PROPERTY OF A DISTINGUISHED PRIVATE COLLECTOR
This outstanding group of marble reliefs of classical subjects was created by the acclaimed Danish sculptor Bertel Thorvaldsen, named “the patriarch of the bas-relief” by a contemporary critic. Thorvaldsen was widely considered the greatest sculptor in Europe after the death of Antonio Canova, which is apparent from the abundance of noble and royal patronage he received throughout his career. Among his patrons were: Alexander I of Russia, King Ferdinand of Naples (equestrian statue, not executed), King Ludwig of Bavaria (a figure of Adonis and several classical and mythological subjects), Sir Thomas Hope (figure of Jason, a relief of Cupid received by Anacreon dated 1827, among other pieces) and a number of English nobility and cognoscenti. Moreover, in 1823, Thorvaldsen was commissioned to produce a tomb for Pope Pius VII, a mark of great official recognition.
The crisp precision of the carving and the skillful variation in surface texture, from the chalky, supple flesh to the smooth, polished objects surrounding the figures, indicate that these marbles were carved by the master himself or specifically under Thorvaldsen’s supervision. From about 1804 onward, he was occupied by the invention and creation of his full-size plaster models and mainly applied finishing touches and fine details to his marbles. From the dating of the original models, it is clear that they were created between 1833, the date last model was made, and prior to his departure from Rome in 1838.
The models were produced over the course of twenty-three years: Cupid and Bacchus (original plaster model probably Rome 1810), Cupid received by Anacreon (original plaster model, Rome 1823); Pan teaching a child satyr to play reed pipe (original plaster model, Rome 1831), Bacchante and child satyr (original plaster model, Rome 1833). The latter relief is the only one of the four compositions in which the concave semi-circle was part of the original design, whereas the other compositions were originally conceived with square backgrounds. Count von Schönborn commissioned marble versions of two of the subjects, which he interpreted as the personifications of Summer and Autumn. In 1823, he also commissioned a Winter for which Thorvaldsen used his composition of Cupid received by Anacreon.
All of these subjects are taken from Greek mythology. The first two subjects with Anacreon and Bacchus are based on the songs of the famous Ionian poet, Anacreon, who wrote a love song about opening his home to Cupid on a stormy night, after which Cupid pierces Anacreon's heart with his arrow. Anacreon also wrote about drinking and the relief with Bacchus, the god of wine, shows him offering the young Cupid a bowl of wine, an allusion to the relationship between wine and love.
Thorvaldsen left Rome in 1838 to set up a workshop in his native Denmark. The Thorvaldsen Museum was established in 1839 and houses his personal art collection and the contents of his workshop, including versions of his marbles, plaster casts, and original plaster models. Plaster models of all four reliefs are preserved there. These elegant and sensuous compositions reflect the artist’s desire to transform the austere, white marble of Carrara into a series of calm and rhythmic forms, which combined form these graceful and harmonious compositions.
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