A group of twelve Italian Neoclassical patinated bronze busts, attributed to Francesco Righetti late 18th century
- bronze, marble
Francesco Righetti (1749-1819), one of the most successful and prolific Roman sculptors of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, began his professional career working under Luigi Valadier, the leading silversmith in Rome at the time. Valadier also produced high quality bronzes based on antique models, a business that provided Righetti with the opportunity to master his skills in bronze casting. Eventually, Righetti took over from Valadier and continued to produce replicas of Roman bronzes, including a commission for twelve full-sized lead casts of famous antique statues for Henry Hope. After a visit to his studio, Pope Pius VII became an enthusiast of Righetti's work and commissioned a number of pieces from him, including a pair of large candelabra for San Giorgio Maggiore, the Benedictine monastery in Venice where he was elected pope. In 1805 Pius VII made Righetti head of the Vatican foundry, where his son Luigi Righetti became his assistant. Righetti's works are characterized by high quality casting and finishing and even his smaller pieces, such as the present lot, are always sculptural and majestic.
The concept of the "Twelve Caesars" originates from Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus' book entitled De Vita Caesarum, in which the Roman historian discusses the significant and critical period of the Principate from the end of the Republic to the reign of Domitian. The twelve Caesars included in the book are Julius Caesar together with eleven emperors, namely Augustus, Tiberius, Caligula, Claudius, Nero, Galba, Otho, Vitellius, Vespasian, Titus and Domitian. Throughout the centuries, the theme of the Twelve Caesars was extremely popular with artists of all genre and their representations exist in endless media. The most common practice was to depict all twelve Caesars however, smaller combinations are often found, as artists modified the theme to suit their commissions. In this lot, ten Caesars are depicted and the group is amended with busts of the gods Roma and Mars, raised on socles fitted with ormolu mounts slightly different from those found on the bases of the emperor busts. The two emperors not included in this group are Otho and Domitian. Interestingly, these are exactly the two Caesars that are now in a private collection, illustrated Alvar González-Palacios, Il Gusto dei Principi, Vol. II, 1993, p. 254, fig. 511. These two busts, attributed to Righetti, are on identical ormolu-mounted giallo sienna, white and black marble bases and are of virtually the same size and proportions as the present busts. Therefore, it is possible that the busts of Otho and Domitian were part of the group offered here. The shape and proportion of the white marble socles is highly comparable with other bases used in other small-scale works of Righetti, such as two small patinated bronze figures of children, illustrated ibid., p. 252, figs. 505 and 506. The ormolu present on the socles of the lot offered here are very similar to gilt bronze mounts found on contemporaneous Roman works, such as an alabaster vase from the collection of Carlo Orsi, Milan, illustrated Giuseppe Beretti et. al., Gli Splendori del Bronzo, 2002, p. 51, fig. 49. Two cast iron busts depicting Juno and Jupiter, of nearly identical size and mounted on very similar socles as the present busts and signed F. Righetti: F. Romae, was offered Brissonneau, Paris, March 26, 2004, lot 136.