VINCENZO GEMITO (1852-1929)
HOLY ROMAN EMPEROR CHARLES V
signed: GEMITO / PROPRIETA / ARTISTICA
bronze, red brown patina
Overall the condition of the bronze is very good with minor dirt and wear to the surface consistent with age. The bronze appears to have fallen forwards in history since there is a small dent to the end of the nose, and the bottom of the sceptre is slightly warped (there are some stress fissures here). There is particular wear to the patina of the outstretched proper right index finger which may be related to this. There are small patches of wear to the patina, including to the proper right forearm, to the proper right fingers and to the sceptre, to the shoulders at the back, and to the edges of the base. There is general wear to the patina at the base. There are various minor scratches and abrasions. There are some very minor original casting flaws, including small lacunae to the back of the skirt, between the buttocks and to the top of the base. There are some splashes of paint to the proper right fingers and proper right thumb. There is dirt to the surface, particularly at the crevices, and the bronze would benefit from a light clean and wax. There are some dark marks and minor splashes of paint to the base.
"In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective, qualified opinion. Prospective buyers should also refer to any Important Notices regarding this sale, which are printed in the Sale Catalogue.
NOTWITHSTANDING THIS REPORT OR ANY DISCUSSIONS CONCERNING A LOT, ALL LOTS ARE OFFERED AND SOLD AS IS" IN ACCORDANCE WITH THE CONDITIONS OF BUSINESS PRINTED IN THE SALE CATALOGUE."
Private collection, United Kingdom
Charles V is unique in Gemito's oeuvre. It is his only modern historical subject and is the most ambitious public project he ever attempted. It is his only completed royal commission, expressing official recognition of his talent, and is a turning point in his career. In 1881 King Umberto I commissioned Gemito to provide one of eight monumental marble statues of historical characters for the façade of the Palazzo Reale in Naples. The remaining statues were commissioned from other Neapolitan sculptors including Achille d'Orsi.
Some critical assessments of Charles V, based exclusively on the exhilaration of the finished marble statue, concentrate on Gemito's deep disappointment with the final work, which is said to have precipitated his subsequent mental collapse. This is to neglect, however, the artist's intense search for expression and his clear satisfaction with his model, apparent only from an understanding of his surviving wax model (Galleria d'Arte Moderna, Milan) or the few bronze casts taken from it.
Until Charles V Gemito's work had been conceived and executed on a human scale. His subjects were derived from Neapolitan street life and from antiquity. Executed with minute intricacy and wonderful technical skill, the majority of his pieces were made in bronze and cast in his own foundry. Charles V is something new. His inexperience of historical subjects led him to make a special trip to Paris in June 1886 to seek advice and assistance from the painter Charles Meissonier. During passionate discussions, Gemito and Meissonier analysed Charles V's character and how to express this in sculpture.
Gemito's ideas were idiosyncratic: Meissonier urged him to use a form of historical romanticism on the lines of François Rude's Marechal Ney and Carlo Marochetti's Emanuele Filiberto. Charles V's dominant character was expressed through a subtle treatment of his strong physiognomy and in a carefully contrived stance and pose. The disastrous incident of the flawed marble block provided for Gemito in Naples caused a fundamental alteration in the position of the right arm in the final work, which the sculptor believed radically changed his intentions, and was the primary cause of his dejection.
The depiction of the armour was all important. Gemito took great pains to base his work on historical models and studied many examples while in Paris (numerous armour studies by Gemito are in the Minozzi collection). Meissonier's son recorded Gemito's obsession with some antique armour which he would carry around in a sack wherever he went. One of his sources appears to be taken partly from Titian's equestrian portrait of Charles V in the Prado, in which the Emperor wears a gilt German suit known as the Mühlberg armour. However, his inspiration was eclectic and the final form of the armour combines his researches (probably in the Musée de l'Armée) under Meissonier's direction, with the decorative detail of the Mühlberg armour and elements of Italian design. The Emperor's armour allowed him to express his special skill in creating detail. The treatment of the decoration and the mail are exceptional, but this essential part of the model's supreme quality was completely lost in the transfer to marble and can only be properly appreciated in the wax or bronze, as in the present statuette.
Gemito returned full of optimism to Naples with his model in the autumn of 1886. 'Il mio bozzetto va molto bene il maestro ne è molto contento e non manca di altro che di qualche finezza necessaria ed altre piccole coze di armature... ' But, back home things started to go wrong. There were complications and pressures with the commission organizers, while Gemito struggled in vain to resolve the inadequacy of the marble block. These may have contributed to his mental breakdown and to the following two decades of isolation, but critics have surely oversimplified the causes of his collapse.
The bronze casts and wax model show how close Gemito came to fulfilling his goals and allow a true assessment of his achievement. Meissonier, who understood him perhaps better than anyone, best expressed the importance of this work to the sculptor and to our appreciation of his previous and future work he wrote: 'Oh, ce Charles Quint! Comme il va changer Gemito, comme lui même n'est pas lui même, comme il semble géne par cette grande figure inconnue qu'il ne voit pas, qu'il ne sent pas, qui l'occupe et le préoccupe!'
Of the different versions of Charles V, the marble is still in situ, a full-size plaster and a bronze taken from it in 1956 are in the Accademia in Naples. There is a terracotta bust in the Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Moderna, Rome and various bronze busts (an example being in the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford). It appears that Gemito executed only a handful of bronze casts of his wax model now in Milan; one is in the Minozzi collection, Naples, and another was formerly in the Consolazio collection in Florence, which sources attest to having been cesellata da Gemito (chiseled by Gemito). The Consolazio bronze has been identified as the cast sold in these rooms on 22 November 1994, lot 167. The present bronze is a rare third cast and an important rediscovery. The quality of the casting is exceptional and very close to the Consolazio 1994 cast, suggesting that like that cast the present bronze was probably finished by the master himself.
S. Di Giacomo, Vincenzo Gemito, 1923, pp. 29-30,34; S. Di Giacomo, Vincenzo Gemito Vitae 1928, pp. 82-5, pl. XIX; A. Consiglio, Vincenzo Gemito, 1932, pp. 12, 16, fig. 14; C. Siviero, Gemito, (ed.) (Morano Editore), pp. 62-6, fig. 49; G. Consolazio, Vincenzo Gemito, 1951, fig. 66; F. Bellonzi and R. Frattarolo, Appunti sull'arte di Vincenzo Gemito, 1952, pp. 9, 16, 27; R. Causa, Gemito, I Maestri della scultura 14, 1966, p. 61; U. Galetti, Gemito Disegni, 1944, 15, 19; B. Mantura, Temi di Vincenzo Gemito, exh. cat., Spoleto, Palazzo Racani Arroni, 1989, p. 15; V. Vicario, Gli Scultori .., 1990, pp. 330; M. de Micheli, La Scultura dell'Ottocento, 1992, 270; N. Penny, Catalogue of European Sculpture in the Ashmolean Museum 1540 to the Present, vol. I, Oxford, 1992, pp. 48 49; M. Simonetta de Marinis, Gemito, Rome, 1993, pp. 73-78. 142, figs. 204-13; M. Pagano, Gemito, exh. cat. Museo Diego Aragona Pignatelli Cortes, Naples, 2009, pp 174-175, nos. 60a-d; J-L Champion (ed.), Gemito: Le sculpteur de l'âme napolitaine, exh. cat. Petit Palais, Paris, 2019