A ‘Character’ Bust in Terracotta

A ‘Character’ Bust in Terracotta

This gorgeous terracotta bust is a typical and unmistakable product of the Venetian Baroque sculpture, it is modeled even in the back, revealing a modus operandi typical of the Baroque Venetian artists of the 17th and early 18th century.
It is, most probably, a ‘character head’: this is a common expression used in 18th century to identify those half-figures that did not represent true portraits, but rather genre subjects, also called scherzi, capricci or imagination heads. These heads can be found in the works by Giambattista Tiepolo, Giambattista Piazzetta or Giuseppe Nogari, and proceed right from the busts achieved by some renowned sculptors active from the late 17th century onwards, such as Giovanni Bonazza, Orazio Marinali and Michiel Fabris called Ongaro.
However, the main source for this phenomenon is the work of a great renovator of mid-century venetian sculpture: the Flemish sculptor Giusto Le Court (Ypres 1627- Venice 1679), the author of two splendid busts of Heraclitus and Democritus now in Museo de Arte in Ponce (Puerto Rico), the true prototypes to the many following versions of that iconographic theme.

character-bust-profileThe bust stands on a quadrangular base and is wrapped in a classicist drapery, covering part of the chest and a his right shoulder, and twisting on the other side over the left arm. The torso is also characterized by the modern and unusual note of hair around the only visible nipple and between the pectorals. The head is turned right and a curled beard covers the chin and part of the face, together with a pair of bushy mustaches and two considerable eyebrows. A band, wrapped around the head, reveals the hair framing the ears. The character’s expression is scowling, menacing and shows contracted eyebrows as to look towards the source of his displeasure.

The way of choosing and rendering the details, is, together with others, a clue that strongly points towards Le Court, who characterized in the same way the Prisoner (right side) of the Caterina Cornaro Monument (Padua, St. Anthony, 1672-1674). Another well comparable and interesting example, is offered by the left Telamon face of Giorgio Morosini’s monument (Venice, San Clemente church, 1677-1678): an old man with a similar physiognomy, clearly recalling the piece here examined.


Left: Giusto Le Court, Saturn, marble. Stra, Villa Pisani National Museum

Furthermore, the present sculpture can be compared also to another marble example, probably depicting Saturn, belonging to a series of 28 marble bust kept at the first floor of Villa Pisani at Stra.

There are not many other terracotta busts by Le Court, apart from two small ones from a private collection, similar to our example also for their strong characterization. Therefore, proposing a precise dating for this terracotta is not easy, although juxtaposing it close to the other mentioned works, it is plausible to suggest a dating that should not surpass the 1660s.


Giusto Le Court
(Ypres 1627- Venice 1679)
Circa 1660
Height: 78 cm

Essay by Prof. Andrea Bacchi


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