This standing youth is the best replica of a commanding statuette in the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, that scholars increasingly, and rightly, see as a work intimately connected to the Renaissance giant Andrea Mantegna (fig. 8a). Shown as if shouting while standing in a virtuosic contrapposto, the boy has all the defiant verve of a child Hercules. The basic pose existed in a putto in Francesco del Cossa’s May fresco in the Palazzo Schifanoia, Ferrara (ca. 1470), but Mantegna and his school invested the figure with a great deal more force. An example of the bronze boy occurs twice in a workshop drawing after it in the Fondazione Horne, Florence, which has been attributed to the engraver Zoan Andrea. He is reiterated in reverse at the left side of Mantegna’s engraving Bacchanal with a Wine Vat, and echoes of him resound in the master’s Madonnas, notably the Madonna of the Cherubim (1485; Pinacoteca di Brera, Milan). The joints and folds of baby fat of the Houston boy, and his puckered features, are so brilliantly articulated as to suggest Mantegna modeled it himself and then had it cast to his demanding standards and for his own consultation, probably in Mantua in the 1480s. He is recorded modeling bronze vessels at least once, in 1483.
At least six replicas of the Houston bronze exist. In descending order of quality and vitality, the Houston bronze, then The Met’s, were followed by indifferent casts in the V&A, the Kunsthistorisches Museum, two in the Capodimonte, and two that have passed through the trade. The indiscernible objects held by the boy in the Horne drawing and the bronze boys in Houston, New York, and Naples somewhat resemble folds of cloth. They were replaced by spoons in the hands of the London and Vienna children. The silvering of our boy’s eyes is well preserved, and his pupils are drilled, lending the figure some distinction, but those of the Houston boy were once silvered, too, and remains of gilding have been found, now only detectable by X-ray fluorescence spectroscopy. Further, the Houston and New York examples were cast indirectly and yield precisely the same dimensions. Richard Stone has suggested that, while not necessarily cast at precisely the same time or even by the same hand, these two statuettes are among the earliest, if not the earliest, indirectly cast bronzes of the Italian Renaissance. They were modeled and chased very differently, though, our bronze being far less taut and muscular and with a much sleeker surface.
The bronzes in Naples have the oldest provenance, from the Farnese collections. The Vienna bronze came from the imperial Antiken-Kabinett in 1880. The earliest known owner of the Houston bronze was the marquis de Pompignan (d. 1784), in Paris, later passed to Arnold Seligmann, Rey & Co., also in Paris, and then to Percy and Edith Straus of New York (recommended by Leo Planiscig as by Verrocchio). John Pope-Hennessy continued to uphold Florentine origins for it, but any similarities are far outweighed by those with Mantua and Mantegna. Curiously, our statuette was not catalogued by Wilhelm von Bode in 1910 with the rest of J. Pierpont Morgan’s bronzes; perhaps it occupied a place in a lesser Morgan residence.
A capricious aside of Planiscig’s concerns the spoons held by some examples. He was reminded of The Golden Legend and its tale of the little boy on the shore observed by Saint Augustine as he tried to empty the sea of its contents.
(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. Montagu 1966.
2. Byam Shaw 1937, p. 59.
3. Martineau 1992, cats. 74, 75.
4. V&A, A89-1956; KHM, KK 5582; Capodimonte, AM 10656, 10658. The best account is by Agosti and Stoppa in Agosti and Thiébaut 2008, cat. 85.
5. Analysis conducted by Richard Stone and reported in C. Wilson 2001, p. 267 n. 38.
6. R. Stone/TR, January 16, 2011.
7. The sale to Seligmann, Rey was brokered by Drouot, April 19, 1929, lot 77; for Planiscig’s attribution to Verrocchio, see C. Wilson 2001, pp. 249–52, citing Planiscig-Straus correspondence.
8. Ibid., p. 267 n. 33.
9. The boy usually employs a seashell. Planiscig 1924, no. 111.