The Tigris is derived from the work for which Thorvaldsen was given the apellation 'patriarch of the bas relief': his frieze entitled Alexander the Great's Entry Into Babylon in the Palazzo del Quirinale in Rome (1812). This important commission involved the creation of a thirty-five metre long plaster relief in the Quirinale's Hall of Honour. The sculptor worked rapidly, modelling the frieze section by section on slate boards from which moulds were taken, and the final gesso frieze cast. The narrative is formed of two opposing processions of Macedonians and Babylonians, which meet at the figure of Alexander the Great astride his chariot. The section including the Tigris was described by the artist himself in 1813 in a glossary prepared for Raffaele Stern: ‘Alexander on his chariot, driven by Victory, near him two squires and his horse Bucephalus, then the generals. Followed by cavalry and infantry, an elephant carrying the booty next to a prisoner, and followed by the troops who march among palm trees. The river Tigris divides the troops from the city, with a fisherman on the bank and a freight ship bound for the city. The river Tigris sits holding an oar in one hand and in the other an ear of wheat, beside him a tiger and behind him the remains of the Tower of Babel' (as quoted in Grandesso, op. cit., p. 114).
The Alexander frieze was a seminal event in the sculptor's career. It was celebrated by Missirini as having 'the nature of a Poem, both for its vastness, for the greatness of the action and for the arrangement of the episodes within it' (as quoted in Grandesso, op. cit., p. 115). Karl Grass, writing in Morgenblatt, concluded that 'the frieze is realised in a truly Greek taste, from the finest period of the art, which even his rivals admit ensures him unanimous supremacy. The Italians call Thorvaldsen 'patriarch of the bas-relief' and recognise that his works in this field are genuinely classical' (as quoted in Grandesso, op. cit., p. 108). The Alexander frieze became synonymous with Thorvaldsen, to the extent that Christoffer Wilhelm Eckersberg used it as the backdrop for his portrait of the artist from 1814 (Det Kongelige Danske Kunstakademi, Copenhagen). The Baring relief appears to be the only relief by Thorvaldsen in which the figure of Tigris has been isolated.
The pendant to the present Tigris is Thorvaldsen’s Bacchante and a Satyr, a model created by the sculptor relatively late in his career in 1833. These include the relief which was part of a set of four which sold at Sotheby’s New York on 30 January 2014, which was reputed to have come from Hams Hall in Warwickshire. The Bacchante and a Satyr falls into a wider group of reliefs depicting satyrs and cupids within Thorvaldsen’s oeuvre, which were popular amongst the sculptor’s clientele due to their decorative potential. Compare, for example, with his four reliefs of Cupid in Heaven on Jupiter’s Eagle; Cupid on Earth Taming the Lion with Hercules’ Club; Cupid at Sea Riding a Dolphin with Neptune’s Trident; and Cupid in the Underworld Taming Cerebus with Pluto’s Bident (1828, all in the Thorvaldsens Museum, Copenhagen and illustrated by Grandesso, op. cit., p. 250, nos. 309-312).
Given the date of the Bacchante and a Satyr, the present pair of reliefs must have been relatively late commissions by Alexander Baring, and were probably acquired in the late 1830s or early 1840s. They were probably installed as overdoors in Grange Park, Hampshire, though no photographs them in situ have been found at the time of publication. As with the Night and Day, and in accordance with Thorvaldsen’s working practice, the Tigris and Bacchante and a Satyr were probably carved by one of his highly skilled assistants under the master’s supervision. The quality of the carving is particularly fine, note the Bacchante’s beautifully carved wreath and grapes in high relief. As with the Night and Day, the marbles are in very good condition, with their original surfaces.
M. Misserini, Intera Collezione Di Tutte Le Opere Inventate E Scolpite Dal Cav. Alberto Thorwaldsen..., Rome, 1831; 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. 108-114, 250, nos. 309-312
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