Francesco Bertos (active 1693-1739), Italian, Venice, first half 18th century
- a pair of large allegorical bronze groups of The Vintage and The Art of War
- The Vintage signed: F. BERTOS F
- bronze, on wood stands
- 112 and 108cm., 44 and 42½in.
- Italian, Venice, first half 18th century
Baron Alphonse von Rothschild (1878-1942), Vienna;
Seized from the above and allocated for the Kunstmuseum Linz, 1938/9;
Restituted to the Austrian government, Kremsmünster depot, 1945;
Restituted from the above to Baroness Clarice von Rothschild, 1948;
Sold thereafter to the consignor's family, thence by descent until Sotheby's, London, 9 July 2004, lot 80
Private collection, UK
L.Planiscig, 'Francesco Bertos', Dedalo 9, Milan 1928-9, pp.209-21 illustrated pp.213, 215
C. Avery, The Triumph of Montion: Francesco Bertos (1678-1741) and the Art of Sculpture. Catalogue Raisonée, Turin, 2008, nos. 114 and 115, pp.218-220, pls. 35, 36, 72-78, and illustrated on the front cover
Whilst the collection of Alphonse (Mayer) de Rothschild (1878-1942) does not share the fame as that of his near namesake Alphonse (James) de Rothschild (1827-1905), it was nevertheless substantial and reflected the goût Rothschild prevalent in the first half of 20th century. This was a style of opulence and elegance, epitomised by the Château Ferrières outside Paris, in its heyday. Much of the Alphonse de Rothschild collection was housed at their palace in the centre of Vienna, the Theresianumgasse. A rare contemporary photograph shows the bronzes in location whilst the photographs of the exterior of the Vienna palace and the garden view further indicate the luxury of the Rothschild's home.
Alphonse Mayer Rothschild was the second of five sons of Salomon Albert and Bettina de Rothschild of the Austrian branch of the family. In 1911 he married a 'charming and capable' English wife, Clarice Sebag-Montefiore (b.1894). With the responsibility for the Austrian business in the hands of his younger brother Louis, Alphonse was able to pursue his academic ambitions. He studied law but never finally practised. He served in the First World War on the Italian front as an Oberst-Leutnant. On his return he lived a life of leisure, devoting himself to stamp collecting and classical studies. Alphonse took great pleasure in the company of scholars of ancient history and literature. One can imagine Alphonse and his academic acquaintances discussing the obscure iconography of the Bertos bronzes and even, perhaps, succeeding in deciphering it. Alphonse and his family were able to escape the ravages of Nazi occupation in Austria, fortunately attending an exhibition of his stamp collection in London at the time of the German invasion.
This impressive pair of bronze groups, each consisting of eleven figures and animals, and over a metre in height, exemplify Bertos's highly individualistic style. The models are the largest and most complex of Bertos's allegorical groups; described in Charles Avery's catalogue raisonée as 'The Bronze Triumphs'. The iconography is of almost whimsical inspiration, with interlocking figures spiralling upwards and cast with long slender limbs, distinctive pinched facial features and broadly swathed drapery.
They were first published in the collection of Alphonse de Rothschild, with an attribution to the Venetian sculptor Francesco Bertos, by Planiscig in 1928 - an attribution which has since been confirmed by comparison with two smaller groups in the Getty Museum signed OPVS BERTOS, and with a larger one composed of eleven figures that is comprehensively signed BERTOS INVENTOR ET SCVLTOR SOLUS DEI GRATIA FVSIT PERFECIT FECIT (inv.nos.85.SB.73.1-2 and 85.SB.74 respectively). These groups were also formerly in Vienna, in the Lederer collection, and the latter shares a similar dark brown and lacquered patina to that found on the present bronzes.
Only two other versions of the Rothschild groups are known to exist. One pair is in the Palazzo Reale, Turin, first published by Planiscig in February 1929. The other, minus its pendant The Vintage, is now in the Prado, Madrid. The current whereabouts of the pendant is unknown, but can be identified with that sold in these rooms 2nd February 1945 and later illustrated by Weihrauch as being in the possession of an art dealer (op. cit., p.428).
In comparing the three pairs the stags in the Rothschild and Prado Art of War casts share the same palmate antlers, whereas the stag depicted in the Turin cast has the multi-tined variety. However, the Turin bronze shares with the Rothschild group the attributes of the Minerva statuette and wand, held by the uppermost figure. In the Prado cast, this same figure is uniquely equipped with a bow and arrow. What consequently distinguishes the Rothschild Art of War cast from either the Prado or Turin versions are the wings attached to the putto in the foreground of the group.
The Prado Art of War and its missing pendant The Vintage once constituted half of a set of four similarly sized casts. Hildburgh published and illustrated them when they were in the Lionel Harris collection, and identified the pendant pair as representing Sculpture and Drama (Avery now identifies the subjects as Painting and Music). Unlike The Vintage, these two casts were not separated from the original set and are also in the Prado (inv.nos.E505 and E503). They are easily distinguishable by their central representation of a centaur and centauress. Another pairing of the quondam Sculpture and Drama can be found in the Chrysler Museum, Norfolk, Virginia (inv.nos.71.2609 and 712608), which could have been the original pendant pair for either the present Rothschild groups or those in Turin.
The interpretation of Bertos's iconography is a vexed question. Avery devotes a whole chapter to iconography only to conclude rather wryly 'high-flown allegorical thought of this kind no longer comes naturally to an art historian – let alone the average layman, even when well informed', so a detailed explanation of each figure and their interrelation should not perhaps be expected. However, Avery offers good advice when he recommends admirers of Bertos rather to 'enter into the spirit of the period'. Certainly, Bertos had specific reasons for creating each figure and the attributes they hold, but this does not prevent us from giving our own interpretations, and the artist anticipating this, or just enjoying the groups as extraordinary tour-de-force of bronze casting. Some iconographic clues may be deduced from studying the explanatory inscriptions Bertos himself added to the bases of the four double figure groups Stupidity and Fame, Industry and Virtue, Kindness and Gratitude and Intelligence and Wisdom. Further revelations might come from closer analysis of the document possibly written by Bertos himself for the Field Marshal Johann Matthias von der Schulenberg precisely titled Description of what the Four Groups by Bertos of Padua, the Man who is Celebrated and Unique in Art of this sort, all Mean.
L. Planiscig, 'Dieci opere di Francesco Bertos conservate nel Palazzo Reale di Torino', Dedalo 9, Milan 1928-9, pp.561-575; W.L. Hildburgh, 'Some Bronze Groups by Francesco Bertos', Apollo 27, 1938, pp.81-5; J. Pope-Hennessy, Catalogue of Italian Sculpture in the V&A, London 1964, pp.662-63, fig.70; H.Weihrauch, Europäische bronzestatuetten, Braunschweig 1967, pp.428-43, no.512; J.C.Harrison, The Chrysler Museum: Handbook of the European and American Collection, Norfolk. Va., 1991, pp.64-65, no.49; R.Coppel Aréizaga, Catálogo de la escultura de época moderna, Museo del Prado, Madrid 1998, pp.113-15, nos.30-32; A.Bacchi, La Scultura a Venezia da Sansovino a Canova, Milan 2000, pp.698-700; P.Fogelman, in Italian and Spanish Sculpture, Catalogue of the J. Paul Getty Museum Collection, Los Angeles, 2002, pp.286-99, nos.36-7;
S.Lillie, Was einmal war, Vienna 2003, p.1030, nos.813-14