PROPERTY FROM A EUROPEAN PRIVATE COLLECTION
Eike D. Schmidt, ‘Die Uberlieferung von Michelangelos verlorenem Samson-Model’, in Mitteilungen des Kunsthistorischen Institutes in Florenz (XL) 1996, no. 1/2, pp. 78-147
S. H. Goddard and J. A. Ganz, Goltzius and the Third Dimension (exh. cat.), Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, Massachusetts, January 19-March 16, 2002
Frits Scholten (ed.), Willem van Tetrode, Sculptor (c. 1525-1580), exh. cat., Rijskmuseum, Amsterdam, Frick Collection, New York, Zwolle, 2003
Anthony Radcliffe and Nicholas Penny, The Robert H. Smith Collection. The Art of the Renaissance Bronze 1500-1650, London, 2004, cat. no. 21
Peta Motture, Emma Jones and Dimitri Zikos (eds.), Carvings, Casts & Collectors. The Art of Renaissance Sculpture, London, 2013
The present bronze of Samson slaying the Philistine is an exciting recent discovery of a unique model by Willem van Tetrode. Tetrode was an important Netherlandish sculptor who worked in Italy for half of his career, employed by celebrated artists including Benvenuto Cellini and Guglielmo della Porta. Attributions to this sculptor are based on his documented bronzes for the Pitigliano cabinet (1559), including twelve busts of Roman Emperors and several reductions of ancient statues, commissioned by Niccolò IV Orsini, Count of Pitigliano, originally intended as a diplomatic gift for the imperial court of Spain. The cabinet was instead sent to Cosimo de’ Medici after his troops captured Pitigliano. Tetrode’s preference for exaggerated musculature is manifest in this vigorously modeled and dynamic cast of the two struggling figures.
Anatomy was a key element in the curriculum for the young artist of the Renaissance. During his time in Italy (circa 1548-1567), Tetrode mastered anatomical studies, creating a variety of bronzes of heroic men with rippling muscles. Along with his work on the base of Cellini’s Ganymede bronze for the Piazza della Signoria, Tetrode took part in the restoration of the antique torso that was to be transformed into a Ganymede (Museo Nazionale del Bargello, Florence), winning Cellini greater fame. Tetrode then travelled to Rome where he worked as a restorer of classical marble statues in the studio of Guglielmo della Porta, sculptor to the Farnese family. In around 1559-60, he created the Pitigliano cabinet and at that time Tetrode further explored his interest in classicism, which enabled him to articulate his passion for the expressive possibilities of the muscular nude.
By 1567, Tetrode returned to Delft, taking with him knowledge of both Antique and Italian Renaissance sculpture that was new to his Northern contemporaries. One of them, Hendrick Goltzius (1558-1617), was clearly inspired by Tetrode's extraordinary virtuosity and his dynamic surfaces, exemplified in Gotzius's series of engravings of muscular men. While Tetrode gained major commissions in the ensuing years, including work for Salentin von Isenburg, Archbishop of Cologne, none of his public religious commissions have survived; all were destroyed by the Dutch Iconoclastic outbreaks of 1573.
Creating bronzes with Herculean themes enabled Tetrode to perfect his “muscular idiom” (Scholten op. cit., p. 33). He would have been familiar with Ammannati’s Hercules and Antaeus made for the Medici villa at Castello in 1560, Vincenzo de’ Rossi’s series of the Labours of Hercules, and he would have understood the importance of these subjects in Florence under Grand Duke Cosimo I (Radcliffe and Penny, op. cit., p. 132). Tetrode’s idiosyncratic modeling of the square-shaped hands and finger nails, the bulbous toe knuckles, a gap between the upraised big toe and the smaller toes, and the swelling masses of muscles are clearly demonstrated in the present model. Like the Hercules and the Centaur bronze in the Robert H. Smith Collection, dated circa 1562-67 by Scholten in 2003 (Scholten, op. cit., p. 43) (fig. 1), in the present bronze the Philistine’s eyes have delineated pupils, a peak formed by the mass of curls on his head, multiple lines around the upper eye lids and an open mouth exposing the teeth. These details are also found in the Hercules and Antaeus group in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London (Motture et. al., op. cit., cover and pl. 4) (fig. 2). The models for the Smith and Victoria and Albert bronzes are dated to 1562-67, Rome or Florence, by Scholten.
The connection between all three bronzes is substantiated by the repetition of several other distinctive details including the large knuckles resembling rings on the fingers and the spiraling, drooping moustaches. Furthermore, Tetrode incorporated a lion’s skin or drapery around both Samson’s and Hercules’ waists, an uncommon compositional detail, as this artist had a predilection for depicting nude bodies. Furthermore, the rectangular bases in the present and the Smith bronzes are integrally cast with the figures. According to Frits Scholten in recent correspondence, the inclusion of the drapery or lion's skin around the main figures' waists and the more naturalistic base of the present bronze may indicate a slightly later model. The bases are not decorative; they do not finish the composition or confine it. Instead, they serve as platforms from which the figures stray, even if the movement is as small as an over-hanging foot or as large as the upper body of the centaur or head and shoulders of Antaeus. All three bronzes are thick-walled, heavy casts, and both the present and the Smith bronze are made of a brassy alloy.
The present model also illustrates similarities with the contemporary marble by Giambologna of Samson and the Philistine, 1561-62, now in the Victoria and Albert Museum. While there is no upraised arm, the positions of both figures, including the twisting, crouching lower figures, are comparable. In around 1612, Tetrode’s fellow countryman and sculptor, Adriaen de Vries, drew his inspiration from the Giambologna model with his group of Cain and Abel probably produced for Rudolph II (now in The Torrie Collection, Edinburgh).
Samson was an Old Testament judge who is known more as an adventurer of great physical strength as well as a womanizer. Like Hercules, he slayed a lion with his bare hands and then wore the skin to broadcast his super-human capabilities. Taunted by the Philistines, Samson wielded an ass’s jawbone and slew a thousand of them until they lay in heaps on the ground. The medieval church regarded Samson as a prefiguring of Christ; he also often represents Fortitude.
Several of Tetrode’s models exist in only one cast but the recurring compositional themes and the details that are unique to this sculptor are consistent, particularly in the works produced toward the end of his time in Italy. This powerful bronze of Samson and the Philistine is an outstanding addition to Tetrode's oeuvre and clearly articulates the sculptor's preeminence in the field of mannerist sculpture.
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