Banquet of the gods

Alessandro Vittoria (Alessandro Vittoria di Vigilio della Volpa) Italian

Not on view

Often called a “banquet of the gods,” the participants’ repast is rather desperately frugal, with just four small bony fish and no wine on their table. The characters have been variously identified. Two miniature men happening upon the scene at far upper left, seemingly topped by turbans, are usually called Turks. In the present iteration of the scene, the only certain characters are Jupiter with his thunderbolt flying on high and a duo of Diana and Mercury at right, behind the table. In other examples, discussed below, the male below Mercury is Mars in his helmet, but ours has lost his head altogether, broken off at an early stage. In fact, all principal heads were fashioned and joined separately in the wax. It is also odd that the species of sea life are different in each bronze and in the graphic and silver sources cited below. Another anomaly is the irregular grooving of the sides so as to suggest the slotting of the work into a frame, but the grooves are discontinuous and a frame would not have fit snugly. Conversely, the outer edges are carefully filed down as if to accept a frame.

It has long been recognized that the earliest illustration of the composition occurs in Bernard de Montfaucon’s Antiquité expliquée (1719–22), reproducing a bronze relief that was owned by the erudite Oratorian and royal librarian Abbé J.-Paul Bignon.[1] Two other bronzes with slenderer arch-topped formats comparable to that of ours exist in the Cleveland Museum of Art and the V&A.[2] The Cleveland example, identified by the museum as probably by Alessandro Vittoria, evidently has the earliest provenance, considered the Bignon relief, then owned by István Marczibányi (1752–1810) of Budapest. All are thick, weighty casts showing minimal differences. There is no chasing on the fronts. Given their heft, entailing the use, and waste, of a lot of metal, it hardly seems as if the London and New York pieces can be said to be “trial casts” after a “final cast” in Cleveland, as has been claimed. Ours is likely a late sixteenth-century work, possibly by a Venetian artist, though it is difficult to hazard a guess with more precision. A fourth plaque of the type, whereabouts unknown, was in the William Salomon collection, sold in 1923,[3] while the Klejman Gallery in New York once had a lead replica.

Hanne Honnens de Lichtenberg has suggested that a terracotta “Hercules with Other Gods, bas-relief, one and a half feet” in the 1616 inventory of Paul von Praun of Nuremberg, listing works by Johan Gregor van der Schardt—Praun was a chief patron of Schardt’s—refers to a clay example that has disappeared. Honnens de Lichtenberg tentatively suggested Schardt, who is far too svelte an artist to be the author we seek. The vague title and the measurement—a mere 34.3 cm in height—would not seem to favor him. Honnens de Lichtenberg pointed to later inventories to conclude that the subject is the Apotheosis of Hercules, as named in a Praun inventory of 1719, cited more specifically as The Promotion of Hercules among the Gods in a Praun inventory of 1732. In brief, Apollo would be the figure with raised hand, advocating the hero’s elevation to Jupiter, while Mars opposes it. This interpretation supposes that Hercules is the bald male seated below Apollo, who takes his arm.[4] However, this figure appears as a supporting character, hardly the triumphant subject of an apotheosis.
Imposing silver-gilt sideboard dishes with centers based on the Montfaucon image were produced for the prince regent in 1810–12 by Rundell, Bridge and Rundell following a remarkably elegant Neo-Renaissance design of William Pitts.[5]

(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. Montfaucon 1719–22, vol. 1, pl. CV11.
2. CMA, 1952.464 (Wixom 1975, cat. 116); V&A, A.18-1955 (Pope-Hennessy 1964a, vol. 2, no. 567, and vol. 3, fig. 554).
3. American Art Association, New York, April 4–7, 1923, lot 153.
4. Honnens de Lichtenberg 1991, p. 59. The subject is rare in art, but see the painting by Benvenuto Tisi, il Garfalo, in the Liechtenstein Museum, Vienna, GE 2136.
5. Christie’s, New York, October 19, 2004, lot 241; see Phillips and Sloane 1997, no. 5. Anthony Radcliffe had suggested to the authors of the Carlton House exhibition at which one of the British royal chargers was displayed (London 1991, cat. 73) an untenable attribution of the bronzes to Guglielmo della Porta.

Banquet of the gods, Alessandro Vittoria (Alessandro Vittoria di Vigilio della Volpa) (Italian, 1525–1608), Bronze, Italian, possibly Venice

Due to rights restrictions, this image cannot be enlarged, viewed at full screen, or downloaded.

Open Access

As part of the Met's Open Access policy, you can freely copy, modify and distribute this image, even for commercial purposes.


Public domain data for this object can also be accessed using the Met's Open Access API.