- Inventaire des diamans de la Couronne, perles, pierreries, tableaux, pierres gravées, Et autres Monumens des Arts & des Sciences existants au Garde-Meuble, par les commissaires MM. Bion, Christin & Delattre, Députés à l'assemblée nationale, suivit d'un rapport sur cet Inventaire, par M. Delattre, Paris, 1791
- Le Cabinet de l'amateur, exh. cat. Orangerie des Tuileries, Paris, 1956, no. 199 (described as the Enlèvement d'Orithye)
- S. Castellucci, « La collection de bronzes du Grand Dauphin, in Curiosité. Etudes de l'histoire de l'art en l'honneur d'Antoine Schnapper, Paris, 1998, pp. 355-363
- S. Baratte, G. Bresc-Bautier, Les Bronzes de la Couronne, exh. cat. musée du Louvre, 1999, p. 24 (mentioned in the footnote no. 19) and p. 186
- P. Wengraf, Renaissance & Baroque Bronzes from the Hill Collection, Londres, 2014, pp. 148-156 (same height than the Nos. 186 and 187, mentioned in footnote no 11)
- B. Sermartelli, Alcune Composizioni di diversi autori in lode del ritratto della Sabina, Florence, 1583
- G. P. Lomazzo, Trattato dell'arte della Pittura, 1584
- F. Baldinucci, Notizie dei professori del disegno da Cimabue in qua, book 3, Florence, 1681-88, pp. 7, 89
- R. Weihrauch, Bayerisches Nationalmuseum München, Band XIII, 5, Die Bildwerke in Bronze und in anderen Metallen, Munich, 1956, pp. 84-87, cat. 110
- K. Watson and C. Avery, 'Medici and Stuart: a Grand Ducal Gift of 'Giovanni Bologna' Bronzes for Henry, Prince of Wales (1612)', The Burlington Magazine, 115, 1973, pp. 493-507
- Die Bronzen der Fürstlichen Sammlung Liechtenstein, exh. cat. Museum Alter Plastik, Frankfurt, 1986, p. 177, cat. 16
- M. Leithe-Jasper and P. Wengraf (eds.), European Bronzes from the Quentin Collection, exh. cat. Frick Collection, New York, 2004, pp. 166-173
- P. Wengraf, 'Zur Bedeutung der "Signaturen" an Giambolognas Marmor -und Bronzefiguren', in W. Seipel (ed.),Giambologna. Triumph des Körpers, exh. cat. Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna, 2006, pp. 102-139
- D. Zikos, 'Die Dresdner Giambolognas. Apologie ihrer Eigenhändigkeit', Giambologna in Dresden. Die Geschenke der Medici, exh. cat. Grünes Gewölbe, Dresden, Munich, 2006, pp. 89-94
- W. Seipel (ed.), Giambologna. Triumph des Körpers, exh. cat. Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna, 2006, pp. 120f., pp. 273-275
- D. Zikos, 'Giovanni Bologna and Antonio Susini: an old problem in the light of new research' in P. Motture, E. Jones and D. Zikos (eds.), Carvings, Casts & Collectors. The Art of Renaissance Sculpture, London, 2013, pp. 194-209
- P. Wengraf (ed.), Renaissance and Baroque Bronzes from the Hill Collection, London, 2014
- C. Kryza-Gersch, 'Antonio Susini Rape of a Sabine' in P. Wengraf (ed.), Renaissance and Baroque Bronzes from the Hill Collection, London, 2014, pp. 148-155
- D. Zikos, 'A bronze group of the Rape of a Sabine by Giambologna', in The Exceptional Sale, Christie's, London, 10 July 2014, lot 30, pp. 134-141
- D. Zikos, 'Raub einer Sabinerin (nach Giambologna)', in J. L. Burk (ed.), Bella Figura. Europäische Bronzekunst in Süddeutschland um 1600, exh. cat. Bayerischen Nationalmuseum, Munich, 2015, pp. 200-203
This exquisitely cast and chased bronze is engraved with the Royal inventory number 335. It was last exhibited in 1956, at which time its significance was not fully recognised. The emergence of the Ribes Sabine onto the art market provides an opportunity to reassess its importance, and underline its status as one of the prime casts of this seminal Florentine late Renaissance model.
Giambologna's Rape of a Sabine: The Creation of an Icon
Artistic rivalry has often inspired great creative achievements. This holds true for Giambologna’s marble group of the Rape of a Sabine, one of the glories of late Renaissance Florence (fig. 2). The unveiling of the marble in January 1583 was surely an exciting event, because the group was installed, but kept under wraps for six months whilst Giambologna added the masters final finish to the surface – his ultima mano – hidden from public gaze. This spiraling, dynamic composition took the place in the Loggia dei Lanzi of Donatello’s late masterpiece in bronze, Judith and Holofernes, which was moved to a more exposed location in the Piazza della Signoria (Kryza-Gersch, op. cit., p. 150). It is not known if Giambologna thought his marble rivalled Donatello’s bronze, but we can be more certain that he was conscious of his being judged against the legacy of Michelangelo. As an old man Giambologna is said to have recalled an episode in his youth when as a student in Rome he approached Michelangelo with a wax model he had diligently worked to great refinement (Baldinucci, op. cit.). Michelangelo is said to have taken the modello in his hand, crushed it, rapidly remodeled it and returned it to the young sculptor instructing him to go and learn the art of modelling before he practised the skill of finishing. Now in his fifties, Giambologna was able to unveil a triumph in marble carving that had eluded even the seminal genius of Michelangelo: a monumental three figure group which epitomised the older sculptor’s vision for a multi-figure composition – ‘there is no better form than that of a flame, because it is the most mobile of all forms and is conical. If a figure has this form it will be very beautiful. The figure should resemble the letter 'S' (Lomazzo, op. cit.).
The unveiling of the Rape of a Sabine inspired spontaneous poetic eulogies, immediately compiled in a volume by Bartolomeo Sermartelli (op. cit.). The nobleman Bernardo Davanzati described it as ‘the glory of all divine art embodied in a triform statue, an ideal and paradigm for all great artists’ (ibid., p. 7). Inevitably, collectors across Europe wished to acquire copies of this renowned work, and the shrewd Medici knew how to capitalize on the fame of their court sculptor. For example, in 1610 Henry Prince of Wales, the elder brother of Charles I, singled out the Rape of the Sabine in his request for models after Giambologna as part of the marriage negotiations for the union with Caterina de’ Medici, the sister of Cosimo II: 'et amerebbe d'haver fra l'altri nella soprad.a picciolezza quel ratto delle sabine, che e nella gran Piazza di Firenze', ('and amongst others I would like to have a small Rape of a Sabine which is in the great Piazza in Florence' - Watson, Avery, op. cit., p. 505). A visual testimony to the primacy of the Rape of a Sabine is shown in a version of Jan Breughel the Younger’s allegorical painting of Sight, dating to around 1660, which shows a large gilt bronze version at the centre of the composition (see Sotheby’s, A selection from Old Masters. A brush with Nature, Hong Kong, 2018, fig. 3).
The Model in Bronze: A Comparison of the Primary Casts
The present very fine cast is a tangible example of the international royal appeal of this seminal Giambologna model which would have been in immediate demand after the unveiling of the marble. In fact, there are no bronze casts of the Rape of a Sabine actually documented during Giambologna’s lifetime. The earliest recorded bronze is in the inventory of the Kunstkammer of the Holy Roman Emperor Rudolf II, compiled between 1607 and 1611, which lists ‘Ein gruppo nach dem Giovan Bolonia so er zu Florentz von weissem marmo gemacht, sein 3 figurn von bronzo, ist ein rabimento Sabine’ (‘group after the one of Giovan Bologna made in Florence of white marble, being three figures of bronze, is a Rape of a Sabine’). Considering the importance of the patron and his direct relationship with the sculptor it is reasonable to suppose that this would have been an autograph bronze. The same can be assumed of the cast documented in 1610 belonging to Markus Zäch in Augsburg, inherited from his father, Sebastian, who would have acquired it directly from the sculptor in the 1590s. Neither of these bronzes are known today for certain, but it has been suggested by Dr Dimitrios Zikos (Zikos, 2014, op. cit.) that the Zäch cast is to be identified with the signed bronze that appeared as lot 30 at Christie’s, London on 10th July 2014. Other casts of the Rape of a Sabine documented in the 17th century include one belonging to Vladislaus IV of Poland in 1626 and another in the collection of Prince Karl Eusebius of Liechtenstein in 1658 (not the existing bronze in the Princely Collections).
By the 1580s Giambologna is known to have been working on the production of small bronzes with Antonio Susini and Felice Traballesi, amongst others (Zikos, 2013, op. cit.), so it is to be expected that these two assistants would have contributed to the first and best quality casts of the Rape of a Sabine after 1583. That collectors in the 16th and 17th centuries could appreciate the distinction between casts of Giambologna models produced by a particular artist is deduced from the posthumous inventory of the Jacopo Salviati collection drawn up in 1609 (Watson, Avery, op. cit., p. 504). The inventory appears to distinguish between bronzes produced by Antonio Susini from Giambologna models (di mano di Antonio Susini), as opposed to bronzes which were entirely Susini’s own invention (di mano di Antonio Susini e sua inventione) and bronzes which were ‘di mano di Giambologna’. Modern day connoisseurs and scholars have striven to codify the characteristics between these categories of production. However, the reality of the specific requirements of a commission, of the nature of workshop practice, and of the demands on the time and the personal interest of a sculptor during his evolving career all contribute to making strict rules a perilous task.
Dr. Zikos (Zikos 2014, op. cit.) has proposed that the signed cast which appeared at auction in 2014 (private collection, USA) was produced with the assistance of Felice Traballesi, probably for Sebastian Zäch, because of its differences with casts generally ascribed to Antonio Susini. Zikos identifies in this bronze a strength of modelling superior to the Susini casts, whilst accepting that all these casts depend on the same model since the internal measurements are consistent. Therefore, this signed bronze should be regarded as the earliest extant cast known today.
There are four bronzes that are generally regarded on stylistic grounds as the earliest casts made during Giambologna's lifetime and which can be attributed to Antonio Susini. These are in the Bayerisches Nationalmuseum, Munich (inv. 52/118, Weihrauch op. cit.); in the Hill collection, New York (Kryza-Gersch, op. cit.); in the Liechtenstein Princely collections, Vaduz-Vienna (inv. SK 115, Frankfurt, op. cit.); and in a private collection, New York. The Ribes bronze finds its closest parallels with this group of four prime casts identified by Kryza-Gersch (op. cit., p. 148). These affinities are manifest in the precise details of depicting the faces, bodies and base. Further analogies in facture can be observed from the undersides. None of these details are exactly identical between one bronze and another, but each shares a common language and attention to detail. The following comparison between the prime casts demonstrates that the Ribes bronze should be considered as an exciting new addition to the best casts of this model.
In all the prime casts the eyes of each figure have incised pupils and irises as in the present bronze. The crisply delineated upper eyelids are longer than the bottom lids and terminate in small points. The tear ducts are outlined. None of these details are absolutely identical, so for example the eyes of the Sabine man on the bronze in the New York private collection, appears to have pupils formed with a deeper disc shape than the other bronzes. The eyebrows on the Roman in the Ribes bronze appear at first sight more pronounced, but this is exaggerated by the wear to the patina, and the intensity of expression achieved in the modelling of the face is common to all the prime casts. Characteristic of all these casts is the treatment of the teeth as one long gum, apparent equally on the Ribes bronze. A particular feature which distinguishes the prime casts from later productions is that the Roman is shown with a full beard that covers his chin. Interestingly, this differs from the marble original, which is usually more exactly copied in later casts. The beard of the Ribes Roman appears less bushy than on the Hill cast or that in the New York private collection, but is closer to the Munich and Liechtenstein casts. Other aspects of the hair of the Roman vary slightly in the Ribes bronze, such as the curl on the forehead which is less full than on the other casts, but on the other hand in the Ribes bronze there are more delicate passages of curls which give greater animation to the hairline than in some of the other prime casts.
Another significant difference between the prime casts and the marble is the introduction of a diadem worn by the Sabine woman. The form of this diadem is exactly shared by all the prime casts, with a prominent grip on the top of the head. This varies on later casts as does the handling of the band of hair that runs under the diadem and around the back of the head. In these prime casts this band resembles a twist of hair, variously chased in the different casts, whilst in later bronzes it develops into a more naturalistic plait of hair; a feature noticeable on the cast which sold as lot 11 in these rooms on 8th July 2015, or on that in the Louvre (inv. OA 5076A). The ears of the Sabine woman and the other two figures have a common form in the prime casts whereby the anatomy is sharply defined and the earlobe formed in a neat button which gives the ear the appearance almost of a musical note. This feature is beautifully rendered in the Ribes Rape of a Sabine.
An analysis of the features of the crouching Sabine continues the affinities between the prime casts already noted above. His hair is luxuriantly modelled with the band around the head similarly finished. It is relevant here to note the analogous treatment in all the figures of the linear square nails which seem to cut into the end of the fingers and toes, none are identical, but each shares a similar care of attention. Equally close is the definition of the veins in both male figures. The arrangement of the fingers of the Roman’s right hand is worthy of note, because whilst it is consistent in all the prime casts here discussed in later casts the middle two fingers are often positioned markedly closer together.
The handling of the landscaped base on which the group stands is yet another revealing aspect that unites the prime casts and distinguishes them from later replicas. The base of the Ribes bronze is perhaps closest to the Munich bronze with its long, thin lines of chasing enlivening the irregular layers of flat rock-like forms. There are differences within the prime group, such as the Liechtenstein bronze in which the rocks are less chased. However, later casts are significantly different with more rounded rock formations decorated with swirls of chasing.
Whilst it has not been possible for the present author to compare the undersides of all the prime casts discussed here, the underside of the Ribes bronze has many similarities with the bronzes in Munich and in the New York private collection. The cast has evenly thin walls, which have been partly filed in the Ribes bronze when fixing to a later base. In particular, there are two similar lumps of bronze under the feet of the Roman, which on later casts have bolts fixing the figure to the base, such as on the cast sold in these rooms in 2015 referenced above. The pale reddish colour core material is also analogous. The colour of the alloy is yellow. Around 1785 the famous French bronzier, Pierre Gouthiére (1732-1813) was employed to restore the Ribes Rape of a Sabine and to provide a fashionable patina ‘en couleur de fumée’. It may have also been at this time that fig leaves were attached to the male protagonists (the leaves had been recently removed). This patina distinguishes it from the prime casts, which themselves all have different patinas, ranging from the orangey colour of the Munich cast to the richer browns of the other casts.
The Ribes Rape of a Sabine : An Exceptional Provenance
After being preserved for two centuries in the seclusion of a family collection, the newly rediscovered Ribes bronze increases our understanding of the four known prime casts discussed above. Its proper assessment has long been hindered by the cursory (even sometimes inaccurate) descriptions in the inventories of the French Royal collections, as well as by the repetition of several bronze casts of the same model or of comparable subjects (“a Rape”) and by the lack of dimensions. The 1689 inventory of the collection of the Grand Dauphin, son of Louis XIV, actually listed two bronzes of the Rape of a Sabine, numbers 28 and 29 (see Les Bronzes de la Couronne, op. cit.). Since the number 335 was added to the bronze only between 1711 and 1713, it is not possible to be certain if the Ribes bronze should be identified as the number 28 or the number 29 in the 1689 inventory.
Interestingly, the history of the Ribes bronze has been perfectly and continuously documented since joining the Royal collections under the number 335 to the present day. Thus, even the alteration of the patina to a ‘smoke-colour’ (mis en couleur de fumée) by Pierre Gouthière, bronze chaser and gilder to kings Louis XV and Louis XVI, was recorded in 1785-1786. Soon after, the bronze was documented in the Versailles apartment of Marc Antoine Thierry, Baron de Ville d’Avray (1732-1892), Superintendent of the royal Garde-Meuble, where it remained from 1788 to 1791. In 1791, the bronze was recorded for the last time in the inventory of the royal collection. It was described by mistake as a ‘[…] grouppe de l’enlèvement d’Orithye […]’ (a group of the Rape of Oreithyia). This inaccurate description was repeated in 1956, in the catalogue of the exhibition Le Cabinet de l’amateur, where the bronze was on loan from Jean-Edouard, 5th Comte de Ribes (op. cit. p. 60, no. 199). Given in payment in 1796 to the state creditor Gabriel-Aimé Jourdan, leaseholder of the National Glassworks of Saint-Louis in Münzthal, then given after his death to his godson and adoptive son, Aimé-Gabriel d’Artigues (1773-1848), the bronze was inherited by his only daughter, Anne-Gabrielle d’Artigues (1833-1909), who was to marry Charles-Edouard, 3rd Comte de Ribes (1824-1896). Around 1865, the present Rape of a Sabine took its place in Charles-Edouard de Ribes’ newly built hôtel particulier on rue de la Bienfaisance, where it remained for more than one hundred fifty years (see introduction for further information on the Ribes bronzes).
‘Di mano di Giambologna - di mano di Susini’: the connoisseurship of small bronzes aspires to identify the hand of a particular sculptor in each cast. Archival documents and provenance rarely give absolute certainty of authorship, even when, exceptionally, they can be linked to a certain bronze. Signatures do occur in rare cases, but whether they indicate authorship, or are applied as an inscription in the workshop, or even later, can be open to discussion (Wengraf, op. cit.). Damage to casts or alteration to patinas can also disguise affinities between casts. Therefore, it is necessary to asses many aspects relating to facture, finish and history, together with as objective an assessment of quality as possible, in order to arrive at a fair judgement. In addition, this must be qualified by the known foundry practice in the production of a bronze, which always involves a whole team of workmen at different stages. In the specific discussion of casts of the Rape of a Sabine, the nuances are extremely subtle between the definition of a cast by Antonio Susini, or by Antonio Susini and his son Giovanni Francesco Susini, or by Antonio Susini’s workshop. The superb cast in Munich is described as by Antonio Susini by Kryza-Gersch in 2014 (op. cit.) and by Antonio Susini or Giovanni Francesco Susini by Zikos in 2015 (op. cit.). The Ribes bronze is documented from 1689 in one of the most prestigious collections in Europe. The above study has demonstrated that its facture and finish link it to the small group of casts that are closest to the signed bronze, which has been convincingly proposed as an autograph cast by Giambologna. It is logical, therefore, that these five casts are the earliest, made from 1583 to around 1620. Since Antonio Susini is certainly the most recognised assistant of Giambologna in the production of small bronzes at this time, the attribution to him of casts of this exceptional quality is justified. The further finer definitions amongst art historians of bronzes attributed to ‘di mano di’ Francesco Trabellesi, ‘di mano di’ Giovanni Francesco Susini, or ‘di mano di’ Pietro Tacca will continue to stimulate debate. Above all, collectors should appreciate the individual beauty and quality of each unique cast. Bronzes such as the Ribes Rape of a Sabine, cast in Florence around 1600, are undoubtedly amongst the finest bronzes produced at any time, in any location, by any artist in this most challenging medium.
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