Monumental Relief with the Nine Muses
March 22, 07:15 PM GMT
80,000 - 120,000 EUR
Italian, Rome, 16th century
Monumental Relief with the Nine Muses
105 by 220cm., 41½ by 86½in.
The Nine Muses from classical mythology were a popular subject among antiquarians and artists in the 16th century. Most prominently, they were depicted by Raphael (1483-1520) in the Stanza della Segnatura in the Vatican, which made a considerable impression on other members of the Roman artistic and intellectual elite. It is within this orbit that the present, imposing marble relief representing the Muses is likely to originate.
Identified by their attributes, including theatrical masks and musical instruments, the Muses are arranged in a static procession with dynamic twists in their poses. Their heads are turned towards a tenth female figure on the far right of the relief, raised on a pedestal, who appears to be directing the proceedings. Made anonymous by the loss of her head and attributes, this tenth figure probably represents either Mnemosyne, the Goddess of Memory and mother to the Muses, or Minerva, who is frequently depicted as leading the divine inspirers of the arts.
In both conception and style, with deeply carved folds of all’antica drapery, the relief is reminiscent of ancient Roman sarcophagus fronts, from which its sculptor undoubtedly drew inspiration. A possible source for the present composition is found in a 2nd-century AD sarcophagus depicting the Nine Muses accompanied by Minerva and Apollo, which was recorded in Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome in the 16th century and is now in the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna (inv. no. Antikensammlung, I 171). The Muses sarcophagus inspired numerous, principally graphic copies by prominent Roman artists of the early 16th century, including Marcantonio Raimondi.
Giancarlo Gentilini (referenced below) has proposed the Florentine-born sculptor Lorenzo Lotti, called Lorenzetto (1490-1541), as a potential author of the present relief. A collaborator of Raphael in Rome, Lorenzetto epitomised the former’s classicism in sculpture and was well-versed in the antiquarian language. Gentilini sees a figurative affinity between the Muses and Lorenzetto’s bronze relief of Christ and the Samaritan in the Chigi Chapel in Santa Maria del Popolo, Rome and draws further parallels with stucco reliefs in the Logge di Raffaello in the Vatican, on which Lorenzetto probably collaborated. Lorenzetto is known to have made all’antica reliefs and friezes to complement ancient fragments for the hanging garden of the palace of Cardinal Andrea della Valle, constructed between 1520 and 1534, and recorded in a drawing by Maarten van Heemskerck (1498-1574). Gentilini therefore hypothesises that Lorenzetto may have carved the Muses relief as part of a similar project.
An alternative attribution for the present relief has been brought forward by Andrea Bacchi and Luca Annibali (referenced below), who place it within the same antiquarian milieu in Rome, but several decades later. Noting a formal affinity with the Ara Pacis, Bacchi and Annibali propose a connection with the Neapolitan-born artist and antiquarian Pirro Ligorio (1512-1583), who worked as the papal architect in Rome. Ligorio held an obvious fascination with the subject of the Muses and produced drawings of the Ara Pacis, which was discovered in 1566. A frequent collaborator of Ligorio, Giovanni Battista della Porta (1542-1597) was one of the pre-eminent sculptors active in Rome in the second half of the 16th century, enjoying the patronage of Pope Sixtus V and the Caetani family. Bacchi and Annibale observe a striking stylistic similarity between the Muses in the present relief and the marble Sibyls carved by Giovanni Battista and his brother Tommaso della Porta between 1570 and 1572 for the Basilica della Santa Casa in Loreto. Having begun his career as a restorer of antiquities under Cardinal Ippolito d’Este, as well as creating all’antica works for illustrious villas, Giovanni Battista della Porta is arguably a plausible candidate for the present relief’s authorship.
While both attributions have considerable merit, it is equally possible, however, that the Muses relief was carved by another talented marble sculptor active among the fertile antiquarian environment of 16th-century Rome.
The present relief is the subject of expertises by Giancarlo Gentilini, and by Andrea Bacchi and Luca Annibali.
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