PROPERTY OF A NOBLEMAN
These two astonishingly beautiful marble relief roundels come directly from the Baring family and were almost certainly commissioned by Alexander Baring, 1st Baron Ashburton, who was one of Thorvaldsen's most significant patrons, acquiring the sculptor's seminal Mercury about to kill Argus (Thorvaldsens Museum, Copenhagen, inv. no. A873); and Hebe (Thorvaldsens Museum, Copenhagen, inv. no. A874). Like these groups, the present reliefs are likely to have been commissioned in the 1820s and come from Baring's magnificent English country house, Grange Park in Hampshire, where they are recorded in photographs as being in the main hall (published in Osborne, op. cit., p. 246).
Thorvaldsen created his iconic relief models after a restless night in the summer of 1815 whilst he was staying in a boarding house, the Casa Buti, on the Strada Felice in Rome. According to Thorvaldsen's biographer Just Mathias Thiele (1795-1874), he was discovered by his friend, the Danish painter Wilhelm Eckersberg (1783-1853) 'early one morning, before the house had woken [sketching] an image that he felt had been revealed to him during the night' (as quoted by Grandesso, op. cit., p. 134). Inspired by insomnia, the sculptor conceived the personification of Night in the form of a winged woman in drowsy flight, her head tipped forwards in sleep and garlanded with poppies symbolising opium-induced torpor. Night gently cradles two putti in her arms, who each fall lazily against her breast. Thorvaldsen is thought to have taken his model directly from Pausanias' Periegesis Hellados (Description of Greece) in which the ancient geographer describes the cedarwood Chest of Kypselos, which he says was adorned with a scene Night personified as a young woman, nursing a black child, Sleep (Hypnos), in one arm, and a white infant, Death (Thanatos), in the other. Pausanias' description was included in Cesare Ripa's Iconologia (1593), an important source for artists in Thorvaldsen's lifetime. Following Melchior Missirini's interpretation (op. cit.), Elena di Majo and Stefano Susinno, however, have asserted that this reading is incorrect, and that Thorvaldsen's putti represent the children of Morpheus, the Greek god associated with sleep and dreams (op. cit., p. 163). This argument is underminded by the existence of a drawing made by Thorvaldsen in 1803, after Asmus Jakob Carstens' The Night with her children Sleep and Death, which parallels Pausanias' description of the scene on the Chest of Kypselos (Thorvaldsens Museum, Copenhagen, inv. no Muller Nr 1; Carstens' painting from which the drawing is taken is in the Weimar Kunstsammlungen, inv. no. KK 568). Although Night is seated in Carstens' composition, and shrouds her children in drapes, the conception is ultimately the same as seen in Thorvaldsen' 1815 relief. Thorvaldsen, however, places his figure into flight and, into the recess between her legs and wings, adds another symbol of the night, the owl, which flies out of the plane of relief towards the viewer.
Day takes the form of a young woman, who, awake, scatters roses on all before her, but turns to look back, where a putto holds a torch symbolising the dawn. The contrast between the roses, which evoke vivid colour and the flame of the torch creates a clever illusion of light and dark, day and night. In his Day, Thorvaldsen succeeded in merging Baroque traditions with contemporary Neoclassical advancements. The pose of the woman, with projecting arms and turned head, directly relates to Guido Reni's figure of Aurora from his eponymous fresco in the Casino dell'Aurora next to Palazzo Pallavicini-Ropigliosi, Rome (1614). There is also a parallel with Reni's Fortune being restrained by Love (1623). Both Night and Day show a considerable debt to Guy Head's remarkable paintings of idealised females in flight with billowing diaphanous drapes: for example the Iris Carrying the Water of the River Styx to Olympus for the Gods to Swear By (1793, Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, inv. no. DSC08946) and Echo Flying from Narcissus (1795-1798, Detroit Institute of Arts, Detroit, inv. no. 78.70). As has been pointed out by Grandesso, each relief may ultimately have been inspired by Asmus Jakob Carstens' The Birth of Light in which Phtas and Neitha (Night) are suspended in a state of pre-Creation nothingness, enveloped in drapery, whilst their child, Phanes (Light), raises a torch above their heads. The drawing, which represents a Phoenician creation myth dating to circa 1200 BCE, was owned by Thorvaldsen himself and is now in the Thorvaldsens Museum, Copenhagen (inv. no. D814).
The prime marble versions of the Night and Day were commissioned in 1816-1817 by Richard Bingham, 2nd Earl of Lucan (1764-1839) and were in progress in 1818-1819 (now at Hearst Castle, San Simeon, California, see Grandesso, op. cit., p. 274, no. 155.1; and di Majo et al., op. cit., pp. 163-166, nos. 31 and 32). Also in 1817, two more versions were commissioned by the future Austrian Chancellor Klemens von Metternich (1773-1859) and François Gabriel de Bray (1765-1832). In 1822, William Cavendish, 6th Duke of Devonshire, the Bachelor Duke (1790-1858), acquired a pair which had originally been commissioned for George Agar Ellis, 1st Baron Dover (1797-1833), in 1818; these reliefs are still at Chatsworth in the Sculpture Gallery and were completed in 1824. After Count Paolo Marulli commissioned a pair of the models in 1821, they became extremely fashionable leading to the execution of numerous versions.
The original plaster models are in the Thorvaldsens Museum, Copenhagen (inv. nos. A369 and A370). The present relief of Day differs ever so slightly from the original plaster, principally in the drapery around the woman's proper right leg, which, in the present marble, overlaps the leg, whereas in the original it goes over and under. The arrangement of roses is slightly different, as is the placement of the proper left wing, which, in the present relief, can be seen emerging from behind the right wing, whereas in the original the wing is placed forward, and begins before Day's head.
Interestingly, these variations occur in another pair of versions in the Pinacoteca Tosio-Martinengo, Brescia (inv. nos. 3 and 4) which are published and illustrated in both Grandesso (op. cit., p. 135) and di Majo (op. cit., pp. 163-166, nos. 31 and 32). These reliefs were executed in 1821, just one year before Alexander Baring was in Italy, when he commissioned the St John the Baptist and Lucrezia d'Este from Canova and his other recorded marbles from Thorvaldsen. The Tosio-Martinengo reliefs were commissioned by Giovanni Edoardo de Pecis and were inherited by his sister Maria de Pecis Parravivini, who sold them to Count Paolo Tosio in 1831. According to Grandesso, they are recorded as having been carved under Thorvaldsen's direction by the distinguished Milanese sculptor Gaetano Matteo Monti (1776-1847) (Grandesso, op. cit., p. 135). Due to his success, Thorvaldsen operated a large workshop in Rome and, certainly by the 1820s (if not before), he had handed over much of the responsibility for marble carving to his skilled assistants, many of whom were respected sculptors in their own right, including Pietro Tenerani (1789-1869) and Luigi Bienaimé (1795-1878). The Tosio-Martinengo reliefs are typical of Thorvaldsen's output during this period: high quality marbles carved under the Thorvaldsen brand and under the scrutiny of the master himself by first rate assistants.
Given the shared variations with the Tosio-Martinengo versions, and the fact they were commissioned in 1821, the year before Alexander Baring was in Italy acquiring important Neoclassical sculptures, it seems possible that the Baring Night and Day reliefs might likewise have been carved at this time, possibly by Gaetano Matteo Monti. The outstanding provenance of the marbles, coming from Grange Park, the home of Alexander Baring, patron to Canova and Thorvaldsen, strongly indicates that they must have been made in Thorvaldsen's workshop. They preserve beautiful carving which compares with examples such as those in the Tosio-Martinengo collection, and, crucially, are in excellent condition, with their original surfaces.
M. Misserini, Intera Collezione Di Tutte Le Opere Inventate E Scolpite Dal Cav. Alberto Thorwaldsen..., Rome, 1831; J. Birkedal Hartman, Antike Motive bei Thorvaldsen, Studien zur Antikenrezeption des Klassizismus, Tübingen, 1979; E. di Majo, B. Jørnæs and S. Susinno, Bertel Thorvaldsen 1770-1844 scultore danese a Roma, exh. cat. Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Moderna e Contemporanea, Rome, 1989, pp. 163-167, nos. 31 and 32; Künstlerleben in Rom - Bertel Thorvaldsen (1770 - 1844), exh. cat., Germanisches Nationalmuseum, Nuremberg, and Schleswig-Holsteinisches Landesmuseum Schloss Gottorf, Schleswig, 1992, pp. 80-81, 388-389, no. 2.25; B. Jørnæs (2003). Thorvaldsen [Thorwaldsen], Bertel. Grove Art Online. Retrieved 25 May. 2019, from http:////www.oxfordartonline.com/groveart/view/10.1093/gao/9781884446054.001.0001/oao-9781884446054-e-7000084718.; S. Grandesso (ed.), Bertel Thorvaldsen (1770-1844), Milan, 2015, pp. 108, 134-135, 274-275, nos. 155 and 156
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