Lot 124
  • 124

Carlo Albacini (1739-1807) Italian, Rome, 18th century After the Antique

60,000 - 80,000 GBP
bidding is closed


  • Silenus with the Infant Bacchus
  • signed: CARLO . ALBACINI . FECIT
  • marble
  • Carlo Albacini (1739-1807) Italian, Rome, 18th century After the Antique


Hugh Honour FRSL (1927-2016) and John Fleming (1919-2001), Villa Marchiò, Tofori, Tuscany, Italy


Probably mentioned in: F. Haskell and N. Penny, Taste and the Antique, The Lure of Classical Sculpture 1500-1900, London, 1981, p.307 

Catalogue Note

This finely executed marble is a reduced version of the famous lifesize antique group of Silenus with the Infant Bacchus, which was discovered in Rome, together with the Borghese Vase, in or before 1569. It was first recorded as part of the Borghese collection in 1613, and in the Villa Borghese by 1638 (op. cit. p. 307). Subsequently, it was bought by Napoleon and moved to Paris in 1808, together with the majority of the Borghese collection of antiquities. During the 17th century, it became one of the most recognised antiquities in Europe, and its popularity lasted far into the 18th and 19th centuries, during which time several bronze casts were made of the model. One such bronzes was given by the Prince Consort to Queen Victoria for Christmas in 1847, and can still be seen at Osborne House on the Isle of Wight.  

The present reduced marble version by Carlo Albacini is probably the same as mentioned by Haskell and Penny (op. cit. p. 307), said to be located in an 'Italian private collection'. Albacini, active in Rome, was one of the most prominent sculptors within the Anglo-Roman Neoclassical milieu, and many of the restored antiquities which entered English collections would have been restored or copied by him. Counting the famed collector and antiquary Charles Townley, Catherine the Great, and the King of Naples amongst his clientele, it is curious not more is known about Albacini's life and work. A student of Bartolomeo Cavaceppi (circa 1716-1799), also renowned for high quality restorations and reproductions of Roman originals, Albacini quickly established an international reputation. No original work by Albacini is known, and his forte was unarguably the restoring and copying of antiquities. The present marble is an impressive example of his skill in copying previously restored models. Note particularly the intricate detail in the hair of the Infant Bacchus and of Silenus' beard, which consists of many individual short ringlets and ends in a further curl. This type of treatment of the hair can also be seen on busts attributed to Albacini, sold in these rooms on 8 December 2009, as lots 87 and 88. 

The appearance of the marble of Silenus and the Infant Bacchus on the market presents a rare opportunity to acquire an autograph work by Carlo Albacini, a sculptor who enjoyed unprecedented popularity during the golden age of Neoclassicism. 

F. Haskell and N. Penny, pp. 26, 88, 306-307; G. Vaughan, 'Albacini and His English Patrons', in Journal of the History Collections 3, no. 2, 1991, pp. 183-197.

The Late Hugh Honour and John Fleming

This elegant collection of Grand Tour bronzes and marbles was formed by the art historians and Italophiles, the late Hugh Honour and John Fleming. Together they wrote the famous A World History of Art, still one of the standard texts for any aspiring art historian, whilst Honour’s witty Companion Guide to Venice (1965) is still enjoyed by visitors to the Serenissma to this day. Honour was a leading authority on Antonio Canova and Neoclassicism. In Honour’s obituary for the Burlington Magazine, Nicholas Penny writes that he was able to ‘transform the reputation of one of the greatest of all European artists’ and brought his elegant and reliable knowledge to an increasingly wider audience throughout his life.

The collection includes a rare autograph Caracalla by Francis Harwood, the British sculptor who lived in Florence, supplying high quality marbles to Grand Tourists and royalty, including Catherine the Great of Russia. The larger portion of the collection includes one of the most important groupings of Zoffoli bronzes to have come to market, the majority of which were published by Honour in his defining article on the Zoffoli workshop: 'Bronze Statuettes by Giacomo and Giovanni Zoffoli', The Conoisseur, November 1961 pp. 198-205.

Earlier this year Sotheby’s sold John Deare’s magisterial Eleanor and Edward from Hugh Honour and John Fleming’s collection, Treasures, 5 July 2017, lot 35. It is a great privilege for Sotheby’s to offer the wider collection of two of the most respected Italophile British art historians of the 20th century.