The front panel of this writing box is decorated with a pair of centaurs carrying nymphs on their backs and flanking two cornucopias that form a circular empty cartouche; the side panels each show a Medusa mask. The type of box from which these panels originate has often been associated with the workshop of Riccio in Padua, but attributions to Caradosso in Milan (Venturi), Bramante in Florence (Bode), and Desiderio da Firenze (by Planiscig and others, Figdor version) have been made over the years. The motif of the centaur with nymph could have been taken from the monument to Pliny the Younger at Como, dating from 1498 and given to Tommaso and Bernardino Rodari.(1) However, Radcliffe believed that the Como relief was inspired by the decoration of this type of bronze writing box, which seems plausible given the popularity of the casket about 1500.(2) The dissemination of the casket during the sixteenth century is confirmed by a Spanish table from about 1600 in the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam. Its embossed silver top contains reliefs after various sixteenth-century sources (Raimondi, among others), including a frieze of centaurs based on those on the caskets.(3) Weihrauch observed the stylistic roots of the casket in Florenc.(4) Pope-Hennessy was the first to propose an attribution to Severo da Ravenna, which has been accepted by most authors since.(5) He associated these caskets with a basin in Vienna(6) and one in Munich as products of one workshop, and noted similarities with Severo’s signed inkstand.(7) This designation was refuted by Wixom, who catalogued the casket from the Heinz Schneider collection, which has four herm-shaped feet, as Paduan, about 1500;(8) his attribution was accepted by Gallo.(9) A related bronze writing casket of which only two versions seem to exist underscores the ascription to the workshop of Severo da Ravenna. The one in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London,(10) bears the coat of arms of the Rasponi family of Ravenna, while the version formerly in the Beit collection has an integrally cast inscription FEDERICVS RAVENNAS on the underside of the lid.(11) Bode considered it the signature of the otherwise unrecorded “Federigo da Ravenna,”(12) but it more likely refers to the first owner of the piece.(13) In total, more than fifty-four versions and variations of this type of box appear extant, the majority dating to the nineteenth or twentieth century.(14) The work in Washington, D.C. (Kress collection), is generally considered one of the finest and oldest casts,(15) whereas that in the Kunstgewerbemuseum, Berlin, has an early provenance from the Prussian Kunstkammer.(16) Although the basic decoration of all versions is the same, some boxes have an empty wreath, while others contain an all’antica bust of a man or a woman,(17) or a coat of arms, as in the Figdor version (Della Rovere arms). Variations occur in the presence and shape of the feet. The relief also appears on a triangular box in the Bargello.(18) These fragments of a dismantled writing box seem old and were possibly cast in the sixteenth century; they retain crisp details and signs of authentic wear. Comparison with No. 222 confirms this early date, given the relative refinement and sharpness of the casts and their size — they are up to eight millimeters wider than No. 222.(19)
Catalogue entry from: Frits Scholten. The Robert Lehman Collection. European Sculpture and Metalwork, Vol. XII. Frits Scholten, New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art in association with Princeton University Press, 2011, pp. 168-70.
1. See Molinier, Émile. Les bronzes de la Renaissance. Les plaquettes: Catalogue raisonné. 2 vols. Paris, 1886, vol. 2, p. 48, no. 412; Maclagan, Eric and Osbert Sitwell. The Frick Collection. Vols. 5 and 6, Sculpture of the Renaissance and Later Periods. New York, 1954, vol. 5, no. 35, and Toderi, Giuseppe and Fiorenza Vannel Toderi. Placchette, secoli XV-XVIII, nel Museo Nazionale del Bargello. Florence, 1996, p. 117.
2. Radcliffe, Anthony, Malcolm Baker and Michael Maek-Gérard. Renaissance and Later Sculpture, with Works of Art in Bronze. The Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection. London, 1992, p. 200.
3. Quand Versailles était meublé d'argent. Exhibition, Château de Versailles, 21 November 2007 - 9 March 2008. Catalogue edited by Catherine Arminjon. Paris, 2007, p. 188 and fig. 182.
4. Weihrauch, Hans R. "Ein unbekanntes Frühwerk von Andrea Riccio." Pantheon 18, no. 5 (September-October), 1960, pp. 222-32.
5. Pope-Hennessy, John. Renaissance Bronzes from the Samuel H. Kress Collection: Reliefs, Plaquettes, Statuettes, Utensils and Mortars. London, 1965, no. 491.
6. See Rinascimento e passione per l'Antico: Andrea Riccio e il suo tempo. Exhibition, Castello del Buonconsiglio and Museo Diocesano Tridentino, 5 July - 2 November 2008, no. 76. Catalogue edited by Andrea Bacchi and Luciana Ciacomelli. Trent, 2008.
7. Ex coll. Ruth Blumka, New York (Avery, Charles and Anthony Radcliffe. "Severo Calzetta da Ravenna: New Discoveries." In Studien zum europäischen Kunsthandwerk: Festschrift Yvonne Hackenbroch, edited by Jörg Rasmussen, pp. 107-22. Munich, 1983).
8. Renaissance Bronzes from Ohio Collections. Exhibition, Cleveland Museum of Art, 24 September - 16 November 1975, no. 76. Catalogue by William D. Wixom. Cleveland.
9. Arti del Medio Evo e Rinascimento: Omaggio ai Carrand, 1889-1989. Exhibition, Museo Nazionale del Bargello, 20 March - 25 June 1989. Catalogue by Paola Barocchi et al. Florence, 1989, no. 38.
10. Victoria and Albert Museum, 4673-1858.
11. Sale, Christie’s, London, 7 December 2006, lot 152.
12. Bode, Wilhelm von. Catalogue of the Collection of Pictures and Bronzes in the Possession of Mr. Otto Beit. London, 1913, no. 283.
13. See Warren, Jeremy. "Severo Calzetta detto Severo da Ravenna." In Padua 2001, p. 140.
14. Radcliffe, Baker, and Maek-Gérard 1992, p. 202.
15. Natur und Antike in der Renaissance. Exhibition, Liebieghaus, Museum Alter Plastik, 5 December 1985 – 2 March 1986, no. 238. Catalogue. Frankfurt am Main, 1985.
16. Pechstein, Klaus. Bronzen und Plaketten vom ausgehenden 15. Jahrhundert bis zur Mitte des 17. Jahrhunderts. Kataloge des Kunstgewerbemuseums Berlin 3. Berlin, 1968, no. 83; Münster – Saarbrücken – Hanover: Bronzen von der Antike bis zur Gegenwart: Eine Ausstellung der Stiftung Preussischer Kulturbesitz Berlin aus den Beständen ihrer Staatlichen Museen. Exhibition, Westfälisches Landesmuseum für Kunst und Kulturgeschichte, 14 March - 29 May 1983; Saarland-Museum, 2 July - 18 September 1983; Kestner-Museum, 28 September - 13 November 1983. Catalogue. Berlin, , p. 130, no. 66.
17. Natur und antike in der Renaissance, nos. 237 – 39.
18. Toderi, Giuseppe and Fiorenza Vannel Toderi. Placchette, secoli XV-XVIII, nel Museo Nazionale del Bargello. Florence, 1996, no. 211.
19. For similar panels, see Münster - Saarbrücken - Hanover: Bronzen von der Antike bis zur Gegenwart: Eine Ausstellung der Stiftung Preussischer Kulturbesitz Berlin aus den Beständen ihrer Staatlichen Museen. Exhibition, Westfälisches Landesmuseum für Kunst und Kulturgeschichte, 14 March - 29 May 1983; Saarland-Museum, 2 July - 18 September 1983; Kestner-Museum, 28 September - 13 November 1983. Catalogue. Berlin, no. 66.