Ultimately these four reliefs derive from Alessandro Vittoria’s stucco ceiling panels and lunettes with gods and nudes that decorate the interior of the Palazzo Thiene and Palazzo Bissari-Arnaldi in Vicenza, as well as his ovals in the Scala d’Oro in the Venetian Palazzo Ducale. Each of these figures is characterised by bulging volumes and contorted shapes much like the present personifications of the Winds. However, Vittoria’s 16th-century examples have been imbued here with a creative freedom that is entirely original and highly idiosyncratic. The present reliefs do not merely represent the Winds, they appear to have captured and contained their force, a typically Baroque stylistic device. The foremost sculptor of such Baroque inventions in Venice is Giovanni Bonazza. The Winds’ exaggerated anatomy, the design of the physiognomy, and grotesque features are closely approached by the profile reliefs of the tyrants Attila the Hun and Ezzelino III da Romano by him in the Musei Civici in Padua. A further stylistic, typological, and physiognomical parallel can be found in Bonazza’s San Girolamo penitente from the Franciscan convent in Rovigno. The sculptor represents the saint as a powerful bearded old man lying on the ground. Zephyrus is the only subject that Bonazza seems to have treated more often. A version of the Zephyrus in the round is located in the garden of Villa Vendramin Cappello in Noventa Padovana which has a similar appearance to the relief that represents this Wind.
In addition to the present set of the Winds, two further reliefs in the Musée du Louvre can now be attributed to Bonazza. The Louvre reliefs represent two Rivers contained within marble ovals much like the present figures. They were probably coupled with two further lost reliefs to form a group representing the canonical Four Rivers. The Louvre reliefs were previously attributed to the French sculptor Guillaume Boichot (1735 - 1814). They were part of the collection of the French painter Gabriel-François Doyen (1726 - 1806) who moved to Russia shortly after the French Revolution. In the process his collection was confiscated by the revolutionary government and deposited in the École des Beaux-Arts. There the Rivers were used by the students as models, which is why molds, bronze casts, and versions in grès émaillé exist. The research into the present reliefs has yielded one further discovery. A drawn design for one of the Rivers in the Louvre is kept in the Biblioteca Ambrosiana in Milan. This drawing was previously attributed to the painter Giovanni Angelo Borroni (1684 - 1772) but must be a preparatory drawing for the Louvre relief.
Representations of the Winds are rare and usually confined to architecture. In Vincenzo Cartari’s influential 1556 treatise Imagini colla sposizione degli dei degli antichi they are described as having to be represented with their wings and hair tousled. Cartari also mentions that the Winds should be differentiated from each other by illustrating their individual effects. Here Bonazza gave each Wind its own set of attributes, occasionally subtly hidden in the background. The foremost figure, Aeolus, reclines majestically on soft clouds and is identifiable by his crown, scepter, and key. Aeolus is technically not a Wind but their ruler. His key unlocks the cave in which he keeps the Winds captive. The dauntless bearded man that turns his agitated face towards the spectator, huddled and clenching his fist, is Boreas, the frosty and impetuous wind that blows from the North. Zephyrus has butterfly wings and a youthful appearance. He personifies the westerly wind that carries warm and sweet air in spring. Its fertile nature is underlined by the flowers and fruits which Zephyrus holds between his fingers. He puffs his cheeks and reclines on light clouds with a radiant sun and a hint of a rainbow in the background. Lastly, there is Eurus, the wind blowing from the South-East, shown by Bonazza as a contemplative old man. This Wind tends to bring rain which is illustrated on the far right as well as the figure’s long wet hair.
V. Cartari, Le Imagini de i dei de gli antichi, Venice, 1580, pp. 260-261; R. Tomić, ‘Dva djela iz ostavstine Gaspara Kraljeta u ckrvi sv. Antuna Opata u Velom Losinju’, Umjetnost na Istocnoj obali Jadrana u kontekstu eropske tradicije, Rijeka, 1993, p. 24, fig. 4; D. Banzato et al., Dal medioevo a Canova. Sculture dei Musei Civici di Padova dal Trecento all’Ottocento, Venice, 2000, pp. 163-166, nos. 90-91
Sotheby's would like to thank Maichol Clemente and Simone Guerriero for their assistance in cataloguing this lot and for sharing their discoveries with us.
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