Medusa mask

Unknown, model attributed to Severo Calzetta da Ravenna (Italian, active by 1496, died before 1543)

cast 16th century
Copper alloy with warm brown patina and areas of a worn black patina on top.
6.5 x 10.5 cm.
Credit Line:
Robert Lehman Collection, 1975
Accession Number:
  • Description

    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 Florence.(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 thers 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; 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. Versailles 2007 – 8, p. 188 and fig. 182.
    4. Weihrauch 1960.
    5. Pope-Hennessy 1965, no. 491.
    6. See Trent 2008, no. 76.
    7. Ex coll. Ruth Blumka, New York (Avery and Radcliffe 1983).
    8. Cleveland 1975, under no. 76.
    9. Florence 1989, no. 38.
    10. Victoria and Albert Museum, 4673-1858.
    11. Sale, Christie’s, London, 7 December 2006, lot 152.
    12. Bode 1913, no. 283.
    13. See Warren 2001b, p. 140.
    14. Radcliffe, Baker, and Maek-Gérard 1992, p. 202.
    15. Frankfurt 1985 – 86, no. 238.
    16. Pechstein 1968, no. 83; Münster – Saarbrücken – Hanover 1983, p. 130, under no. 66.
    17. Frankfurt 1985 – 86, nos. 237 – 39.
    18. T oderi and Vannel Toderi 1996, no. 211.
    19. For similar panels, see Münster – Saarbrücken – Hanover 1983, no. 66.

  • Provenance

    [Frédéric Spitzer, Paris]; Spitzer Legacies; Spitzer sale, Anderson Galleries, New York, 9 January 1929, lot 272. Acquired from the 1929 Spitzer sale.