Lot 71
  • 71

Giambologna Italian, 1529-1608 Assisted by Antonio Susini, around 1603

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  • Giambologna
  • A gilt bronze Cristo Vivo
  • Overall: 37.6cm., 14 7/8 in.
    Head to Foot: 35.5cm., 14in.
    Finger to Finger: 32.1cm., 12 5/8 in.


Private collection, Spain;
Private collection, Switzerland

Catalogue Note

This exceptional gilt bronze corpus is the largest and finest example of Giambologna’s corpora ever to appear at auction. This model is more than 7cm (2¾in) larger than the more usual type of corpus and as such is on a scale comparable with Giambologna’s larger mythological statuettes. The application of gilding and the scale denote a prestigious commission, such as a Grand Ducal gift (see below). The chasing of the beard, hair and physiognomy is handled with great sensitivity. The modelling of the hands and feet is crisp whilst the anatomy is idealised.  Only one other cast of this Cristo Vivo model of exactly comparable dimensions (38.4cm., 15 1/8   in) is known, housed in the Convent of the Descalzas Reales, Madrid.  The importance of the present bronze, apart from its sheer beauty and quality, lies in its relationship to the Madrid example.

Giambologna’s models of the Crucified Christ

The model of the crucified Christ emerged relatively late in Giambologna’s career. In the earliest reference to this subject Simone Fortuna writes to the Duke of Urbino in 1583 listing four crucifixes each slightly less than two palmi  high (c. 44cm. 17¼in – intriguingly comparable in size to the present example). Fortuna notes that these corpora were intended for the King of Spain, Pope Pius V (1566-72), the Grand Duke Cosimo I and the Grand Duchess Joanna of Austria who presented hers to the shrine in Loreto in 1573.  Two further versions from the 1570s are known, one sent in 1578 to Cardinal Ferdinando de’ Medici in Rome and another given by the sculptor to the handsome soldier of the Ginori family who posed for the marble group of The Rape of the Sabine Woman, around 1579. Filippo Baldinucci’s 1688 biography also mentions in the list of Giambologna’s recognised models for bronze statuettes ‘fra le figure semplici sono più bellissimi Crocifissi’.   None of the aforementioned corpora can be identified with absolute certainty and our understanding of this genre today is therefore influenced by the extensive production of the smaller models by Giambologna’s followers after his death in 1608.

The pioneering 1978 Arts Council of Great Britain exhibition was the first time that a substantial group of corpora were gathered together for study. Out of the 14 examples of the Cristo Morto and Cristo Vivo models exhibited, two versions of the Cristo Morto stood out as of exceptional quality, both of which remain in their original locations in Florence.  The 46.8cm cast in the Convent of Santa Maria degli Angiolini and the 45.8cm cast in the Convent of San Marco can be dated by related commissions in each location to around 1588 and are distinguished by being at least 15cm bigger than any of the other known examples.  Both seem to have been originally gilded (the former now has only traces remaining).  Whilst the compositions (notably the perizonium) are identical, Watson  (op.cit. pp.144-5) notes some differences in the degree of chasing and finishing.   The only comparable large example of the Cristo Vivo is in the Descalzas Reales, Madrid, which was not exhibited.  Until now the Madrid corpus has been regarded as unique and the prime example.  The emergence of the present corpus is very exciting, for it provides an important opportunity for a new assessment of the quality of this type. In this examination a comparable relationship emerges between these two works as exists between the Santa Maria degli Angiolini and San Marco corpora.

A broad analysis of Giambologna's images of the Crucified Christ may divide the models most closely attributed to Giambologna into three groups.  In descending order of size these are:
1]. Three life size bronzes in the Michaelskirche, Munich (1594), Santissma Annunziata, Florence (1594-8) and Pisa Cathedral (1597);
2]. Casts measuring 35cm-46cm (i.e. c. two Florentine palmi)  discussed above, two in Florence, one in Madrid and the present example  (and one or two others less directly associated with Giambologna, see Hall, 1998, no.23 and no. 107a from the Vienna showing of the 1978 exhibition);
3]. The largest group comprises all the casts smaller than about 30cm (i.e. half a Florentine braccio). 

Judging by the quality, provenance, rarity and dating of the second group it may be suggested that these bronzes represent prime versions of the given models, models in which Giambologna may well have first developed the different types of Cristo Morto and Cristo Vivo; and these examples concur in size to the early casts mentioned by Fortuna.  Recent research by Dr. Rosario Coppel (op. cit.) into the background of the present corpus has examined several possible contexts for this work.  These contexts are established on the basis that the significant size, quality of chasing, gilt finish and Spanish provenance are key factors in discovering the work’s origins.

The Countess of Lemos crucifix

Newly discovered documents in the Medici archive record payments of 113 scudi  made in January 1603 to Antonio Susini ‘per un crucifisso e 4 Vangelisti tutto de  bronzo’.  Four months later Michielangnolo Palai is documented as gilding four evangelists and a crucifix and later in April Maestro Marchionere is mentioned as making a base for these works.  At precisely this date a series of correspondence exists between Grand Duke Ferdinando I de’Medici  and Cosimo Concini, the Tuscan ambassador in Spain, which describes these works as a diplomatic gift to Catalina de Sandoval Rojas y Borja, the Countess of Lemos.  They are specifically described as being by Giambologna and the arrival, presentation and response to this gift is discussed in detail.  The Convent of the Descalzas Reales has a long association with the Lemos family and so there is little doubt that the gilt bronze Cristo Vivo model there is the Lemos corpus.  Only two of the evangelists (SS. John and Luke or Mark) from this commission can be identified with any certainty, preserved in the Lázaro Galdiano Museum, Madrid. Other casts of these evangelists exist in the Metropolitan Museum, New York, Lawrence University Museum, Kansas and the Herzog Anton Ulrich Museum, Braunschweig.

The Madrid and the present corpus are unique amongst the corpora in the form of the perizonium.  The Madrid corpus is scarcely 0.1cm higher from head to toe.  There are some notable differences in the fine chasing with only the present example having the individual teeth and eyebrows detailed.  The hair and beard also appear to be more finely defined.  It may be surmised from this comparison that these two bronzes are of such equal quality that they would in all probability have been worked on by the same hand and to a similar standard. As is evidenced from the 1603 documents the casting of the Madrid corpus was done by Antonio Susini. Nevertheless the high standard  was attributable to the control of his master Giambologna. 

Herbert Keutner (op.cit. p,15) in his discussion of a Cristo Morto in silver observed that ‘Even if these works were actually cast and finished by Antonio, they left the studio of Giambologna, quite rightly, as the artistic property of the master. And in view of the fact that the Grand Dukes sent them out as gifts completely naturally as autograph creations of Giambologna, it would be a mistake to regard them in a different light today’.

The Infanta Doña Ana crucifix

Dr. Coppel’s research has identified in correspondence from the spring to the autumn of 1612 another crucifix that was sent from Florence to Spain at the highest diplomatic level.  This relates to a number of gifts, including a crucifix, sent from Maria Maddalena, wife of Cosimo II, to her niece the Infanta on the occasion of her engagement to Louis XIII of France.  Whilst the crucifix in this correspondence is not specifically described as by Giambologna, it might be fairly supposed that a gift at this level would likely have been  of the most prestigious type available at that date which would have certainly been that by Giambologna.  It might further be hypothesised that Maria Maddalena, knowing that a large gilt Cristo Vivo model had already been so favourably received in Madrid, would have considered that nothing less would be sufficient on such an occasion.  As the casting and finishing of the present and Descalzas Reales bronzes are so close if an association between the present bronze and the gift to the Infanta Ana can be sustained, it must be supposed that a second Cristo Vivo had been ordered by Grand Duke Ferdinando I around 1603 for his personal use prior to Giambologna's death in 1608 and that Maria Maddalena could have chosen this from the Grand Ducal collections for her present.

The Santissima Annunziata ciborium

Casalini and Utz have both discussed a ‘little ciborium’ commissioned by Sebastiano del Favilla for the high altar of the Convent of the Santissima Annunziata, Florence, in 1578. Del Favilla also commissioned Giambologna’s Carità for the same church. This ciborium was surmounted by a crucifix identified by Casalini and Utz with a Cristo Vivo corpus, measuring 29.5cm, which remains in the church.  In fact the 1978 exhibition catalogued two such models preserved in the church.  If this association is correct it dates the Cristo Vivo model to the beginnings of Giambologna’s work on this theme and provides a very early example of a new kind of image of the crucified Christ that was favoured by Cardinal Ferdinando and supported by the teachings of the Council of Trent; a Cristo Glorioso or Cristo Eucaristico. Equally, however, it may be conceivable that just as the corpora of the 1570s enumerated by Fortuna were of around two palmi (circa 44cm) it may be as likely that a cast produced by Giambologna at this date may also have been of a larger type such as the present cast. 


The study of  Giambologna’s models of the crucified Christ is still hindered by the volume of contemporary and later bronzes that were cast based on his designs. Whilst it is clear that the production of these models increased in the last decade of the sixteenth and first decade of the seventeenth century, the models were conceived during the 1570s.  Only the few examples that remain in their original locations can be dated with any certainty and little documentary evidence survives for any others.  The 1603 documents which do survive in relation to the Countess of Lemos corpus prove that Antonio Susini was used by Giambologna (at some considerable expense by this date) to cast his bronzes of this subject, an arrangement which doubtless began when Susini first worked in his master's studio in the 1570s.

The present bronze Cristo Vivo is distinguished not only by its size, but also by its original gilding and extremely fine finish.  In relation to the very few casts of this size and quality currently known and related to identified commissions – those in Santa Maria degli Angiolini, San Marco and the Descalzas Reales – there is every reason to suppose that the present bronze was made for a commission of similar prestige and stature.  In the absence of firm documentary evidence this commission can only remain a matter of conjecture.  However, in terms of its outstanding quality, size and finish, this extremely rare Cristo Vivo ranks with Giambologna's most impressive gilt bronze mythological statuettes.

E.Casalini, 'Due Opere di Giambologna all'Annunziata di Firenze', Studi Storici dell' Ordine dei Servi di Maria, XIV, 1964, pp.261-276; K. Watson, 'The crucifixes of Giambologna' and cat. nos.98-110, in Giambologna 1529-1608 Sculptor to the Medici, exh.cat., Edinburgh, London and Vienna, 1978-9, pp.45-7 and 140-146; J.M.Arnaiz, 'La Exposicion Giambolonia y sus conexiones con el patrimonio nacional y otros museos de Espana' Reales Sitios, 1979, yo. 60 ;  H. Keutner, Firenze 1592 Un nouvo crocifisso in argento del Giambologna, Turin 1999, p.27; Giambologna Sculpture by the Master and his followers from the Collection of Michael Hall, exhib.cat., Salander O'Reilly Galleries, New York, 1998, pp.73-4, no.23; R. Coppel, A newly discovered crucifix by Giambologna, unpublished article submitted to the Burlington Magazine, 2002