Giuseppe Antonio Torricelli (1659-1719) was the most important Florentine pietra dura sculptor of the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries. Active throughout the reign of Cosimo III de' Medici (r. 1670-1723), Torricelli was responsible for the carving of works in pietra dura at the Galleria dei Lavori, the Medici Grand Ducal workshops established in 1588 by Ferdinand I de'Medici (r. 1587-1609). Despite having been trained as a draughtsman by Alessander Rosi (1627-1707), it was probably under Dom Gaetano Zumbo (1656-1701), the famous sculptor of waxworks, that the young Torricelli learned the modelling techniques that formed the foundation of his later career as a virtuoso carver of hardstones.
Torricelli's works are characterised by mesmerising naturalism. The illusionistic techniques he employed can be seen in his famous bust of Grand Duchess Vittoria della Rovere from the Pitti Palace, where the chalcedony head of the figure has been hollowed out to facilitate the insertion of eyeballs that appear so realistic that they have been described as 'vaguely disquieting.' Torricelli boasted that the Vittoria della Rovere was 'the first lifesize portrait created in hardstone, and I made it with great diligence, knowing that it could only be made with much labour by man.' The composition of the Vittoria della Rovere was taken from a model by Giovanni Battista Foggini (1652-1725), as is believed to be the case with many, if not all, of Torricelli's works.
Torricelli created a heightened sense of realism through fashioning tears of blood out of highly polished pieces of red stone, which have been inserted into the body of Christ. As in the Vittoria della Rovere, the sculptor has employed the use of the finest quality stones, including rosso antico, giallo antico and basanite. The present sculpture can be compared with at least two other renderings of the body of Christ by Torricelli, that from the Reliquary of Saint Emeric from the Tesoro di San Lorenzo and another from the Reliquary of the Holy Sepulchre [Heim Gallery, 1976, no 35]. The realism of the present piece, together with the virtuosity of the technique and the use of semi-precious materials, would have made it wholly appropriate as an object for private devotion.
W. Koeppe and A. Giusti, Art of the Royal Court. Treasures in Pietre Dure from the Palaces of Europe, New Haven and London, 2008, pp. 13-27, 71-83, 190-91, 203-4; J. Pope Hennessey, Catalogue of Italian Sculpture in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, 1964, vol. ii, nos. 630, 631, pp. 590-591
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