Matthias Bernhard Braun
Tirol 1684 - 1738 Prague
Austria, circa 1720
A Putto catching a Goat
height 39 in.; 99 cm.
This accomplished carving captures the spirit of the early Rococo style in its lightness, elegance and exuberance, using curving natural forms with delicate interlacings and countercurves. These elements and the high degree of detail correspond to Mathias Bernhard Braun’s work, particularly the series of 12 stone Virtues and Vices which he carved before 1720 for the terrace of Count Špork’s famous hospice at Kuks in Bohemia, as well as his wood carvings for the main altar of the St. Clement church in Prague.
Braun was one of the foremost sculptors in what is now the Czech Republic during the first decades of the 18th century and a leading practitioner in Central Europe of the dynamic, waning Baroque style of Gian Lorenzo Bernini and the 17th century Venetian school.1 His compositions, like the present sculpture, are vivacious and often capricious in feel and form a link between the Roman High Baroque and the ornamental excesses and expressive idioms of the German Rococo.2
Braun’s idiosyncratic style lends itself perfectly to the subject matter represented here. The plump little pixie with fluttering foliate wings is clad in a hunting costume with boots, gloves attached to the flapping ribbon behind him, and a quiver full of arrows on his back. He struggles to subdue the writhing goat, an animal often associated with lust and carnality. The upright form of the carving and the composition as a whole seem to represent the pleasures of the hunt. The material and the subject-matter evoke the elaborate and often frivolous-appearing 18th century hunting sledges and carriages made for royal or noble households in Central Europe. In fact, sledges, with the occupants physically close, had an erotic component and were not only used for the hunt but also for entertainment in sleigh parades during the hard winter months.
This impish figure struggling with a goat may have been made as a figure-head for the front of a sleigh, incorporated into the elaborate design of these carved winter vehicles to heighten the sense of frivolity and amusement.
2. Johannes Auersperg and Katherine Zock, Daniel Katz European Sculpture, Hants, England 2000, no. 46 (illus.)