Navigation

z homepage

A Striking Head of Saint Paul

Head-of-Saint-Paul

This impressive head depicts a bearded man caught in a moment of powerful dramatic expression. The head swerve, the gaze turned suddenly upwards, the contraction of the forehead, his corrugated eyebrows and the small mouth with fleshy lips, describe effectively the intense emotion of the character.

The sculptor lingered in the detailed rendering of the curly hair and beard, in the different kind of wrinkles that mature skin can show when exposed to sunlight and in the peculiar shape of the cranium: for sure these are the results of a careful and extended physiognomic observation.
The traces of a naturalistic polychromy – well identifiable in many areas of the sculpture like skin tone, pupils, red lips, dark hair and beard – represent a rare and precious element for a sandstone Renaissance sculpture.

 

Head-of-Saint-Paul-detail

Both the kind of sandstone and the carving of the present head resemble some of the few surviving stone sculptures achieved between the late 15th and the early 16th century in the area of Strasbourg, a region where along the centuries French art intertwines with German art. Particularly, the realistic description of the furrowed brow, the high cheekbones and the way fleshy eyebrows surround the eyes, as well as the fine and light carving of the surface describing wrinkles and skin, can be related to the work by Niclaus Gerhaert (Nikolaus von Leyden, Nicolas de Leyde; c. 1420 – after 1472).

Niclaus Gerhaert was doubtless among the most influential northern European sculptors of the 15th century. From 1462 to 1467, Gerhaert worked in Strasbourg where he achieved the Great door of the Strasbourg Chancellery: the Head of a Prophet with Turban provides notable points of comparison with the present head.

Head-of-Saint-Paul-comparison

On the Right: Niclaus Gerhaert, Head of a Prophet (from the Strasbourg Chancellery), c. 1463. Strasbourg, Museum Œuvre Notre-Dame.

His talent in rendering naturalistic details, particularly in his faces -deeply rooted in the art of his native land, Holland- is influenced by major sculptors like Claus Sluter, and connected to the art of Veit Stoss and Tilman Riemenschneider.

However, the Gothic graphical lines typical of the late 15th century sculpture (such as that by Gerhaert, or other sculptors of the same area like Lux Kotter or Veit Wagner, or Nicolas de Haguenau, particularly in the Issenheim Altarpiece, now in Colmar, Unterlinden Museum) are here overcome, towards a more realistic and natural way of depicting hair, flesh and the face in general, allowing to date the present sculpture to the first decades of the 16th century.

Head-of-Saint-Paul-side-view

As for the subject represented by this powerful sculpture, it is probably Saint Paul: in fact, the iconography of the Apostle, as proven both by art and literature, recalls that of Philosophers, emphasising his intellectual qualities (baldness, a broad forehead and a furrowed brow); also, a beard was traditionally associated the Jews, as well as a protruding nose.

 

Head-of-Saint-Paul-example

On the Right: Hans Baldung Grien, St. Peter (detail), 1519. New York, Metropolitan Museum.

 
The dramatic energy of this face is provided by intense shades created by a deep carving; furthermore, the realistic depiction of ‘old age’ in Gothic art commonly identified Saints as ascetic and spiritually ‘Holy Men’. Sometimes this devotional realism can give almost the effect of a portrait.

Realism is after all a typical feature of Franco-Flemish visual culture and it appears also in wooden sculpture, paintings and engravings, such as those by Martin Schongauer, Albrecht Dürer and Hans Baldung Grien.

 

Head-of-Saint-Paul-full

HEAD OF SAINT PAUL
Limestone with traces of polychromy
France (Strasbourg?)
First half 16th century
H cm. 24

Provenance: Boccador collection (Paris)

Related Litterature: Niclaus Gerhaert: der Bildhauer des Späten Mittelalters, exhibition catalogue (Liebieghaus Skulpturensammlung, Frankfurt am Main, 27 October 2011- 4 March 2012; Musée de l’Œuvre Notre-Dame, Straßburg, 30 March -8 July 2012) ed. by Stefan Roller; Martin Büchsel, Die wachsame Müdigkeit des Alters. Realismus als rhetorisches Mittel im Spätmittelalter, in “Artibus et Historiae” , Vol. 23, No. 46 (2002), p. 21-35.

A Splendid Pair of Iron Frames

Pair-of-iron-frames

This gorgeous pair of frames fully represents the triumph of Baroque iron. The frames are entirely made of embossed iron (repoussé): a particularly complex technique and a French prerogative that was brought back to excellent levels precisely during the Baroque era.

The embossed iron is obtained from a foil and this implies (in fact, obtaining large format sheets was technically impossible) that the artifact was necessarily made with the juxtaposition of several parts, joined together with rivets.

Pair-of-iron-frames-detail

These frames, which could host maybe a pair of mirrors or paintings, are very rare objects and find a significant confirmation in the most important western museum dedicated to the art of iron: the Musée Le Secq des Tournelles in Rouen, France.

Pair-of-iron-frames-comparison

An iron frame, France, First Half 18th century. Rouen, Musée Le Secq des Tournelles.

The refined ironwork technique, almost defying the intrinsic characteristics of the metal, emerges in the rendering of the classical and generous acanthus leaf vegetal scrolls, that with graceful symmetry create the frame, referring to the unsurpassed elegance of the age of Louis XIV (1651-1715).
The Sun King himself, identifying the Ferronnerie as the ‘Fourth Art’, therefore on a par with the three major arts, encouraged its application in a wide range of artistic fields.
Besides, both the Sun King and Louis XV had a passion for locks and iron objects, that they manufactured on their own in a small workshop specificallly built for them.

Pair-of-iron-frames-example

Top: F. Boucher, Two Pastoral Scenes (1736-1742). Bottom: G. Boffrand, Design for the Bedroom of Prince de Rohan in Paris, Hotel de Soubise (1735–36).

In the history of the frame, the ones made of metal (silver, gilded copper, brass etc) represent a less common class, but the present pair is undoubtedly an even more notable exception and a rare and significant witness of the refined French ferronerie.

Pair-of-iron-frames-view

PAIR OF FRAMES
Wrought and repoussé iron
France
First half 18th century
Cm. 86 x 56 H

References: Henri-René d’Allemagne, Ferronerie ancienne, Catalogue du Musée Le Secq des Tournelles à Rouen, 2 voll. Schemit, Paris 1924 (English edition: Decorative antique ironwork, Dover Publ., New York 1968), pl. 185.

A Delicate 18th century Wax ‘Bambinello’

delicate-wax-bambinello

A wide and deep frame encloses the figure of the Child Jesus placed in a landscape at sunset. The Redeemer is represented as a naked little boy, resting on his side, with the right hand on his chest, the eyes looking upwards, and his mouth half open.

The scene is rich in meaningful details: Jesus looks away, alluding to the forthcoming Passion, and among the grass blades we recognize some flowers with evident symbolic content. White thistle refers to the sufferings and to the Crown of thorns; daisies are the symbol of Jesus’ innocence; the slender violet alludes to the Lent color and stands for the humility of the Son. Finally the vine -hanging from an oak tree- recalls the correlation between wine and blood, a very important moment in the Mass ceremony, and therefore it constitutes a clear prefiguration of the Last Supper.

delicate-wax-bambinello_detail

Several features explain the original context for this work, that must be related to the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies between the 17th and the 18th century, a moment of extraordinary importance for the Italian wax-modelling. Particularly, the very minute and detailed wax ‘scenography’ connects the present relief to the well-known works by Lo Giudice, owners of one of the most important wax-modelling workshops in Palermo (Grasso and Gulisano 2011).

Starting from the image of the Nativity, which was born in the medieval Franciscan context, the cult of the Christ Child, worshipped individually, spread throughout Europe from the 16th century onwards.
Especially in Sicily, between the late 17th and the early 18th century, the diffusion of the wax “bambinelli” placed inside glass cases is well attested: the present work belongs to this typology, originating in women’s religious orders (see Grasso and Gulisano 2011, p. 126-134; T. Crivello 2014).

delicate-wax-bambinello_comparison

Left: Sicilian workshop, Wax ‘Bambinello’, 18th century. Diocese of Syracuse. | Right: G. Serpotta, Cherub making soap bubbles (1699-1706). Palermo, Oratory of San Lorenzo.

These wax reliefs made of various materials are generally extremely fragile and they often appear damaged, whereas the present one is in a rather exceptional state of conservation despite the considerable size of the figure, whose very soft modelling – another reference to Sicilian Baroque culture – recalls the stucco works by the great Palermo sculptor Giacomo Serpotta.

delicate-wax-bambinello-view

Sicilian wax modeller
BABY JESUS
Polychrome waxes and various media
Southern Italy (Sicily)
Second half of 18th century
Cm 55 x 47,5h (frame included)

References: Congresso internazionale sulla ceroplastica nella scienza e nell’arte, Atti del I congresso, Firenze 1977; S.Grasso – M. C. Gulisano, Mondi in Miniatura. Le cere artistiche nella Sicilia del Settecento, Palermo 2011; T. Crivello, L’iconografia del Gesù Bambino nella ceroplastica, in OADI, IX, 2014.

A nice pair of Emilian Bronze Doorknockers

battenti-emiliani-bronzo-detail

The quality of this nice pair of bronze doorknockers with dark patina is mainly due to their formal richness: a lyre-shaped body with arms adorned by foliages and vegetal scrolls among which – in the centre and in correspondence of the knocking element – appears the mask of a satyr with goat horns.

Bronze-doorknockers-detail

Leonine and grotesque mascarons are typical and recurrent elements in doorknockers and other small Renaissance bronzes: on one hand they recall the ancient world and on the other they certainly have an apotropaic function.
Among the best witnesses of the fortune of this kind of image we can remember an early work by Michelangelo: the iconic marble Head of a Faun, carved around 1489 but lost in 1944 and today known through the descriptions by Condivi and Vasari, and thanks to some plaster casts.

bronze-doorknockers-comparison

On the left : Michelangelo Buonarroti, Head of a Faun, c. 1489 (lost in 1944).

Michelangelo’s head, like that of our doorknockers, is bearded and laughing, showing large eyebrows, a “broken” nose and an open mouth with protruding teeth and tongue. It is a powerful and fascinating representation, which can also be found on cameos, handles, doorknockers and other Renaissance objects: an allusion to the most wild and instinctive aspect of mankind, as it was already celebrated in the ancient and pagan world.

Another doorknocker, nearly identical to those presented here and certainly made in the same workshop, is housed at Museo Stefano Bardini in Florence (Nesi-Rago 2009, p. 168). Two other quite similar ones were still in place in 1903 on a door of a house in Reggio Emilia (Balletti 1903, p. 121-122).

Look at a stunning pair of German doorknockers here; and discover an unrivalled spanish one here.

bronze-foorknockers-comparison-other

On the left: Sandro Botticelli, Portrait of a Man with a Medal of Cosimo the Elder, c. 1474-1475. Florence, Uffizi Gallery. | On the right: Emilia workshop, Doorknocker, late 16th century. Florence, Museo Bardini.

The collection of small bronze objects from the Ancient World , mainly focused on medals, starts in the late Middle Ages and leads, during the Renaissance – in Veneto, especially in Padua-, to a ‘rebirth’ of small bronzes, often made by excellent artists such as Pisanello and Donatello and inspired by the ancient models. The production of these small bronzes quickly became a specific genre – addressed to a cultivated élite of refined amateurs – rapidly spreading in Emilia and in Tuscany.
Considered as autonomous works of art, Renaissance small bronzes will be then very appreciated between the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century, and sought after by the greatest and best European collectors.

As the great 14th century poet Francesco Petrarca already noticed, the special charm of small antique objects derives from the fact that they are manageable sculptures, providing a pleasure that is certainly visual but also substantially tactile; the same aspect is emphasized, centuries later, by Galileo, and again in 1961, the celebrated antique dealer Luigi Bellini wrote: “Bronzes are like pearls, […] because you feel a physical pleasure in caressing them […], you would never stop”.

Bronze-doorknockers-pair

PAIR OF DOORKNOCKERS
Italy (Emilia)
Second half 16th century
Bronze
H cm 16
Bibliography: La camera delle meraviglie, exhibition cat., Galleria Mazzoleni, Milan 1985, n.20; Museum, exhibition cat., Galleria Lorenzelli, Bergamo 1994, p. 244.
References: A. Balletti, Gli ultimi battenti in bronzo a Reggio dell’Emilia, in “Rassegna d’Arte”, 1903, III, p. 121-122; Museo Stefano Bardini. I bronzetti e gli oggetti d’uso in bronzo, ed. by A. Nesi, cat. by T. Rago, Florence 2009, p. 168, cat. 65.

A very elegant Tinder Pistol

tinder-pistol-detail

At first sight, this refined and curious object might look like a pistol but it is in fact a remarkable example of a mechanical tinder lighter designed for domestic use or, more precisely, a tinder-pistol.
The piece examined here just looks like a small pistol, with an elegantly shaped walnut wood body on which different metal parts are mounted (butt cover, trigger, flintlock mechanism, sideplate, barrel, candle holder and support): all parts are made of steel, engraved with elegant war motifs, vegetables, palmettes and flowers. The butt hosts a small chamber provided with a lid, designed to store flint and tinder reserve, the candle holder is regulated by a spring hinge inside the barrel as well as the violin-shaped support is spring hinged under the barrel and allows the tinder pistol to be stably placed on a table to be used as a candlestick.

tinder-pistol-open-rear
The first mechanical lighters, dating to around the mid 17th century, employed the same flintlock devices as arquebuses and pistols, and they were quite rough and simple. Some slightly sophisticated lighters appear later, but really refined and elegant versions are manufactured only in the full 18th century. On a practical level a tinder pistol basically works like a pistol in the barrel of which, instead of gunpowder, both the tinder and a small candle holder are housed. By pressing the trigger  the flintlock mechanism is activated, which almost instantly ignites the wick of the candle; a fraction of second later, the barrel is uncovered, thus allowing the candle holder and the support to stand upright.

tinder-pistol-open
The sideplate bears the gunsmith’s signature, in italics: “Bonnehay à Maubeuge”. The same signature, in capital letters, is damascened in gold on the barrel – BONNEHAY A MAUBEUGE  – togheter with elegant Louis XV style scrolls and a palmette.

tinder-pistol-detail-signature
The French city of Maubeuge was famous in the early 18th century as the seat of an important Royal Manufactory of Weapons and the signature that appears on this tinder pistol, rather rare, corresponds to that of a poorly documented family of gunsmiths. A certain Monsieur Bonnehai (Bonney, Bonnechay, Bonnehay), is remembered as the master gunsmith of the Maubeuge arsenal, when he was appointed as inspector at the Manufacture for six months in 1754, and again in 1779  the sources speak of three members of the Bonnehay family in Maubeuge: E. Louis, Jean and Alexandre. Most likely, we owe to one of them the creation of this luxurious piece.

tinder-pistol-detail-barrel-signature
Among the high-quality tinder pistols we must certainly mention: a twin example to ours, housed at the Museum Le Secq de Tournelles in Rouen, and some notable ones preserved at the Wallace Collection in London, but the most significant nucleus is part of the important Bryant and May collection, exhibited for almost a century at the Science Museum of the English Capital.

tinder-pistol-comparison

Tinder Pistol, signed ‘Bonnehay à Maubeuge’. Rouen, Musée Le Secq de Tournelles.

Sophisticated and expensive devices of this kind were, as always, intended for a small and wealthy minority of gentlemen, who used them to light fires, pipes or other candles in their homes but a tinder-pistol like this, signed by a gunsmith and richly decorated with the same care of a real firearm, is undoubtedly a top of its category.

tinder-pistol-side-view

Bonnehay (armorers active in Maubeuge in the 18th century)
TINDER PISTOL
Engraved steel with gold damascening; walnut wood
Maubeuge (France)
Second half 18th century
Cm 25,5 x 15,5
Signed “BONNEHAY À MAUBEUGE”

Bibliography: V. Cacciandra, A. Cesati, Fire Steels, Allemandi, 1996, plate VIII (K), p. 128.
References: Christy, M., The Bryant and May Museum of Fire-Making Appliances, London: Bryant & May Ltd.,1926.

WEBSITE RENEWED

website-renewed-example

The art world is facing a historical phase of great changes.

The art market is especially undergoing and will undergo for a while a remarkable transformation, due to the greater travelling difficulties and to the postponement of many important art fairs. These events were until now the most pleasant and important occasions of interaction between dealers and art collectors, with the physical presence of the artworks.

Therefore, in order to keep nowadays the dialogue with collectors and art lovers open, it becomes important, more than ever, to give larger space to online communication.

In these weeks we extensively thought and worked in this direction and we are now finally glad to announce that we achieved a wide updating of our website.In order to let you better explore our collection, you will find two new sections:
sculptures and works of art.

Into these sections you can find several artworks, partially unpublished and, as always, carefully selected for their quality, rarity and curiosity: they include traditional metalwork and items in the most different materials, such as ivory, bronze, marble, stone, wood, wax, tortoiseshell and terracotta.

Each work is accompanied by a text illustrating its uniqueness, the historical and cultural context, as well as its most curious and fascinating aspects.

We invite you to explore our website, discover our selection of artworks and share your comments to our email address.

Cookies Policy