Description & Technical information

Facture and Condition:
Solid cast, the surface of the drapery is punched. The figure retains traces of the original fire gilding, which has become rubbed on the high points.

The Cupid is an archetypal example of Roccatagliata’s bronzes depicting lively putti at play. Direct stylistic comparison is found in the three putti at the foot of the candelabra in San Giorgio Maggiore, Venice for which Roccatagliata, together with Cesare Groppo, received the commission on 22 April 1596. They closely resemble the present Cupid in their chubby figures, slightly open mouths, heavily lidded eyes, ample, curled hair, as well as in their charming and spirited bearing.

Similar putti are also seen in the Palliotto in the sacristy of San Moisè, signed and dated in 1633 by Roccatagliata and his son Sebastiano Nicolini. This relief epitomises the note of frivolity that pervades Roccatagliata’s sculpture. The same qualities are present in his group of St George and the Dragon in the church of San Giorgio Maggiore, Venice, which was commissioned of Roccatagliata on 31 January 1594. Rather than a more conventional image of the heroic saint vanquishing the monster, the bronze depicts a youthful St George toying with a rather diminutive dragon.

The present bronze is the only known rendition of this model, and it closely resembles the four small statuettes of Putti Holding the Instruments of the Passion in San Giorgio in Braida, Verona. In addition to similarities of facial type and stance, these sparsely clad Putti hold their attributes in the same way, displaying them at shoulder and head-height to gain the onlooker’s attention. While Cupid’s legs are slightly sturdier than those of the Verona Putti, his stomach is similarly chubby and protrudes below the sash. Like Cupid, these bronzes stand upon a stepped square base, although instead of placing the figure on the smaller of the two steps, the Verona bases taper downwards.

Roccatagliata’s reputation as a maker of small bronze statuettes of charming putti is of long standing, although his wider oeuvre has only recently come into focus thanks to the studies of Claudia Kryza-Gersch. The quality and facture of the various bronzes of this type that have been attributed to Roccatagliata vary widely, but the comparisons discussed above provide solid evidence for ascribing the present Cupid to him.

Biographical Note:
On 7 November 1571, the fatherless Roccatagliata was taken on as a pupil by the Genoese goldsmith Agostino Groppo for nine years.(9) According to Raffaello Soprani, his earliest biographer, Roccatagliata continued his apprenticeship with Agostino’s son, Cesare Groppo, before moving to Venice, where he made models for Jacopo Tintoretto and learned to sculpt marble.(10) Although Roccatagliata’s career spanned four decades, few documented works have survived; those that have are all bronzes made in Venice either at the beginning or at the end of his career. His earliest documented works, commissioned on 31 January 1594, are the bronzes of St Stephen and St George for San Giorgio Maggiore (h. 61 cm). He received at least two other early commissions for this church: the first, just two months later, for twenty-two sconces in the form of putti, and the second, on 22 April 1596, for two large candelabra in collaboration with Cesare Groppo. The general assumption that Roccatagliata returned to Genoa on completion of these works has recently been challenged. Roccatagliata may still have been in Venice in 1606 when his maestro, Cesare Groppo, died, leaving his models to him.

His last documented work is the bronze relief of the Entombment which is signed and dated 1633 by Nicolò and Sebastiano Roccatagliata and bears the names of two French founders, Jean Chenet and Marin Feron: “1633 NICOL. ET SEBASTIANVS ROCCATAGLIATA NICOLINI INVENTORES IOANNES CHENET ET MARINVS FERON GALLI CVSORES ET PERFECTORES” (presented to San Moisè, Venice in 1779). His only other securely documented work is a bronze statuette of the Virgin and Child, which is signed “NICOLLIN.F.” (Écouen, Musée National de la Renaissance).

A contract of 1636, requiring Roccatagliata’s son to produce two Angels for the high altar of San Giorgio Maggiore, indicates that by then the master was dead: “Sebastian Nicolini, figliolo del q[uondam] signore Nicolò”, which may be translated as: “Sebastian Nicolini, son of the late/former signore Nicolò”. In the event, these angels were completed by Pietro Boselli in 1644.

1. See G. Mariacher, Bronzetti Veneti del Rinascimento, Vicenza, 1971, passim; M. Leithe-Jasper in M. Leithe-Jasper, Renaissance Master Bronzes from the Collection of the Kunsthistorisches Museum Vienna, exh. cat., Washington D.C., National Gallery of Art, Los Angeles, County Museum of Art, Chicago, Art Institute, 1986, pp. 185-187, nos 47-48; V. Krahn, Bronzetti Veneziani – Die venezianischen Kleinbronzes der Renaissance aus dem Bode-Museum Berlin, exh. cat., Berlin, Georg Kolbe Museum, 26 October 2003 – 11 January 2004, pp. 222-223, no. 68.

2. C. Kryza-Gersch, “New Light on Nicolò Roccatagliataand his son Sebastian Nicolini”, Nuovi Studi, vol. 5, 1998, anno III, pp. 111-126, p. 111-112 & fig. 195.

3. Kryza-Gersch 1998, pp. 112-113 & fig. 197.

4. C. Kryza-Gersch in “La bellissima maniera”. Alessandro Vittoria e la scultura veneta del Cinquecento, exh. cat. Ed. A. Bacchi, L. Camerlengo & M. Leithe-Jasper, Trent, Castello del Buonconsiglio, 25 June – 26 September 1999, pp. 446-447, no. 101.

5. C. Kryza-Gersch in Trent 1999, pp. 452-253, no. 104, their heights ranging between 17.5 and 19 cm.

6. The Crying Putto in Berlin, SMPK, Skulpturensammlung (inv. no. 1814), h. 28.5 cm, and the pair of Putti Musicians in Vienna, Kunsthistorisches Museum, h. 28.6 & 28.2 cm (inv. no. Pl. E. 7578 & Pl. E. 7579) were first published as Roccatalgiata at the beginning of the twentieth century: see Krahn 2003, pp. 222-223, no. 68 & Leithe-Jasper 1986, pp. 185-186, nos 47-48. The former was described as “Roccatagliata and his manner” by Wilhelm Bode in his corpus of Italian Bronze Statuettes of 1907-1912 (see W. Bode, The Italian Bronze Statuettes of the Renaissance, f. p. 1907, this edition edited and revised J. D. Draper, New York, 1980, pl. CCLXV) and the latter models attributed to Roccatagliata by H. J. Hermann in 1906. See also A. Radcliffe in A. Radcliffe & N. Penny, Art of the Renaissance Bronze 1500-1650. The Robert H. Smith Collection, London 2004, citing earlier literature, and M. Leithe-Jasper and P. Wengraf, European Bronzes from the Quentin Collection, exh. cat., New York, Frick Collection, 28 September 2004 – 2 January 2005, pp. 102-104.

7. For Planiscig’s summary of this type, see L. Planiscig, Venezianische Bildhauer der Renaissance, Vienna, 1921, pp. 597-628, esp. p. 614 ff.

8. This biography is taken from Leithe-Jasper & Wengraf 2004, p. 339.

9. Kryza-Gersch 1998, pp. 111-112 & p. 121, n. 3.

10. R. Soprani, Le vite de’ pittori, scultori ed architetti genovesi, Genoa, 1674; translated into German in Planiscig 1921, pp. 597-603 (see p. 597). See also B. Boucher in The Genius of Venice 1500-1600, exh. cat. ed. J. Martineau & C. Hope, Royal Academy of Arts, London, 25 November 1983 – 11 March 1984, pp. 380-81; T. Martin in J. Turner (ed.), The Dictionary of Art, London, 1996, vol. XXVI, p. 478; C. Kryza-Gersch in Trent 1999, pp. 441-443; S. Zanuso in A. Bacchi (ed.), La Scultura a Venezia da Sansovino a Canova, (Repertori fotografici Longanesi & C.), Milan, 2000, pp. 778-779.

11. Kryza-Gersch 1998, pp. 112.

12. Kryza-Gersch 1998, pp. 112 & 123, nn. 14 & 15 for text of Groppo’s last will, dated 14 February 1606.

13. Signatures quoted by C. Kryza-Gersch in Trent 1999, pp. 441-442.

Period:  1400-1600, 1600-1750, 17th century
Origin:  Italy
Medium: Gilt bronze
Dimensions: 13.5 cm (5³/₈ inches)
Provenance: Collection of Lady Morna Anderson

Categories: Sculpture