The torso of the bust is an interesting example of the adaptation of the classical cuirass that occurred during the Renaissance. Grotesque masks framing one or both shoulders in military dress seem to be an invention of 15th-century Italy, where classical motifs were not simply copied but often took on new, fantastical forms. Masks serving as shoulder ornament in cuirassed figures are seen frequently in North Italian sculpture from around 1500, such as in the work of Tullio Lombardo (see Planiscig, op. cit., fig. 245). It was at this time that the North Italian Renaissance style spread to France, with Louis XII’s conquering of Milan in 1500 causing an artistic exchange between the two countries. The newly built Château de Gaillon, residence of Georges d’Amboise, the Cardinal Archbishop of Rouen who had spent significant time in Northern Italy, was decorated with spoils of Renaissance sculpture from Lombardy and its surrounding territories. One example is a marble profile relief of a helmeted figure with a lion mask on the shoulder, which was incorporated into the walls of the Château (Galeries nationales, op. cit., p. 187). The fantastical cuirass appears to have been adopted rapidly into French Renaissance iconography, as it is also seen in a mid-16th-century walnut relief depicting the bust of a man with masks on both shoulders of his military dress (Victoria and Albert Museum, inv. no. 953-1900).
A close parallel to the particular form of the present cuirass is found in the bust of Gaston, Duke of Orléans (1608-1660) at the Louvre (inv. no. RF 1227). The young royal is depicted in classicising Renaissance armour, with drapery around his right shoulder, a mask on the cuirass at the front, and another grotesque mask covering his left shoulder. Its close similarity with this bust might suggest an early 17th-century dating for the present torso. Although it is possible that Gaston was deliberately depicted in historicising dress, the striking mask on the present cuirass has an arguably almost Baroque character. The present cuirass’s similarity to the bust of Gaston, and the high quality of its carving, suggest that it belonged to an important sitter in late Renaissance France.
Further evidence of the superior quality of the torso is that it was appropriated for a new work of art after being presumably damaged and left headless. The imposing head which is today attached to it is instantly recognisable as an image of Jupiter, the Roman version of the Greek god Zeus who ruled over the Olympian deities. The image of Jupiter in antiquity was defined by the legendary monumental chryselephantine statue of Zeus at Olympia, which is now lost but survives through a number of marble reductions. The arrangement of the hair and beard of the present head compare closely to the statue of Jupiter from Smyrna, now on display at the Louvre Lens (inv. no. MR254). In particular, this depiction of the God shares the three wavy strands of hair covering the forehead, which are seen commonly in images of Serapis, the Romano-Egyptian variant of Jupiter. Serapis is usually shown with a cylindrical headdress known as a modius; see, for example the head of Serapis at the British Museum (inv. no. 1805,0703.51), which also includes the strands of hair on the forehead. The unusual addition of a second layer of hair at the top of the present head indicates that the sculptor may have copied a bust of Serapis with only remnants of the headdress, which he reinterpreted as hair.
As with many copies after the antique from the late 18th and early 19th century, the present head is an adaptation rather than a slavish copy of an ancient sculpture. The figure’s fierce frown and pointed nose are alien to classical art and compare well with other works inspired by the antique from early 19th-century France, such as the Aristée by Francois-Joseph Bosio (Musée du Louvre, inv. no. LL 51). The popularity of the image of Jupiter in France during this time is highlighted by Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres’ painting Jupiter and Thetis, dating to 1811, whose dramatic representation of the god is recalled by the present bust.
L. Planiscig, Venezianische Bildhauer der Renaissance, Vienna, 1921; J. Gaborit (ed.), Sculpture française, II. Renaissance et temps modernes, cat. Musée du Louvre, Paris, 1998; France 1500. Entre Moyen Age et Renaissance, exh. cat. Galeries nationales, Grand Palais, Paris, 2010
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