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Friday, April 6, 2012

Antico's bronzes close Sunday at the National Gallery of Art

Young Man, c. 1520
bronze with silvering
overall with base: 54.6 x 45 x 22.3 cm (21 1/2 x 17 11/16 x 8 3/4 in.)
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

As the National Gallery's director, Earl A. Powell III described the show:  "It is one of the most beautiful exhibitions we will ever see."

The glorious reign on the ground level of the East Building is the first monographic exhibition in the U.S. devoted to the Italian sculptor and goldsmith,  Pier Jacopo Alari Bonacolsi, known as Antico (c. 1455–1528*), the elegant re-creator of classical models and a pioneer in replicating bronzes.

About 75 percent of Antico's extant works or 37 medals, reliefs, busts, and statuettes of bronze and gild are displayed in the exhibition.   Some works by Andrea Mantegna,  Giovanni Bellini, and others are included. 

Mantuan 15th Century
The Entombment, c. 1470 - 1480
bronze with gilding and silvering
24.4 x 44.9 x 0.2 cm (9 5/8 x 17 11/16 x 1/16 in.)
Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna, Kunstkammer

Andrea Mantegna
Battle of the Sea Gods [left half], c. 1485/1488
engraving on laid paper
sheet (trimmed within plate mark): 28.6 x 42.6 cm (11 1/4 x 16 3/4 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Ailsa Mellon Bruce Fund

Strangely, Oliver Cromwell plays a role in the show.

If he had not executed King Charles I (1649), who owned many of Antico's works, and sold the king's possessions, some of which found their way to the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna,  there may not have been an Antico exhibition in Washington.  (Also starring in this production:  the renovation of a portion of the Kunsthistorisches.)

Said Director Powell:  "We owe Oliver Cromwell a debt of gratitude."

One of Antico's finest works, Seated Nymph (1503) with gilded, silvered and patinated surfaces, was made for the private study of the Marchesa of Mantua, Isabella d'Este, where four other bronze statuettes in the exhibition (Hercules and Antaeus (1519), Pan (post-c. 1519),  Atropos (post-c. 1519), and Hercules (post-c.1519) also likely stood.  For the first time the four reunite with Nymph

Pier Jacopo Alari-Bonacolsi called Antico
Seated Nymph, model created and cast probably 1503
bronze with gilding and silvering
Robert H. and Clarice Smith

A viewer is left with a sense of awe and incredulity at the sculptor's artistry and by imagining the placements of the bronzes in a room.  What room would be adequate to house them all?  (The Marchesa's apartments in the Ducal Palace in Mantua have been restored where one may imagine more vividly.) 

Hercules, model created by 1496, cast possibly by 1496
bronze with gilding and silvering
overall without base: 34.57 cm (13 5/8 in.) with base: 38.42 cm (15 1/8 in.)
The Frick Collection, New York, Gift of Miss Helen Clay Frick Copyright The Frick Collection

For models Antico (whose nickname derives from the Italian word for "ancient") based two of his works on ancient sculptures which are part of the show.  One is a marble Roman bust of a young man (c. AD 140-150)  which Antico refashioned into his Young Man (c. 1520). 

Antico's strange use of silver-inlaid eyes of many subjects is haunting and disconcerting, but check them out for yourself, please.

Cleopatra, c. 1525
bronze with traces of gilding
overall without base: 64.4 cm (25 3/8 in.)
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, William Francis Warden Fund Photograph (c) 2011 Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
(Can you find the serpent and do you know why it is associated with Cleopatra?)

He was the son of a butcher and was probably born in or near Mantua where he spent most of his entire life.  He devoted his career to three generations of the Gonzaga family which the Marchesa joined by marriage in 1490.

The exhibition is dedicated to the memory of Robert H. Smith, the Gallery's former president,  whose vision and guidance have made the National Gallery of Art "a leader in the study of Renaissance bronzes," Mr. Powell said.

Available for purchase is a catalogue of more than 200 pages and 150 color illustrations which is the only available English-language monograph on Antico, and includes a series of essays and chronology of his works, techniques and relationships.

From Washington  the exhibition moves to the Frick Collection in New York where it opens May 1 and closes July 29, 2012.

* The J. Paul Getty Museum, a lender for the exhibition, and Wikipedia both say Antico was born c. 1460.

What:  Antico:  The Golden Age of Renaissance Bronzes
When:  10 a.m. - 5 p.m., Saturday, and 11 a.m. - 6 p.m., Sunday through April 8
Where:  Ground level, East Building, National Gallery of Art, between Third and Ninth streets in between Constitution Avenue NW and the National Mall
Admission:  No charge
Metro stations: Smithsonian, Navy Memorial-Archives, L'Enfant Plaza and/or ride the Circulator
For more information: 202-737-4215

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