European Art: Paintings & Sculpture

European Art: Paintings & Sculpture

View full screen - View 1 of Lot 36. ANTONIO BOTTINELLI | ARIA (ALLEGORY OF AIR).

Lot Closed

June 18, 01:34 PM GMT


100,000 - 150,000 GBP

Lot Details






signed and dated: A. Bottinelli Roma 1886 and entitled: ARIA

white marble, on a grey and cipollino marble column

marble: 119cm., 46⅞in.

column: 92cm., 36¼in.

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Private Collection, USA, until 2018

This magnificent composition is undoubtedly Antonio Bottinelli’s masterpiece. First exhibited to great acclaim at the General Italian Exhibition in Turin in 1884, Aria is a breath-taking showcase of the Lombard sculptor’s skill and imagination. The present, recently rediscovered marble, which is dated 1886, appears to be the only version of Aria known to be in existence today.

Conceived when Bottinelli was at the height of his career, his allegorical representation of Air employs an innovative iconography. The element appears in the form of a semi-nude woman with outstretched arms, her hair and drapery billowing in an imagined breeze. She is seated on the back of an eagle which, spreading his wings, perches on a cluster of clouds above a globe carved with the signs of the Zodiac.

Though not typically associated with Air, the image of a person riding on an eagle is familiar from depictions of the classical myth surrounding Ganymede, the beautiful hero abducted by Zeus in the guise of an eagle. Further inspiration for Bottinelli’s composition may have been provided by Baroque personifications of Air as a woman surrounded by birds – for example in a painting by Jan Brueghel the younger (1601-1678) and Hendrik van Balen the Elder (1575-1632). Ultimately the idea may also be derived from sculptural representations of Hebe, the cup-bearer of the gods, accompanied by Zeus in the form of an eagle. A notable example that would have been known to Bottinelli is the group by the French sculptor François Rude (1784-1855), which was exhibited at the Paris Salon in 1857.

Bottinelli’s weightlessly dynamic composition is elevated by an astonishing degree of finesse in the carving and texturing of the marble. It is not surprising that an earlier version of the model received pride of place at the Esposizione Generale Italiana in Turin in 1884, in whose catalogue it was illustrated in an engraving and described in the highest of terms:

'Antonio Bottinelli’s Aria is a daring challenge in this tough material. The marble seems to lose its heavy character under the skilful touch of the chisel, it gains transparency and brightness, from a shapeless block a dreamlike woman arises, flying over the earth on the back of an eagle. A drape encircles her like the rainbow that adorns the seven colours in the sky.'

Following its acclaim in Turin, Aria was exhibited again in Rome in 1885. The present marble, dated 1886, is likely to have been commissioned by a client eager to possess a version of this spectacular feat in marble carving.

Born in the Lombard town of Viggiù, Antonio Bottinelli trained at the Accademia di Belle Arti in Milan, before continuing his studies in Rome from 1852 and travelling to Paris in 1858. In 1859 he volunteered to join the War of Independence and was subsequently active in Milan, for whose Duomo he executed statuary between 1863 and 1867. Bottinelli eventually settled in Rome in 1868, where he proceeded to establish himself as a sculptor of portraits, allegorical subjects, as well as sensuous nudes in the contemporary Romantic taste. During his extensive career, Bottinelli exhibited widely across Italy and abroad, garnering numerous medals and awards. As well as participating in the International Exhibitions in Paris (1855), London (1862) and Vienna (1873), his success brought him as far afield as Philadelphia (1867) and Melbourne (1885). In recognition of his achievement, Bottinelli was knighted and became an honorary associate of the Academies of Fine Arts in Milan and Urbino.


A. Panzetta, Nuovo Dizionario degli Scultori Italiani dell'Ottocento e del Primo Novecento, Turin, 2003, p. 105