The figures wear identical helmets surmounted by a wreath of leaves; in Alexander’s case oak, in Athena’s bay. Athena is depicted with serpents writhing around her chest, one of her traditional attributes. Both faces are characterised by soft features and languid gazes with slightly open mouths. A version of the same pair exists at the Wallace Collection (inv. nos S37 and S38), and a further version of the Alexander is at the State Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg. While the Wallace busts have long been catalogued as Italian, early 19th century (Mann, op. cit., p. 55), the St Petersburg bust was first published in 2014 as an anonymous work from 18th-century Italy (Androsov, op. cit., no. 299). All versions include the same basic features, are carved in a closely similar style, and are presented on nero portoro marble socles, indicating that they originate from the same workshop. There are, however, subtle differences between each version: The Wallace busts are smaller than the present marbles and exhibit slightly different facial features, as well as more pointedly upwards gazes, which are typical of portraits of Alexander the Great. The upwards gaze is also much more pronounced in the Alexander in St Petersburg, which on the other hand lacks the floral motif on the clasp of his cloak that is shared by the present version and that in the Wallace Collection.
In his cataloguing of the Alexander in the Hermitage, Sergej Androsov notes that the bust may be identifiable with a 'female bust of Pallas, with an oak wreath on the helmet', which is recorded as having been transferred from the Michael Castle to the Tauride Palace in 1803 (op. cit., p. 313). If indeed the bust was in Emperor Paul I’s collection at Michael Castle, this would provide a terminus ante quem of 1801 for this version of the bust, when the sovereign died and the Castle ceased to be the Imperial residence. Paul I was a keen collector of European sculpture and went on extensive tours of Italy, visiting the workshops of its leading sculptors. Many of his acquisitions were made from sculptors active in Carrara, who produced copies after the antique as well as original models which appealed to the Imperial taste. Notable among these was the Triscornia workshop, which carved numerous marbles that are now in the Hermitage.
By the later 18th century Carrara had established itself as a highly successful marketplace for the production and export of marble sculpture. Due to its famous quarries, the Tuscan town had traditionally been a centre for sculpture. As the taste for classicising marbles grew among the European elite, Carrara workshops began to cultivate close links with foreign rulers who wished to furnish their grand residences with Italian marbles at a relatively low cost. To meet this rising demand, workshops in Carrara specialised in the repetition of models, a practice which would find its culmination in the 19th century.
Significantly, a fourth version of the Alexander bust is found in the Palace of the Water in Warsaw and is recorded in the 1795 inventory of King Stanislaw II August as a Bust of Alexander the Great by the Carrara sculptor Francesco Lazzarini (Passeggia, op. cit., fig. 11). Although clearly the same model, this bust is distinct from the above-mentioned and the present versions in several details, notably the inclusion of an eagle on top of the helmet, the more elaborate clasp and drapery, and the incised pattern on the band across the chest. It is therefore likely that this bust, perhaps formerly part of the same pair, is the earliest known version of the model. Given the differences between all the versions, it may be assumed that each was carved by a different member of Lazzarini's workshop. Francesco was the first member of the Lazzarini family to establish a successful international business that produced marbles of particularly high quality. A shrewd merchant, he acquired as many as five quarries, including one of portoro marble, which accounts for the material of the socles of all versions of the busts. After his death in 1808, Francesco’s workshop passed to his eldest son Roberto and continued in a line of succession throughout the 19th century.
Stylistically the busts are clearly influenced by Tuscan sculptors active in the later 18th century who imbued classicising modes with a characteristic softness and liveliness. Compare the rounded features and abundant waves of hair exhibited by Francesco Carradori’s Bacchus and Ariadne at the Palazzo Pitti in Florence, dating to 1776 (Pratesi, op. cit., fig. 70). Formal parallels can also be found in the work of Giovanni Antonio Cybei, who was one of the leading 18th-century sculptors in Carrara. The figures in his mythological reliefs show similarly modelled incised eyes and slightly open mouths (Passeggia, op. cit., pp. 136-140).
It is of interest that Francesco Lazzarini appears to have established contact with Stanislaw August in Warsaw while he was on his way to St Petersburg in 1791 (see Passeggia, op. cit., p. 278). The sculptor almost certainly had ties with Peter I, leading to the inclusion of the Alexander in the Russian Emperor’s collection. It is unclear how the Wallace Collection busts came into the possession of Sir Richard Wallace in the late 19th century, but it is likely that they and the present versions were made under Lazzarini’s direction for similarly illustrious patrons.
J. G. Mann, Wallace Collection Catalogues. Sculpture, London, 1931; G. Pratesi, Repertorio della Scultura Fiorentina del Seicento e Settecento, Turin, 1993 vol. II; L. Passeggia, Carrara e il mercato della scultura, Milan, 2005; S. Androsov, Italianskaia skulptura XVII-XVIII vekov: katalog kollekziya, cat. The State Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg, 2014
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