Bishop (Saint Augustine?)

Style of Jacopo Sansovino (Jacopo Tatti) Italian

Not on view

In 1908, W. R. Valentiner purchased these two sculptures—among the first Renaissance bronzes to enter The Met—from the Munich art dealer Julius Böhler as part of a bulk acquisition that included a substantial and heterogeneous group of works, primarily sixteenth-century Italian.[1] Valentiner had only recently been named the museum’s curator of decorative arts. The bronzes came with an attribution to Alessandro Vittoria and commanded the sum of 700 marcs, rather high compared to the price paid for other objects in the same transaction (for example, 140 marcs for a silver plaque ascribed to Jacopo Sansovino).[2]

Valentiner recognized the figures as two “Fathers of the Church.” In a reconsideration of their authorship, he aligned them with the circle of Michelangelo, citing the opinion of Wilhelm von Bode, who favored the master’s pupil Giovanni Angelo da Montorsoli.[3] In 1913, Joseph Breck catalogued the pair more broadly as “bishops,” maintained the association with Michelangelo’s orbit, and noted the analogous style and pose of a bronze Moses then in the collection of J. Pierpont Morgan that later come into The Met (cat. 61).

In fact, the three statuettes are linked only by virtue of their rough appearance. The ex-Morgan bronze is dramatically sketchy, the bishops marked by unrefined casting and the absence of cold work.[4] The latter have hollowed backs (one has a drillhole from front to back), indicating they were likely designed for installation in a larger structure. Their contrapposto poses suggest that they were conceived as pendants, to be placed side by side in silent dialogue. The obvious setting for such an ensemble would have been a religious one. With their long beards, miters, tightly clasped books, and venerable age, presumably they represent two Doctors of the Church, but the generic iconography prevents a more specific identification.

Regarding attribution, no decisive comparisons have surfaced. However, Valentiner’s theory of a Tuscan origin deserves a fresh look. Indeed, the figures’ expressive faces, the monumental construction of their heads, and their inordinately large hands point to an unmistakable Michelangelism. Even proposals in favor of Sansovino, which have arisen in curatorial discussions over the years, underline a “Florentine” and “Michelangelesque” inspiration in the overall design while linking the bronzes to the production of this artist active in Venice from 1527 until his death in 1570.

(For key to shortened references see bibliography in Allen, Italian Renaissance and Baroque Bronzes in The Metropolitan Museum of Art. NY: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2022.)

1. For instance, a cassone (08.175.5) and three plaques, attributed to Moderno (08.175.14), Valerio Belli (08.175.15), and the circle of Jacopo Sansovino (08.175.13).
2. The documents relating to the sale were kindly made available by Richard Winkler at the Bayerisches Wirtschaftsarchiv, Munich.
3. Valentiner 1908, p. 230.
4. Both appear to be directly cast using the same leaded tin alloy and pinkish ceramic core, and both bear traces of black Veneto-style patina. R. Stone/TR, November 18, 2010.

Bishop (Saint Augustine?), Style of Jacopo Sansovino (Jacopo Tatti) (Italian, Florence 1486–1570 Venice), Bronze, Italian, possibly Florence

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