Florentine, 1558 – 1624
From a model by
Douai, 1529 – Florence, 1608
28 x 6 x 31 cm
French Private Collection
Watson, “The Crucifixes of Giambologna”, in C. Avery and A. Radcliffe (eds), Giambologna: Sculptor to the Medici, Arts Council of Great Britain, London, 1978, pp. 45-47.
Avery and A. Radcliffe (eds), Giambologna: Sculptor to the Medici, Arts Council of Great Britain, London, 1978, pp. 140-146, ills. 104-11.
Avery, Giambologna: The Complete Sculpture, Phaidon, London, 19932, pp. 193-202.
Herbert Keutner in Von Allen Seiten Schön, Bronzen der Renaissance und des Barock, exhibition catalogue, Berlin, 1995, n. 123, pp. 389-91.
Seipel (ed), Giambologna: Triumph des Körpers, exh. cat., Skira, Milan, 2006.
Allen in P. Wengraf (ed), Renaissance & Baroque Bronzes from the Hill Collection, Paul Holberton Publishing, London, 2014, pp. 158-63.
Zikos in Bella Figura, Europäische Bronzekunst in Süddeutschland um 1600, Bayerisches Nationalmuseum, Munich, 2015, n. 32, pp. 244-51.
As the foremost sculptor of the Counter Reformation, Giambologna’s inclusion of religious themes in his otherwise markedly secular repertoire comes as hardly surprising, and was welcomed by important patrons such as Ferdinando I de’ Medici, Grand Duke of Tuscany (1549-1609). Among the sculptor’s sacred subjects, ranging from St John the Baptistto Christ at the Column, the Crucifixionis arguably his most enduring in its two versions of Cristo vivo, or Christ alive,and Cristo morto, dead Christ. As argued by Gasparotto,Giambologna’s Cristo mortorepresents the apex of a tradition that dates back to Brunelleschi’s wooden Crucifix in Santa Maria Novella. His Christsare idealised and far removed from the brutality of the Crucifixion that is by contrast so realistically rendered in northern European sculpture. Indeed, as Avery points out (1993, p. 193), even in his religious subject matter Giambologna did not relinquish his “sensuous treatment of surface and detail”, achieving a high degree of spirituality through the harmonious proportions of his models.
As its scale indicates, the present Cristo mortowas intended for private devotion. Its sunken head highlighing the tense tendrils of the neck, the torso slightly bent in the direction of the now shut eyes’ gaze, the turned legs and raised right foot, all result in a gentle contrapposto, highlighted by the vigorously modelled perizonium. The impression is one of “fragile beauty and calm dignity [that] comes closest in spirit to [the] earlier large-scale depictions” of Renaissance Florence.
Giambologna’s production of crucifixes for private devotion in silver, bronze or gilt bronze has the papacy of Pope Pius V (1566-1572) – for whom one such Christwas executed – as a useful terminus ante quem(cf. Avery, 1993, pp. 199-200). However, bronzes of the crucified Christ continued to be cast after Giambologna’s death, and display diverse readings of his prototypes, with a myriad of small variations, some already at the modelling stage, such as the position of the hands, the height of the arms, the inclination of the head, the treatment of the loincloth – others in the diverse quality and emphasis bestowed upon the chiselling.
A well-documented example after which the Cristo mortodiscussed here was arguably modelled is the larger (46.8 cm high) gilt bronze Christin the Convent of Santa Maria degli Angiolini, Florence, from 1588. A second and nearly identical Cristo mortoin gilt bronze, only slightly smaller (45.8 cm high), is in the Convent of San Marco, Florence (fig. 1 above). Fittingly, as argued by Watson (1978, p. 144) this could well be the work of Giambologna’s close collaborator Antonio Susini, whose contribution to the Salviati Chapel reliefs is well documented, and who is known to have assisted his master in the creation of small-scale bronzes and reliefs.
The two above-mentioned crucifixes serve as firm terms of comparison for the typology of Christsunder discussion, all of which were meant for private devotion and share a similar height of circa 30/31 cm.Although they differ in the treatment of specific elements, they are all distinguished by a more pronouncedly sunken head and a prominently knotted loincloth.
The small group to which the present example belongs includes at least four other examples: one from the Vecchietti collection and now at the Musée Municipal de la Chartreuse, Douai (cf. Avery & Radcliffe, 1978, cat. 108), another in a private collection (idem, cat. 110); a third one in the Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto (ibidem, cat. 111) (fig. 2), attributed by Avery to Antonio Susini and a fourth one in gilt bronze in the Hill Collection,also attributed to Susini.
If the prototype for the present Cristo mortocan be traced back to Giambologna’s Christin Santa Maria degli Angiolini – note the slender arms and the exact position of the legs – the treatment of the extremities and chasing of the hair is nearer to the Douai variant. The most effective overall comparisons, however, can be drawn with the above-mentioned Susini in gilt bronze from the Hill Collection and particularly with the Toronto bronze in which, moreover, the grooved folds of the loincloth drapery are nearly identical to ours.
Born in 1558, Antonio Susinitrained as a goldsmith, and was introduced to Giambologna by Jacopo Salviati in 1580. He soon became a key figure in the Florentine master’s workshop, where he was largely responsible for the production of small-scale bronzes. Their collaboration continued even after Susini set up his own atelier in 1600, to which a foundry was added shortly after. His repute for the treatment of the subject of the Crucifixion – with variations on the models that had been introduced by Giambologna – was such that as late as 1622, three years before his death, he presented a choice of ten Christs – five Cristi mortiand five Cristi vivi, to Ferdinand I Gonzaga, the then Duke of Mantua.
By definition, a workshop involves the collaboration of more artists, and although the corpus of bronzes attributed to Susini is a distinguished and large one, supported, moreover, by a number of signed works, it is likely that other hands may often have contributed to the finishing – and perhaps even the modelling – of some works. It is therefore interesting to mention that, as noted by Dimitrios Zikos, the chasing of the hair of the present Christcompares well to that of Giambologna’s Christ before Pilatecast for the artist’s chapel in the Santissima Annunziata, Florence, a third series of which is now in the Bayerisches Nationalmuseum, Munich (fig. 3). One of the assistants who appears to have worked on this relief is Francesco Della Bella (d. 1612),father of the celebrated engraver Stefano (1610-1664), and one of Giambologna’s foremost assistants for bronzes. According to an archival discovery made by Herbert Keutner (1996), between 1596-98 Della Bella took part in the making of Giambologna’s Passion reliefs in the Annunziata, and a collaboration with Susini cannot therefore be excluded.
The Cristo vivobeing an innovation perhaps influenced by the gradual assimilation of the precepts of the Council of Trent (1545-1563) and the stress placed on redemption as a consequence of Christ’s sacrifice. See also E. M. Casalini, “Due opere del Giambologna all’Annunziata di Firenze”, Studi storici dell’Ordine dei Servi di Maria, no. 14 (1964), pp. 261-76.
In A. di Lorenzo (ed), Il Crocifisso d’oro del Museo Poldi Pezzoli. Giambologna e Gasparo Mola, Museo Poldi Pezzoli, Milan, 2011, pp. 9-10.
Allen in P. Wengraf, op. cit., p. 161.
A rediscovered example in gilt-bronze, likely cast from a master model in wax by the Florentine master, and now in the Cleveland Museum of Art, Ohio (inv. no. 85.34; 33.5cm. high) may well be one of the earliest models for this type, and can be dated to the 1580s.
For a discussion on the Hill Christ, see Allen in P. Wengraf, op. cit., pp. 158-63.
For an extended biography of Susini see Wengraf, op. cit., p. 343.
Although little is known about his life and oeuvre, Francesco Della Bella appears to have contributed to Giambologna’s reliefs on the base of the equestrian monument to Cosimo I in the Piazza della Signoria, Florence, and to his bronze angels in the Pisa Cathedral (1602). His only independent work is a relief for the doors of the aforementioned cathedral, probably the Resurrection of Lazarus(1601). According to Baldinucci, it was his premature death that made of Pietro Tacca the heir to Giambologna’s workshop.