Lot 67
  • 67


200,000 - 300,000 GBP
322,000 GBP
bidding is closed


  • Apollo and Daphne
  • bronze, on a later marble base


Private collection, United Kingdom

Catalogue Note

Ferdinando Tacca's bronze two-figure groups are as coveted by collectors today as they were in the 17th century. The emergence of this arresting bronze on the market presents a unique opportunity to acquire a previously unrecorded version of one of Tacca's rarest models, his Apollo and Daphne.

By virtue of its subject, Apollo and Daphne is the most dynamic among Tacca's small-scale bronze compositions. As recounted in Ovid's Metamorphoses, having provoked the god of Love, Apollo was shot by one of Cupid’s arrows and fell passionately in love with the woodland nymph Daphne. Daphne had in turn been shot by another of Cupid’s arrows, resulting in a profound hatred for Apollo. Having escaped the amorous god’s advances and sworn to a life of virginity, Daphne was eventually caught by Apollo (with Cupid’s help) and begged her father, the river god Peneus, to change her form and save her from her plight. Before Apollo could ultimately seize her, Daphne was turned into a laurel tree. The rousing climax of the myth provided ample inspiration for Baroque artists, most famously Gian Lorenzo Bernini (1598-1680), whose dazzling marble Apollo and Daphne, completed in 1625, remains the star attraction of the Villa Borghese in Rome. Tacca's bronze is no less dramatic: it captures the figures mid-flight, Apollo running after Daphne as her toes grow into roots and merge with the ground below. Apollo eagerly reaches forward with his right arm, his left hand holding a now-lost bow, while Daphne lunges forward with both arms, caught in an alarmed, open-mouthed expression.

Ferdinando Tacca's authorship of a series of bronze groups representing subjects from Ovid’s Metamorphoses and Ariosto's epic poem, Orlando Furioso, was first systematically recognised by Anthony Radcliffe and outlined in his 1976 article (op. cit.). Radcliffe established this oeuvre of small-scale bronzes for the Florentine master based on comparisons with secured works, in particular the relief depicting The Martyrdom of St Stephen in Santo Stefano al Ponte, Florence. Since then, several further such groups attributable to Tacca have come to light, and the number of known models from the series now stands at ten, including variants (see Wengraf, op. cit., p. 196). Imbued with dramatic tension, the pairings invariably combine a male and a female figure within an amorous thematic context. Ferdinando is thought to have conceived his two-figure statuettes relatively early in his career, around 1640, when he inherited his father’s workshop. This dating of the groups is substantiated by their appearance in a 1650 inventory of the collection of Jean-Baptiste de Bretagne in Paris, which also testifies to their immediate popularity among eminent collectors outside Italy. Notably, a number of bronzes from Tacca’s series were bequeathed to Louis XIV by his gardener, André le Nôtre, in 1693.

While most of Tacca’s two-figure models exist in a number of surviving casts, Apollo and Daphne has so far been known for certain in only a single version. What must be considered a prime cast is now in the Musée du Louvre (inv. no. OA 10309); it was formerly in a British private collection and sold at Sotheby’s London on 16 May 1968. The Louvre group is traceable to Louis XIV’s inventory (No 196), having been among the bronzes included in le Nôtre’s gift. In his 1976 article, Radcliffe (op. cit., p. 20) discusses a version of the Apollo and Daphne supposedly in the Royal Collection in Madrid, which is listed in the 1822 inventory of the Palacio de Oriente alongside an Angelica and Medoro. A cast of the latter Tacca model is indeed preserved in Madrid (inv. no. 10069916), but the Apollo and Daphne has not been located in the Royal Collection. (Sotheby’s is grateful to María Jesús Herrero Sanz for her kind assistance with this matter.)

Having remained in private hands for generations, the present bronze then appears to be only the second version of the model to come to light and, as such, represents a significant addition to Ferdinando Tacca's oeuvre. Though closely related in appearance and facture to the Louvre cast, there are some differences between the two bronzes. Most notable is the absence of laurel leaves on Daphne’s fingers in the present version, as well as the absence of a quiver at Apollo’s hip, which was added to the Louvre cast. Daphne’s ponytail appears to be lost in the present cast, and the titular inscription seen in the Louvre cast is lacking. These inscriptions appear on only some casts of Tacca’s two-figure groups, and may be interpreted as denoting prime versions (of which there may have been more than one for each model; see Warren, op. cit., p. 94). While the treatment to the hair and facial features is very similar in the two bronzes, there are subtle differences in facture, particularly in the modelling of the drapery, and in the texturing of the terrasse: the Louvre example displays more of the meticulous, undulating punching of the base that is characteristic of Ferdinando's bronzes. Interestingly, the somewhat muted stippling of the terrasse seen here is also seen in two groups of Lion and Bull Hunts in the Peter Marino Collection, which are tentatively attributed to Ferdinando Tacca and the bronze founder Damiano Capelli (Warren, op. cit. no. 9). As Warren notes (ibid., p. 111), several specialist founders worked for Ferdinando, and variations in the finishing of casts are therefore to be expected.

Ferdinando Tacca was both pupil and assistant to his father, Pietro Tacca, until his death in 1640, and succeeded him as the primary sculptor to the Grand Duke of Tuscany, taking over Giambologna’s former foundry and studio in the Borgo Pinti. He completed two of his father’s commissions, the statue of Ferdinando I de' Medici for the Cappella dei Principi, San Lorenzo, Florence, and the equestrian statue of Philip IV for Madrid. Among his most celebrated works are the great Martyrdom of St Stephen relief mentioned above, as well as two Angels in the Wallace Collection (inv. nos. S 138 and S 139) which remain his only signed bronzes. Ferdinando’s output as a sculptor of small bronzes diminished with the 1654 commission of a theatre for the Medici, the Teatro della Pergola, for which he was listed not only as architect and designer, but also the engineer. It has been noted that in his two-figure groups, Tacca disregarded the serpentinata principle made famous by Giambologna in favour of stage-like compositions to be read from a single viewpoint. As Radcliffe concluded in his discussion of the groups, 'perhaps it is not after all irrelevant that he was also the architect of the Teatro della Pergola' (op. cit., p. 22). Apollo and Daphne epitomises Tacca's distinctive early Baroque theatricality.

A. Radcliffe, 'Ferdinando Tacca, The Missing Link in Florentine Baroque Bronzes‘, in Kunst des Barock in der Toskana, Munich, 1976, pp. 14-23; Les Bronzes de la Couronne, exh. cat. Musée du Louvre, Paris, 1999, pp. 135-136, no. 197; Brillos en Bronce: Colecciones de Reyes, exh. cat. Madrid, 2009, pp. 278-279, no. 79; J. Warren, Beauty and Power: Renaissance and Baroque Bronzes from the Peter Marino Collection, exh. cat. The Wallace Collection, London, The Huntington Art Collections, San Marino, and the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, Minneapolis, London, 2010, pp. 88-112, nos. 8 and 9 and p. 272; P. Wengraf, Renaissance & Baroque Bronzes from the Hill Collection, London, 2014, pp. 194-199 and p. 345