cit., p.69). The present painted terracotta figure, therefore, may have originated in the della Robbia workshop, as part of a larger sculptural project, which was later dismantled.
A thermoluminescence analysis report from Oxford Authentication Ltd (dated 30th September 2015) confirms that all three samples taken from the present figure are consistent with the proposed dating of the first half of the sixteenth century.
Cambareri, Marietta. Della Robbia: Sculpting with Colour in Renaissance Florence (MFA Publications, Boston, 2016), p.64
Gentilini, Giancarlo. I della Robbia (Cantini, Milan, 1992), p.303
Marquand, Alan. Giovanni della Robbia (Princeton University Press, Princeton, 1920), p.84-85, fig.44
Marquand, Alan. Andrea della Robbia and his Atelier (Princeton University Press, Princeton, 1922), p.110, fig.196
Pope-Hennessy, John. Luca della Robbia (Phaidon, Oxford, 1980), plates 7, 16
A full research paper including illustrations is available on request.
A Carved Armorial Double-Headed Eagle
North Italian, Lombardy
First half 16th century
Carved wood and traces of polychrome
Dimensions: 105 cm. (41 in.) high; 67 cm. (26 ¼ in.) wide ; 4 cm. (1 ½ in.) deep
Private Italian collection, Lombardy
Modelled as a double-headed eagle below a coronet, probably symbolising the Holy Roman Empire under the Habsburg Dynasty. The Duchy of Milan and Lombardy were under the control of the Holy Roman Emperor, King Charles V of Spain (1500-1558), for much of the first half of the sixteenth century.
A radiocarbon dating test has been carried out on the present object by RCD RadioCarbon Dating (Oxfordshire, UK), the results of which are compatible with our dating to the first half of the sixteenth century.
After Jean Boulogne. called Giambologna
(Douai 1529 – 1608, Florence)
The Groticella Venus
Florence, late 18th Century
Marble, on a later painted wood column
Dimensions: the figure 131 cm. / 52 inches high, 204 cm. / 80 inches high including column
Private collection, USA
Conway Library Collections, Courtauld Institute, London, ref: A98/228, Giambologna, 16thC Sculpture (illus.)
This large marble figure of Venus, the Roman goddess of love, is an excellent full-size copy of Giambologna’s famous Groticella Venus. The original Venus still resides on top of a fountain in an inner chamber of Buontalenti’s grotto in the Boboli Gardens, Florence. The figure was probably commissioned by Francesco de’Medici and carved around 1572-3, whilst Giambologna was working on the larger Fountain of the Ocean (1571-5), located nearby in the same gardens of the Palazzo Pitti.
For the Groticella Venus, Giambologna employed his twisting figura serpentinata composition, which actively draws the viewer around the sculpture, as opposed to a static frontal composition. This compositional device was the prototype for his later allegorical female figure in Giambologna’s group Florence triumphant over Pisa (c.1575) and for the Cesarini Venus (1583). The Groticella Venus has been praised by scholars such as James Holderbaum (op. cit.) as Giambologna’s ‘masterpiece... surpassing anything else in his entire oeuvre'. In its day it was also revered, often regarded as the most perfect female nude ever carved.
High-quality copies of the Groticella Venus are rare, firstly because the original is a Renaissance rather than Antique marble (the latter being more widely copied) and secondly because, for many centuries, it was hidden from the public in its private grotto in Florence, only being accessible for the Grand Dukes and their guests. As a result, previous research has dated the present work as a near-contemporary, seventeenth century version of Giambologna’s Venus. After careful examination and research, however, we suggest that the present sculpture is more likely to date from the late eighteenth century. At this time, after a period of decline in the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries, the Boboli gardens were undergoing a period of expansion under Duke Leopold of Lorraine, the new ruler of Florence, who began re-ordering the gardens after 1765 and until the end of his rule in 1790.
It is documented that the Duke employed a group of Florentine sculptors to restore existing sculptures in the gardens, as well as to make copies of them. This group included the notable Roman sculptor Innocenzo Spinazzi (1726–1798), as well as Giovanni Battista Capezzuoli (fl. c.1755-77) and the English sculptor, Francis Harwood (fl. c.1748-1783), who worked in Florence for a long period in the second half of the eighteenth century. The three sculptors were commissioned by Duke Leopold to produce copies of the monsters on the balustrade surrounding the Vasca dell’Isolotto in the Boboli Gardens, making it highly likely that they would have encountered Giambologna’s original Venus in its grotto nearby. The present sculpture, therefore, may well have been another commission from Grand Duke Leopold for one of these sculptors working in Florence in the latter half of the eighteenth century, when work was most active in the Gardens.
This late eighteenth century dating is supported by stylistic analysis of the present marble. Firstly, the general fine form of the figure, which successfully achieves the dynamic figura serpentinata movement of the original, is evidence that it was carved by a sculptor well-trained in the classical tradition. Of note too is the hexagonal shape of the base, which matches the original base, whereas in later nineteenth century copies it is usually a more conventional round shape. It is also notable that in the present figure the big toe of the right foot daringly overlaps the edge of the base, in a faithful rendering of the original composition. Furthermore, the intricate carving of the drapery on the vase and the attention-to-detail of the indentation of the flesh, as the fingers of her right hand touch her left shoulder, are evidence of a sculptor using precise and delicate carving and finishing, rather than the more mechanical processes used for later nineteenth century copies from the Carrara workshops. This substantiates our conclusion that the present Venus is most likely a faithful and technically accomplished late eighteenth-century work, executed by an established Court sculptor in Florence.
Avery, C., Giambologna: The Complete Sculpture (London, Phaidon, 1993); Gurrieri, F. and Chatfield, J., Boboli Gardens (Florence, Editrice Edam, 1972); Haskell, F. and Penny, N., Taste and the Antique (New Haven, Yale, 1982); Holderbaum, J., The Sculptor Giovanni Bologna, Ph.D. Dissertation, (New York & London, 1983); Roscoe, I., A Biographical Dictionary of British Sculptors 1660-1851 (Yale University Press, New Haven, 2009), pp.583-585
A full research paper on the present sculpture, including illustrations, is available on request.
Attributed to Barthélemy Prieur
(1540, Berzieux, Champagne - 1611, Paris)
Gilt Bronze Plaque of a Sacred Drama
French, late 16th / early 17th century
Dimensions: 17.3 x 13.2 cm. / 6 7/8 x 5 1/4 inches
This outstandingly well-realised narrative plaque is a significant new discovery in French Renaissance bronze sculpture. Clearly designed to be framed for devotional purposes, it shows the sacred drama of Zachariah presenting the infant John the Baptist to the Christ-Child, the Virgin and St Anne.
The similarity in style and physical type of all five diverse figures in this piece to his other works leads to the conclusion that it is almost certainly a masterwork by the late Renaissance French sculptor, Barthélemy Prieur. It is probably the first narrative relief to be attributed to Prieur (only two bronze heads in relief are recorded in his inventory of 1583), making this object a fascinating extension of his oeuvre.
We are grateful to Dr. Charles Avery for his expertise on the present object, which is available on request.
Attributed to Giovanni Gonnelli, known as Il Cieco Da Gambassi or “The Blind Sculptor”
(Gambassi 1603 - 1664 Rome)
Portrait bust of Cosimo II De’ Medici, Grand Duke of Tuscany (1590-1621)
Florence, circa 1633-40
Terracotta, on an integrally cast circular socle
39.9cm (15¾ in.) high; 51 cm (20 in.) incl. socle
F. Baldinucci, Notizie, F. Ranalli ed., 1846
F. Darby, 'Ribera and the Blind Man', The Art Bulletin, xxxix, 1957, pp. 195-217
K. Langedijk, The Portraits of the Medici, 15-18th Centuries, 3 vol., Florence 1981-1987, II, 1983, pp.565-574
This charismatic terracotta bust is attributed to one of the only recorded blind sculptors in early European art - Giovanni Gonnelli, known as “Il Cieco da Gambassi” or in English simply as “The Blind Sculptor”. The subject, Cosimo II de' Medici, was the son of Ferdinando I de' Medici and the Grand Duke of Tuscany from 1609-1621. The Medici were a powerful and influential Florentine family who became rulers of Tuscany from the 16th to 18th centuries. Three Popes came from the family along with a line of important rulers, most notably Lorenzo the Magnificent (1449-1492), patron of some of the greatest artists of the Renaissance, including Sandro Botticelli and Michelangelo. Cosimo II received his education from Galileo Galilei, one of the most important astronomers and polymaths of the Renaissance. He later became Galileo’s main patron, with Galileo naming his newly-discovered moons of Jupiter the "Medicea Sidera" in Cosimo’s honour. Cosimo married Maria Maddalena of Austria, with whom he had eight children, including Ferdinand II, his successor.
Giovanni Gonnelli was celebrated by the seventeenth century Florentine biographer, Filippo Baldinucci, as a "distinguished modeller" who become legendary for his ability to faithfully reproduce the features of his sitters, despite being completely blind. The present bust of Cosimo II, of which there are five other recorded versions (all but one of which are in museum collections), is attributed to Gonnelli on the basis of its similarities to four signed and dated busts by Gonnelli: of Pope Urban VIII (Palazzo Barberini, Rome), Pope Innocent X (Biblioteca Vallicelliana, Rome), Canon Francis Chiarenti (Palazzo Communale, Gambassi Terme) and a self-portrait (location unknown).
Gonnelli’s busts are distinguished by their full-frontal composition, truncated to exclude the chest and arms. His sitters normally have a fixed gaze with large irises outlining a small pupil, all of which can be seen in the present bust. The various versions of this type of terracotta bust of Cosimo II, as listed by Langedijk (op. cit.), present the typical stylistic features of the blind Gonnelli, suggesting that they are the work of a single artist. There are significant similarities between the bases of the busts listed by Langedijk, modelled alongside the head with a sequence of convex and concave joints which seem to be based on pottery, albeit performed free-hand and not on a wheel, characteristic of the methods of a blind artist. The vent hole visible on the head of the present sculpture, which would be used for positioning a crown or for placing some kind of votive inside the head, is also a feature of other works by the artist and corresponds to his working methods.
Although there has been some debate as to whether these busts depict Duke Cosimo II or his similar-looking son and successor, Ferdinand II, most scholars and museums list the subject as being Cosimo II. Furthermore, it was probably based on an earlier bust of Cosimo II by Gonnelli, mentioned by Baldinucci, which “Il Cieco” had made whilst in the workshop of Pietro Tacca. Thus it is most likely a posthumous portrait of Duke Cosimo II, carried out by Gonnelli in circa 1633-40, shortly after he became active again after his blindness, and based on his earlier bust of Cosimo II, which the blind Gonnelli could use as a model for this one.
Giovanni Gonnelli was born in 1603 in Gambassi, Tuscany. In 1611 he moved to Florence with his uncle, a priest, and his first teacher was the sculptor Chiarissimo Fancelli. He later entered the workshop of Pietro Tacca, where he remained for seven years. While in the service of Carlo I Gonzaga, Duke of Mantua, he was trapped during the Austrian siege of Mantua in 1630 and was somehow blinded, after which he underwent a long period of inactivity. After some time in recovery he regained confidence and became renowned for his portrait busts, which included a number of important papal commissions in Rome. Baldinucci describes how subjects would pose at Gonnelli’s side, where he would first feel the contours of the sitter’s face, after which the sculptor’s hands would then move back and forth moulding a portrait. His contemporaries had some difficulty believing he was blind: one subject, described only as ‘a cardinal’, tried to trick him by sending another man to pose in his place. On another occasion Gonnelli was made to work in a darkened room, to prove that he was truly blind.
A thermoluminescence test has been carried out on the present bust, which shows that the date of its last firing is compatible with the proposed dating of the first half of the seventeenth century.
John Gibson RA
(Conway, 1790 – 1866, Rome)
Portrait bust of a Nobleman, presumed to be Lord Frederick John Monson, 5th Baron Monson of Burton, Lincolnshire
Executed in Rome circa 1829
Signed with inscription: I GIBSON FT ROMAE
Height incl. socle: 72cm / 28 ½ inches
Presumably, the bust of Lord Monson formerly at Gatton Park, Surrey
Hussey, John. John Gibson RA: The World of the Master Sculptors (Birkenhead: Countyvise, 2012), p.155
Roscoe, Ingrid. A Biographical Dictionary of British Sculptors 1660-1851 (Yale University Press, New Haven, 2009), p.527, no.88
The present signed portrait by John Gibson is presumed to be of Frederick John Monson, 5th Baron Monson of Burton, Lincolnshire. It was most likely executed in Rome in 1829, which is when Ingrid Roscoe (op. cit.) cites a reference in Gibson's letters to a bust made for Lord Monson. In this bust Gibson contrasts the sitter's powerful facial features with the typically British restraint of his calm, Stoic expression. The sharp, curling strands of hair are carved in a manner reminiscent of classical Greek examples (such as Polykleitos' Doryphorus), which had a particularly strong influence on the work of Gibson, who aspired to the ideal of classical Greek form and bodily perfection.
John Gibson was one of the foremost Neoclassical sculptors of the 19th century. He was born near Conway, Wales, and moved to Liverpool when he was nine years old where, after a short spell training as a cabinet-maker, he was apprenticed to the statuary sculptor F. A. Legé. He soon began receiving his own commissions and in 1816 had work accepted by the Royal Academy and in the following year left Liverpool to work in London.
Gibson, however, had set his heart on Italy; in 1817 he arrived in Rome, where he was kindly received by the celebrated sculptor Antonio Canova (1757-1822), who gave him instruction and the use of his studio. Whilst in Rome he also worked with Bertel Thorvaldsen (1770-1844), the other prominent Neoclassical sculptor working there at the time. From Rome he built up an international clientele for his works in marble and his studio was a place of interest for wealthy tourists on the Grand Tour. It was not until 1844 that Gibson returned to England, having been commanded by Queen Victoria to execute her statue. After a second visit to England for another Royal commission in 1850, Gibson continued working in Rome until his death there in 1866.
The likeness of the present bust to Lord Monson has kindly been suggested by one of his descendants.
Pair of Renaissance Door Panels
Mannerist, 16th century
Dimensions: 116cm x 93 cm. / 45 1/2 x 36 1/2 inches
These fine relief panels date from the middle of the 16th century. They are most likely to have been part of a special cupboard from the treasury of a Renaissance palazzo, where important relics, jewels or precious metals were kept. As such, most of the figures in the present panels are in one way or another related to the four elements (earth, water, air, fire).
The panels are carved with Renaissance “grotesque” images, many of which are taken from classical mythology, most notably from Hesiod's Prometheus Bound, in which Prometheus, one of the Titans, is punished by Zeus for stealing fire from the heavens for mankind. As a result, he is chained to a rock on a mountain in the Caucasus and forced to endure daily torment, as an eagle feeds on his liver each day.
These mythological themes are depicted in the present panels, which show various gods and beasts carrying water, fire and other elements from the Heavens in the upper rows, whilst Prometheus and other bound captives suffer in the Underworld of the lower two rows of panels. Significantly, none of the individual figures, nor any of the pairs of related designs, are repeated, which indicates that they were conceived by a Renaissance master artist of great originality.