Spinario (boy pulling a thorn from his foot)

Workshop of Severo Calzetta da Ravenna Italian

Not on view

The two sculptures are miniatures of the renowned Spinario now in the Musei Capitolini in Rome, an ancient bronze that depicts a boy pulling a thorn from his left foot (p. 00, fig. 9a). Our bronzes reproduce its overall design while taking numerous liberties with the figure’s anatomy and physiognomy. Of the seven bronze statuettes representing the same subject in The Met’s collection, these two share an indisputable likeness in the rendering of the musculature and the somewhat caricatural appearance of the faces. The bronzes also exhibit a similar treatment of the hair—brushed forward around the forehead and temples, rippling in generous curls above the shoulders—and a common support in the form of a stylized tree stump, which, in its dry naturalism, recalls the rocky base of the antique model. The ancient Spinario was much studied in the medieval and Renaissance eras, when it was on constant public display (see cat. 39).

The first of these two works (A) entered The Met as a gift from Ogden Mills in 1924, while the other (B) was part of the Friedsam bequest in 1932. Curator Joseph Breck described the first as a Paduan work from around 1500; the second he assigned to the same geographic area dating to the sixteenth century. He did not establish a link between the two bronzes.

Following Anthony Radcliffe’s categorization of Spinario types,[1] our bronzes should be placed in a group of statuettes, all corresponding in overall design and dimensions to a common prototype, that includes one in the Louvre, another in the Frick (in which the figure was adapted to an inkwell), and one in the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., as well as several examples that have circulated on the art market and are now in private collections.[2] A Spinario once in the Haviland collection and another in the Bargello can also be associated with this corpus, although the latter stands apart from the others in its treatment of the physiognomy and hair.[3] According to Radcliffe, closely related to this family of bronzes is one in the Stift Klosterneuburg.[4]

Building on the pioneering research of Leo Planiscig, Charles Avery, and Radcliffe, Dylan Smith has demonstrated that the casting technique employed in the Washington Spinario corresponds in part to practices followed by Severo Calzetta da Ravenna.[5] According to Smith, this bronze has internal “nails at the top of the head and on the buttocks” as well as “hollowed . . . thighs,” in which “there was a core supported by a nail inserted at knee-height directed toward the figure’s bottom.” In his opinion, it is exactly this detail that places the Washington statuette in an intermediary stage of Severo’s career, that is, directly following the “experimental” phase of the artist’s formative production in the early years of the sixteenth century, paving the way for later casts such as the little David also in Washington.[6] Severo’s later works in fact consistently display legs that are even more hollow compared to those of the Washington Spinario.[7] Radcliffe claims, moreover, that this formulation of the antique subject is later than the one from a different sequence of bronzes that can also be traced back to a model by Severo, of which there are three in The Met’s collection (cats. 39, 41).[8] In the earlier sequence, the casts diverge from the ancient model in the reversed position of the limbs.

The attribution to Severo of both prototypes is reinforced by the fact that in each group there is at least one figure attached to an analogous triangular base with a pilaster and similar decorative elements, for example, cat. 39B and a bronze formerly in the collection of John Edward Taylor, now untraceable but documented in photographs.[9] At the same time, the considerable formal disparities among the single works complicate the assignment of the present pair of bronzes to Severo’s workshop, in particular if one considers their relationship to the classic prototype: in adapting the Capitoline exemplar, the two sculptures—like the other similar pieces inspired by the same model—undermine the grace and suspended timelessness of the original composition, yielding to an “expressionistic” tendency that often surpasses in intensity other works unanimously attributed to Severo, such as the Neptune on a Sea-Monster in the Frick (1916.2.12) or the Saint John the Baptist in the Ashmolean (p. 00, fig. 2e).

The great quantity of known examples suggests that the production of Spinarios continued over a long period.[10] Their quality likely declined over time. The casting of The Met’s pair is rather coarse, with minimal chasing, and while the Friedsam figure and trunk are integral, the Mills support is independent and attached with a forged iron rod that was inserted into the buttocks after the original Severo-type screw broke off.[11]

As Radcliffe has pointed out, the fame of this particular composition is attested in a portrait of Cardinal Antonio Pucci by Pier Francesco Foschi dated 1540 (fig. 40a).[12] On the table next to the subject is a bronze statuette of the Spinario, adapted as an inkwell, which corresponds to the type from the present series.

(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. Radcliffe and Penny 2004, pp. 80–83, no. 12.
2. Louvre, OA 6129 (see Migeon 1909); Frick, 1916.2.34 (see Bode 1910, vol. 1, p. 25, no. 88; Pope-Hennessy 1970, pp. 145–47); NGA, 1957.14.14 (see Ricci 1931, pp. 10–12, no. 5). For those now in private collections, see: ex-John Edward Taylor collection, auctioned at Christie, Manson & Woods, London, July 1–9, 1912, lot 7, and again at Parke-Bernet, New York, October 28, 1967, lot 38; ex-Hatvany collection (see London 1988, pp. 28–29, cat. 24); Marc-Arthur Kohn, Paris, November 16, 2011, lot 13; and ex-Eugene V. Thaw collection, Christie’s, New York, October 30, 2018, lot 358. This list is based in part on D. Smith 2008, p. 76 n. 43.
3. Hôtel Drouot, Paris, December 14–15, 1922, lot 83 (according to which the Havilland bronze is 13 cm, smaller than our other examples); Bargello, 395 B.
4. Inv. KG 1; see Planiscig 1942, p. 7, no. 1. For other examples of this type, see Beck and Bol 1985, p. 352, cat. 51.
5. Planiscig 1935; C. Avery and Radcliffe 1983; Radcliffe in Martineau and Hope 1983, p. 386. 6. NGA, 1942.9.103; see Washington 1994, p. 27.
7. D. Smith 2008, pp. 54–55, 59; see also Stone 2006.
8. Radcliffe and Penny 2004, pp. 80–83, no. 12.
9. Radcliffe in Warren 2014, pp. 207–9, no. 33. For photographs of the ex-Taylor bronze, see Christie, Manson & Woods, London, July 1–9, 1912, lot 7, Parke-Bernet, New York, October 28, 1967, lot 38. For new observations on the base element, see cat. 39.
10. D. Smith 2008, p. 73.
11. R. Stone/TR, June 25, 2008.
12. Warren 2014, p. 129.

Spinario (boy pulling a thorn from his foot), Workshop of Severo Calzetta da Ravenna (Italian, active by 1496, died before 1543), Bronze on green marble base, Italian, Padua or Ravenna

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