Art/ Collection/ Collection/ Art Object
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Alpheus and Arethusa

Artist:
Battista di Domenico Lorenzi (Italian, ca. 1527/28–1594)
Date:
1568–70
Culture:
Italian, Florence
Medium:
Marble
Dimensions:
Overall (confirmed): H. 58 5/8 x W. 32 5/8 x D. 23 1/2 in., 782lb. (148.9 x 82.9 x 59.7 cm, 354.7129kg)
Classification:
Sculpture
Credit Line:
Fletcher Fund, 1940
Accession Number:
40.33
On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 534
Battista Lorenzi was a Florentine sculptor who apprenticed with Baccio Bandinelli (see acc. no. 1987.280) and collaborated in Rome with Vincenzo de’ Rossi on a monumental statue of Pope Paul IV (destroyed by a mob in 1559). After his return to his native city (by 1563), he found success with wealthy clients, producing statues and fountains for their estates in and around Florence. Early works of this nature include a cycle of statues of the four seasons for Giovambattista Guadagni (sent to that abbot’s French residence and now lost); a Triton with Dolphins for Cosimo I de’ Medici (Galleria Regionale, Palermo); and an attributed figure of Ganymede (Boboli Gardens, Florence).[1]

We know from Raffaello Borghini’s famed account of art in Florence, Il Riposo (1584), that this marble group, which he describes as one of the most accomplished of Lorenzi’s garden sculptures, was commissioned by Alamanno Bandini for a grotto in the garden of his Villa Il Paradiso.[2] The structure in which the sculpture stood still exists, although it was modified in the eighteenth century and later. Behind a triple arcade open to the elements, a wide room encloses a pool, sheltered by a roof and the building’s three walls. The rear wall is covered with rocaille and stucco figures centering on a pedestal flanked by columns. On this pedestal the sculpture originally stood, its white marble gleaming in the darkened space, its smooth surface contrasted with the pebbly background, and its meaning completed by the pool below.

Drawn from Ovid’s Metamorphoses, the subject may have been suggested by Borghini himself. The goddess Diana’s nymph Arethusa, tired from hunting, bathed in a river. The river god Alpheus became enamored of her and gave chase; as she was about to be caught, she implored Diana to save her. The goddess rescued Arethusa by transforming her into an underground stream, whose spring is in Sicily. The sculptor seized on the climactic moment in the story when the nymph is captured, just before her metamorphosis. Ovid’s text clearly inspired the sculpture and its grotto setting. His verse, "Once, I remember, in the summer’s heat / Tir’d with the chase, I sought a cool retreat," suggests the respite a visitor to Bandini’s garden might have found in the grotto. Within, one statue above the pool reflected the watery source of the river god and the other the spring which the nymph will become. As Ovid tells us, Arethusa was changed to water by means of a cloud: "My strength distill’d in drops, my hair in dew." One can imagine water dripping on the sculpture from the damp grotto ceiling, recalling this passage of the Metamorphoses.[3]

Intertwined, the nude figures are in poses of arrested motion. Alpheus flings his left arm around Arethusa, while she reaches back to remove it. In her left hand she trails her garment, which, according to Ovid, she had taken off to bathe; in his right hand Alpheus holds an up-ended vase, the conventional emblem of a river god, from which water once flowed into the basin below. As the subject was relatively rare in sixteenth-century art, Lorenzi appears to have turned for compositional inspiration to a print by Agostino Veneziano of Daphne, another nymph saved from a god’s pursuit by last-minute transformation. Bertha Wiles, who proposed this artistic borrowing, also noted the influence of Lorenzo’s sculpture on the most famous depiction of that myth, Gianlorenzo Bernini’s marble Apollo and Daphne in the Galleria Borghese in Rome (1624).[4] If it were to be set beside Bernini’s active group, Lorenzi’s couple might well appear static, yet it is a successful early step toward the goal of Renaissance sculptors to depict figures in struggle and in movement. Another, slightly later response to that compositional challenge, Giambologna’s Rape of a Sabine (installed 1582, Loggia dei Lanzi, Piazza della Signoria, Florence), is far more complex; by contrast, there is an appealing simplicity to Alpheus and Arethusa.[5]

Both of Lorenzi’s figures stride forward, the river god straight ahead, the nymph angling to the side. Lorenzi composed his group as a series of checks and balances. Alpheus’s chest is frontal and his head in profile; the nymph’s body forms a diagonal, its weight restrained only by his embrace. Her head, turned back toward her pursuer, faces the viewer. The planes of their bodies swivel. Together, they define the edges of an imaginary block containing them and are earthbound when compared to Bernini’s seemingly weightless figures; but Lorenzi’s remain convincing in their quieter balance of forms.

Lorenzi’s training with Bandinelli is apparent in the clarity of his outlines, but his sculptures are more naturalistic than the older master’s. His experience as a restorer of antiquities is revealed in Alpheus’s body and pose, which are close to those of the Hellenistic statue called the Gladiator. The motif of the frontal upper body and bent right arm is repeated in the Ganymede attributed to Lorenzi (ca. 1565 – 75) and may have been invented by Niccolò Tribolo for his River God, now in the Villa Corsini, Castello.[6] Arethusa’s physiognomy —  an extended oval face, sharp nose, slightly open mouth, and protruding chin —  is found in other works by Lorenzi, nota­bly the Allegory of Painting that he carved for the tomb of Michelangelo about 1570 – 74.[7] On the basis of style, Hildegard Utz dates Alpheus and Arethusa slightly earlier than that, to 1568, the time of Alamanno Bandini’s first fountain commissions for the Villa Il Paradiso.

[Ian Wardropper. European Sculpture, 1400–1900, In the Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 2011, no. 27, pp. 87–89.]

Footnotes:

[1] See Hildegard Utz. "Skulpturen und andere Arbeiten des Battista Lorenzi." Metropolitan Museum Journal 7 (1973), pp. 37–70. [English summary by Olga Raggio, p. 64.], pp. 37 – 38, 60 – 61; Il "Ganimede" di Battista Lorenzi: Il restauro di un’opera di un Settignanese. Exh. cat. by Herbert Keutner et al. Misericordia, Settignano; 1982. Settignano, 1982.

[2] Raffaello Borghini. Il Riposo. Florence, 1584, p. 598.

[3] The story of Arethusa is found in Metamorphoses 5.572 – 641. The quotations from Ovid’s poem in this paragraph are from Ovid. Ovid’s Metamorphoses in Fifteen Books. Translated by Samuel Garth et al. London, 1717. On Borghini’s possible contribution of the idea for the project, see Utz 1973.

[4] Bertha Harris Wiles. The Fountain of Florentine Sculptors and Their Followers from Donatello to Bernini. Cambridge, Mass., 1933. [Reprint ed., New York, 1975.], p. 92; Charles Avery. Bernini: Genius of the Baroque. London, 1997, pp. 57 – 58.

[5] Utz 1973, p. 60, suggests a progression in Renaissance multifigural groups — from Francesco Mosca, called Il Moschino, to Vincenzo de’ Rossi, to Battista Lorenzi — that led to even more dramatic interactions in Giambologna’s figural groups.

[6] Herbert Keutner. "Il ‘Ganimede’ di Battista Lorenzi." In Lorenzi 1982, pp. 11–27, pp. 18 – 19.

[7] Eike D. Schmidt. "Eine Muse von Battista Lorenzi." Pantheon 58 (2000), pp. 73–80, pp. 73 – 74.
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