Cupid bearing a quiver and a candle socket

possibly Italian, Padua

Not on view

Although the American collector Michael Friedsam probably purchased these diminutive winged Cupids in 1916 as a pair, they were not originally companion figures. Whether either was intended to be an independent statuette is also uncertain. What is sure is that each composition ultimately derives from figures decorating bronze functional objects that today are associated with the workshop of Severo Calzetta da Ravenna.[1] Two rare complete works in the Ashmolean illustrate this point. The shield-bearing putto surmounting a boat-shaped oil lamp and stand (fig. 42a) is the formal prototype for The Met’s Cupid Holding a Shield and a Candle Socket.[2] The pose of the candle-bearing putto on an inkstand (fig. 42b) is a precedent for that of Cupid Bearing a Quiver and a Candle Socket.[3]

By the mid-sixteenth century, elaborate bronze inkstands, oil lamps, perfume burners, and candlesticks had become popular statement pieces announcing their owner’s wealth, erudition, and taste.4 Severo was instrumental in creating a market for such objects by exploiting the technology of bronze. To maximize production, he developed indirect casting techniques that simplified the replication of his works. He also invented an ingenious method for assembling complicated bronze objects, like the Ashmolean oil lamp and inkstand, from small, separately cast parts that attached together.[5] The Met Cupids could have begun as elements in such a functional ensemble. If so, at some later time, perhaps in the nineteenth century, their integrally cast screw or rod attachments were cut away and their bases filed down to adapt the figures for mounting on individual marble socles.[6]

Severo established his workshop around 1510 in the port city of Ravenna, a location that facilitated the export of his bronzes throughout Italy. After the master’s death, the shop may have remained active for almost sixty years, producing bronzes in large numbers with little stylistic variation but in ever declining quality until around 1600. During these decades, other bronze sculptors copied popular compositions, changing and sometimes degrading them in the process.[7] The productivity and longevity of Severo’s workshop and the wide dissemination and imitation of his bronzes makes attributing and dating figures like our Cupids exercises without definitive answers.

Based on its design, modeling, and tooling, Cupid Holding a Shield could be a very late variant far removed from Severo’s shop, or it might even be a nineteenth-century fake. In comparison with the compact, robust shield-bearing putto on the Ashmolean oil lamp, our Cupid is ill-proportioned, with a head much too small for his long torso and limbs. Overall the modeling is weak, the musculature flaccid, and the shield reminiscent of a slab of chocolate. The wings are anomalous additions. No putto of this type associated with Severo’s workshop has them. Although a candle-socket motif common to the shop is copied, its functional purpose is misunderstood. Cupid brandishes the socket sidewise as if it were a club instead of a usable upright fixture. Bronzes related to Severo’s workshop are minimally tooled in the metal. The aggressive filing marks up and down Cupid’s back and across his thighs are uncharacteristic of that master or of any other Renaissance master’s method of tooling bronze.

By contrast, Cupid Bearing a Quiver displays an elegant Renaissance unity between concept and execution. Although tiny, the figure is instantly identified as the god of love through his attributes of wings, quiver, and perhaps a lost bow that he may have grasped around the attachment hole in his right hand. He strides energetically forward, arm swinging, turning his muscular body in the opposite direction to look up at the enormous candleholder he effortlessly balances in the crook of his left arm. The pint-sized dynamo’s message is clear: Amor vincit omnia (Love conquers all), a proclamation that could have taken on different meanings according to the sculpture’s location. When displayed in the Renaissance scholar’s study, the work could have been a reminder that Eros has the power to overwhelm enlightened pursuits. In a communal domestic setting, the miniature herculean figure could have teasingly threatened to ignite the flames of passion. One can only imagine how the Cupid’s meanings would have been amplified by the function and decoration of the lost object, such as an inkwell or oil lamp, on which it may have stood.

Both Met Cupids are solid casts, but Cupid Bearing a Quiver is modeled adroitly. The unknown Renaissance master memorably distinguishes between the figure’s sturdy muscularity and soft infant fleshiness and captures its chubby-cheeked expression of mischievous delight. Linear details such as Cupid’s upturned eyes, tight curls, and feathers were swiftly inscribed into the wax model. Left untooled in the metal, these incised strokes impart to the finished work the vibrancy of a quickly drawn sketch. Motifs such as the candle socket with its distinctive acanthus-leaf pattern also associates the Cupid with Severo’s shop production. The figure’s turning pose and additional attributes of quiver and wings suggest that the sculpture was modeled around the mid-sixteenth century, when the shop’s compositions were notable for their complexity and elaborateness. At some point, perhaps in the nineteenth century, the Cupid was broken and heavily repaired with lead solder and repatinated with a translucent reddish varnish that is characteristic of seventeenth-century Florentine bronzes rather than of the black paint finishes used in Severo’s shop.[8]

Nothing is known about our Cupids prior to their appearance in publications by the scholar, connoisseur, curator, and director-general of the Prussian museums, Wilhelm von Bode. At the turn of the twentieth century, Bode commanded a preeminent role in the international network of experts, art dealers, museum professionals, and private collectors that promoted the bronze statuette as an important artistic genre.[9] His lavishly illustrated Italian Bronze Statuettes of the Renaissance, published in German and English between 1907 and 1912, was the first comprehensive catalogue in which these works were systematically classified according to their region, period, maker, and type.[10] The immense authority of this and of Bode’s other catalogues shaped the way bronzes were understood and valued. For example, in 1899, when Cupid Bearing a Quiver was in the Pfungst collection, Bode catalogued the figure as “Florentine, c. 1450.”[11] The designation associated the work with the groundbreaking and dynamic small bronze putti created by the Florentine sculptor Donatello that Bode mistakenly thought were designed to be independent figures.[12] This faulty link encouraged the perception of the Cupid as a standalone sculpture in its own right, enhancing its prestige, and its potential market worth.[13]

In 1901, the fabulously wealthy financier and prodigious collector J. Pierpont Morgan acquired Cupid Bearing a Quiver along with the entire Pfungst collection of bronzes.[14] Both Met Cupids appear in Bode’s catalogue of the Morgan collection, published in 1910, bearing new attributions to the workshop of the Paduan master Andrea Riccio, who had become Bode’s catch-all for small-scale bronzes of this type until scholars identified Severo da Ravenna in the 1930s.[15] Although Bode noted in the introduction that the Cupids probably had been detached from lost functional ensembles,[16] his comment was belied by his cataloguing of them as independent figures and by the state-of-the-art plate of the shield-bearing Cupid that encouraged appreciation of each statuette on its own. In 1914, a year after Morgan’s death, his varied, vast collections were placed on display at The Met in a special loan exhibition. Considered the “chief feature,” of the “First Renaissance Room,” the bronzes were shown in large freestanding glass cases in which they were arranged according to Bode’s classifications in the Morgan catalogue.[17] The author of the exhibition brochure praised the number, importance, and quality of the Morgan bronzes and lauded Bode’s pioneering work in bringing this hitherto little-known art form to light through systematic study.[18]

The revelatory exhibition introduced Italian bronzes to American collectors and whetted their appetite for them. In 1916, the powerful dealer Joseph Duveen acquired Morgan’s collection en bloc and offered first choice to a strategic selection of collecting magnates, including Henry Clay Frick, Henry Huntington, and Michael Friedsam.[19] Duveen’s ability to direct his clients’ interests was legendary, his timing impeccable. Friedsam had begun collecting seriously after the death of his cousin, department-store magnate Benjamin Altman.[20] Although Altman had assembled a magnificent collection of European art, he had done so before Bode, Morgan, The Met, and Duveen had made owning Italian bronzes desirable. Embracing a novel opportunity, Friedsam acquired twenty-eight of Morgan’s bronzes, among them the Cupids.[21]

Frick, who demanded “the finest,” selected works individually from the Morgan catalogue.[22] By contrast, Friedsam appears to have been satisfied with a comparatively modest representative group that he paid for in one lump sum.[23] In Duveen’s itemized invoice of the sale, bronzes of similar subject and size, like the Cupids, are sometimes paired in sequence, suggesting that Friedsam purchased these as pendants. For the bronzes’ display in Friedsam’s mansion on East 68th Street, Duveen provided a custom-made glass cabinet that adapted the design of The Met’s exhibition cases to a grand domestic setting.[24] The cabinet of bronzes stood as the centerpiece in a room hung with masterpieces of seventeenth-century Dutch painting.[25] Friedsam’s acquisition and presentation of Italian Renaissance bronzes underscored their newly won recognition as an important artistic genre that demanded inclusion in collections aspiring to exceptionality. Following his bequest to The Met in 1931, the Friedsam bronzes became a cornerstone of the museum’s growing holdings. Although today most of them rightly would be judged of middling to poor quality, and some as fakes, the fundamental role they played in the early development of bronze studies and in the history of American collecting should not be forgotten.

(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 Severo da Ravenna and his workshop, see Warren 2001b.
2. Warren 2014, pp. 137–40, no. 38, with exploded diagram illustrating separate components and references to other versions of this figure type.
3. Ibid., pp. 141–43, no. 39, with exploded diagram illustrating separate components.
4. See Warren 2006, with earlier sources.
5. For Severo’s casting and fabrication techniques, see Motture 2019, pp. 43, 158–62; D. Smith 2013a; Stone 2006.
6. Cupid Holding a Shield and a Candle Socket is still fixed to the marble socle on which it is illustrated in the Morgan collection catalogue (Bode 1910, vol. 1, p. 14, no. 48). Cupid Bearing a Quiver and a Candle Socket no longer retains the round porphyry socle on which it was mounted when in the Pfungst collection; see illustration in Bode 1899, no. 27.
7. For the late phase of Severo’s workshop production, see Warren 2014, p. 140.
8. Based on visual examination undertaken with Linda Borsch, it appears that lead solder was used to reattach the upper portion of the candleholder and to fill flaws or damages to the left calf, the back half of the left foot, and the back of the left upper arm. For patinas, see Stone 2010.
9. For Bode, see Krahn 1995, pp. 34–55; for Bode’s influence in the U.S., see Tilliette 2014 and Jeffrey Fraiman’s essay in this volume.
10. See Bode and Draper 1980, p. vii.
11. For Bode’s relationship with Henry Pfungst, see Warren 1996, pp. 128–30.
12. Motture 2019, pp. 145–47.
13. For Bode’s influence on the rising price of bronze statuettes, see Warren 1996, p. 130.
14. The following paragraphs are indebted to the research and arguments in Gennari-Santori 2010.
15. For the identification and early attribution history of Severo da Ravenna, see Bode and Draper 1980, p. xi.
16. Bode 1910, vol. 1, p. xvi.
17. New York 1914, p. xi; Gennari-Santori 2010, pp. 312–15, fig. 4.
18. New York 1914, p. 41.
19. Gennari-Santori 2010, pp. 318–19.
20. See Jeanne Abrams, “Benjamin Altman,” in Immigrant Entrepreneurship, 1720 to the Present, at
21. Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles, Duveen Brothers Records: Box 156 (folders 1–3) Morgan collection invoices, 1915–1919, Copy invoices of sales from Morgan collection of bronzes, June 1916–Nov. 1917: July 6 (1916) (image 0027), nos. 48 and 50.
22. Gennari-Santori 2010, pp. 319–20.
23. See note 21.
24. Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles, Duveen Brothers Records: Correspondence Fri–FZ, (Image 104) Duveen to Friedsam, August 25. 1916, “cabinet for bronzes ready in ten days time.” 25. Pène du Bois 1917, p. 401.

Cupid bearing a quiver and a candle socket, Bronze, possibly Italian, Padua

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