The Sala degli animali is one of the wonders of the Papal collections in the Vatican. Set up by Clement XIV, this collection includes the finest antique animal sculptures in marble and hard polychromatic stones. Pius VI (1775-1799) extended the rooms, a favourite destination for visitors to Rome, and invited the sculptors of the time to add to the collection of animals with new creations in the antique taste. It was particularly sculptors specialising in the restoration of antiques, such as Bartolomeo Cavaceppi (1716-1799) and Carlo Albacini (1739-1807) whose works contributed to the population of this 'Zoo of stone animals'. One of the most famous was Antonio Franzoni (1734-1818), originally from Carrara – a town famous for its marble – who settled in Rome in 1760, and who was one of the main antique restorers of the Sala degli animali.
LÉOPARD ASSIS, AN IMPORTANT ROMAN, CIRCA 1783, GIALLO TIGRATO MARBLE SEATED FEMALE LEOPARD, ATTRIBUTED TO ANTONIO MOGLIA; ON A RECTANGULAR BLACK MARBLE BASE. ESTIMATE: €200,000–300,000.
A pair of half-sized panthers in the Honolulu Museum of Art is attributed to Franzoni (inv. n°383); another in the Archaeological Museum in Naples, and a pair in the former collection of Elsa Schiaparelli, whose bodies are of yellow marble and encrusted black marble patches imitating the fur of the animals.
Entirely in the spirit of the faun in the Sala degli animali, the Leopard in the Riahi collection is exceptional in that it is made of the extremely rare Giallo Tigrato marble, with the wonderful composition of the stone rendering the patterned fur of the leopard with great elegance. Giallo Tigrato is a marble from quarries that have been exploited since classical antiquity – and erroneously believed to come from the region of Corinth. It was also used again to decorate Roman churches such as those of Santa Maria Maggiore and Sant'Andrea della Valle. The striking resemblance of the Leopard in the Riahi collection to a likeness of a tigress and her children in the Pinacotheka Ambrosiana in Milan means that it can be attributed to the sculptor Antonio Moglia, who as active in Rome in about 1765. There are only two other larger examples in Giallo Tigrato, which are in private collections, and a third (43.5 cm tall) was recently sold in Paris in May 2017.
We know little about Moglia's career apart from his work in the Vatican, and his restorations of antique marbles that belonged to Ludwig I of Bavaria. Antonio Moglia excelled in his virtuosity; a natural talent that enabled him to imbue life into this stone. Apart from the rarity of the marble, this cat is exceptional in the finely observed treatment of its anatomy, such as the ribs that can be seen through its extravagant fur, the nipples outlined along its belly, the expressiveness, both tender and wild, in its glass-encrusted eyes; its ears on alert and its little moist muzzle with the flared nostrils of the animal on the look-out.
MAIN IMAGE: LÉOPARD ASSIS, AN IMPORTANT ROMAN, CIRCA 1783, GIALLO TIGRATO MARBLE SEATED FEMALE LEOPARD, ATTRIBUTED TO ANTONIO MOGLIA; ON A RECTANGULAR BLACK MARBLE BASE. ESTIMATE: €200,000–300,000.