This elegant bronze of Apollo is a newly discovered cast of a model that has traditionally been attributed to Ferdinando Tacca (1619-1686), sculptor to the Medici in Florence. More recently it has been proposed that the model, or at least certain casts, could be French, though the possibility of an Italian origin has not been excluded. The appearance on the market of this attractive and finely worked cast, which survives as a group together with the Python, adds new information to the debate surrounding its source and facture.
The subject of the group is Apollo’s slaying of Python, the serpent or dragon which, according to Greek mythology, presided over the Delphic oracle. Having vanquished the creature with his arrows, Apollo succeeded it as guardian of the oracle while, as penance for his act, he instituted the Pythian Games that would thenceforth be held at Delphi. Representing the youthful god in a dynamic, almost serpentine pose, nude but for his billowing cloak, and pointing his bow and arrow at the flailing beast, the group appears to find its inspiration in a print by the Florentine engraver Antonio Tempesta (1555-1630) from his illustration of Ovid’s Metamorphoses (see fig. 1 and Warren, op. cit., pp. 119-120).
The model exists in four known casts, to which the present example can now be added. Two of these – one in the Hermitage, St Petersburg (inv. no. N.Sk.221), and another formerly in the Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Bergé collection (sold Christie's Paris, 23-25 February 2009, lot 586) – do not include the Python. An example including the Python was formerly with Julius Goldschmidt, while a further group is in the Peter Marino collection (Warren, op. cit.). While there are minor differences between all versions, the Marino cast is distinguished from all others by its reddish-golden patina and its pairing with a group of Diana as huntress. It is also notable that none of the above casts share the minute stippling of the sandals and quiver that is seen in the present bronze.
It was in Anthony Radcliffe’s pioneering article, published in 1976 (op. cit.), that the Apollo was first associated with Ferdinando Tacca. Focusing on a series of groups representing mythological and literary subjects, Radcliffe established an oeuvre of small-scale bronzes for the Florentine master. He based this on comparisons with secured works, in particular the relief depicting the Martyrdom of St Stephen in Santo Stefano al Ponte, Florence. Though not discussed at length within this context, the present model was listed by Radcliffe as one of several single figures which in his opinion could equally be attributed to the sculptor (op. cit., n. 21). Indeed, Ferdinando Tacca’s bronzes remain arguably the strongest stylistic point of reference for the Apollo. Parallels can be drawn with the male figure in his Ruggiero and Angelica (Radcliffe, op. cit., fig. 2), as well as the Mercury that is partnered with Juno (ibid., fig. 5) – compare here, in particular, the pointed nose, wavy hair, rounded physique, and heroic stance. There are, however, certain features in the Apollo that may not quite satisfy an attribution to Tacca; these include the rather soft facial type, and – as noted by Jeremy Warren (op. cit., p. 124) – the quiver, which is markedly different from that in Tacca’s Apollo and Daphne group. It could also be argued that the Apollo’s elegantly slender limbs and balletic stance diverge slightly from Tacca’s more boldly designed figures.
In his 2010 discussion of the Marino bronze, Warren proposed a French origin for the model, not least because of its pairing with the figure of Diana. The latter has convincingly been attributed to the French sculptor Guillaume Berthelot (circa 1583-1648), who spent time in Rome and subsequently worked as court sculptor for Marie de Médicis. Warren suggested that the subject of Apollo as Python-slayer enjoyed particular popularity among the Bourbon dynasty, and that Antonio Tempesta’s print could have been copied from French publications. He conceded, however, that an Italian origin of the model remained a possibility, in part because the Apollo is not obviously conceived as an original pair with the Diana. A French bronze caster could thus have paired two models from separate sources for a specific patron. Such an hypothesis is supported by the unusual patina of the Marino figures, which is not shared by the other known casts. It is moreover documented that bronzes by Italian artists such as Tacca were in circulation in France by 1650 and could easily have been replicated there (Warren, op. cit., p. 124). Interestingly, as Warren recognised, an ivory version of the subject carved in Rome in 1748 is apparently inspired by the present model (Staatliches Museum Schwerin, inv. no. KH 1929).
An attribution of the Apollo to Berthelot has since been questioned by Regina Seelig-Teuwen (op. cit., p. 37), which further presents the possibility of an Italian origin for the model, perhaps within the milieu of Ferdinando Tacca if not his own workshop. Whether some of the casts could be French after Tacca’s model, or the model a French adaptation of his style, remains open to debate. The present Apollo certainly represents a significant addition to the study of 17th-century bronzes between Italy and France.
A. Radcliffe, 'Ferdinando Tacca, The Missing Link in Florentine Baroque Bronzes‘, in Kunst des Barock in der Toskana, Munich, 1976, pp. 14-23; K. A. Möller, Elfenbein: Kunstwerke des Barock, cat. Staatliches Museum Schwerin, Schwerin, 2000, pp. 116-117, no. 65; J. Warren, Beauty and Power: Renaissance and Baroque Bronzes from the Peter Marino Collection, exh. cat. The Wallace Collection, London, The Huntington Art Collections, San Marino, and the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, Minneapolis, London, 2010, pp. 114-127, no. 10; R. Seelig-Teuwen, 'Guillaume Bertelot as a Sculptor of Small Bronzes', in J. Warren (ed.), Renaissance and Baroque Bronzes in and around the Peter Marino Collection, London, 2013, pp. 29-41
An XRF analysis of the metal of both the Apollo and the Python has indicated a brass alloy containing small amounts of tin and lead. This is consistent with the composition of the Apollo in the Peter Marino collection, as published by Warren (op. cit.).