Giuseppe Sanmartino

Four Figures of Bowlers

Auction Closed

March 22, 07:15 PM GMT


25,000 - 35,000 EUR

Lot Details


Giuseppe Sanmartino

Naples 1720 - 1793

Four Figures of Bowlers

polychromed terracotta, on marble bases

Figure throwing the ball: 29cm., 11¾in.

Figure holding the ball: 33cm.,13in.

Figure without a ball and without a hat: 33cm., 13in.

Figure without a ball and with a hat: 34cm., 13¼in.

bases: 16cm., 6¼in. each

This lot has an artistic export license. Please refer to the specialist department for further information about export procedures and shipping costs.
Eugenio Catello Collection, Naples
R. Nandini, ‘Qualche affondo su Giuseppe Sanmartino modellatore tra genere e ritratto’, in G. Valentino and G. Porzio (eds.), La commedia della vita genere e realtà nell’arte napoletana del settecento, Naples, 2021, pp. 31-36, 98-99
Taverna, Museo Civico, La commedia della vita genere e realtà nell’arte napoletana del settecento, 2021, pp. 31-36, 98-99

The sculptor Giuseppe Sanmartino, a key figure in Neapolitan sculpture of the seventeenth century, was well known for his exuberant and fanciful marbles, as well as for the quality of his work in terracotta. His speciality was crib figures, known for their realism and polychromy. He was a virtuoso in the creation of ‘piccolo statuario del genere’, small polychrome statuettes representing genre figures – he had a particular penchant for beggars. In his figures, the impression of movement is accentuated by the flexibility of the figures’ arms and legs, as well as their hipshot bodies in a contrapposto position: his figures own the space, creating multiple points of view. 

The game of ‘bocce’ has been known in Europe since the Ancient Romans. The dissemination of the iconography through engravings by Jacques Callot (1592–1635), such as La Fête du Village: La Foire de Gondreville (Metropolitan Museum, New York, 57.650.345) may have certainly contributed to an understanding of the subject in Italy.

The decoration of one of the majolica benches in a prominent position in the central rotunda of the cloister of Santa Chiara in Naples is particularly interesting: it features four players in short breeches, arms outstretched to throw the ball. Donato and Gennaro Massa created this composition on majolica in about 1739/1742, after a drawing by Domenico Antonio Vaccaro (1678-1745).

The representation of the motif at Santa Chiara also coincides with the appearance of the word ‘boules’ in the Encyclopedia by Diderot and d’Alembert (in 1751), followed two years later by the publication by Raffaello Bisteghi in Bologna of Il giuoco pratico o sieno capitoli diversi che servono di regola ad una raccolta di giuochi praticati nelle conversazioni d’Italia.

The exuberance of the clothing and the bodies’ postures in Sanmartino’s oeuvre certainly derive from the paintings of his predecessors Francesco Solimena (1657–1747) and Corrado Giaquinto (1703–1766), leading figures in Neapolitan Baroque. Sanmartino also borrowed the poses of celebrated antique sculptures for his works: the reclining pose of the Dying Gaul in the Farnese collection (Museo Archeologico, Naples) can be recognized in his Beggar in the Certosa di Sanmartino (R. Naldi, op. cit. 2021, p. 35).

Made in about 1775–1776, Sanmartino’s figure of St Paul, on the façade of the Girolamini church, shows a bearded man with very expressive facial features, in a hipshot pose, wrapped in an ample cloak. These characteristics are particularly evident in the preparatory terracotta for the Apostle, a bozzetto for the life-size marble (Rome, Galleria Nazionale di Arte Antica, Palazzo Barberini, 2034), another version of which is in the Museo Nazionale di San Martino (inv. no. 121 50 ; cf. R. Naldi, op. cit. 2004, pp. 146–148).


The four Boules (Bocce) players presented here have characteristics that are completely consistent with the works of Giuseppe Sanmartino, distinguished by their expressive realism and the energy of their bodies. The figures are captured at the precise moment when the ball is thrown, leaning forward, holding the ball in muscled hands with long fingers and large palms, wearing an expression of concentration as they focus on the throw. Particular attention has been paid to the clothing – short breeches, ample shirts with short sleeves, jackets and hats – as well as to the expressive faces and abundant hair, described in thick locks, that can also be found in his figures at the Certosa di Sanmartino in Naples (R. Naldi, op. cit. 2004, pp. 164–165.)


G. Borrelli, Il presepe napoletano, Rome, 1970, p. 249, fig. 119; E. Catello, ‘Le cantate dei pastori. Realità e fantasia nell’ arte presepiale del Settecento a Napoli’, exh. cat. Naples, Turin, 1996, pp. 42-43 and p. 112, no. 10; R. Middione, Le raccolte di scultura, Museo Nazionale di San Martino, Naples, 2001, pp. 84-85, fig. 2.5 and p. 120; E. Catello, Giuseppe Sanmartino, Naples, 2004, pp. 143-148; D. Di Chiara, Storia delle bocce in Italia e nel mondo. Dalle origini ai tempi nostri, Pomezia, 1997, vol. II, pp. 29-33

The present lot is the subject of an expertise by Prof. Riccardo Naldi.

This lot has an artistic export license. Please refer to the specialist department for further information about export procedures and shipping costs.