Bust of Christ

Italian, Rome

On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 536

Our Christ rests on a socle ornamented with a winged cherub’s head and leaf and Greek fret moldings. The bust and the base were cast separately. The casting is very thin and flawless, and the finish on both front and back is outstanding. Apart from a few blemishes on the forehead, the work is in near-perfect condition. The fine-tuned, polished tresses cascading down the shoulders and back make this an object enjoyable from all angles.[1]

Though our bust has been little published, other versions have attracted notice. These include one in the Skulpturensammlung, Berlin; one formerly in the collection of Oscar Bondy, Vienna; and one in the Ashmolean.[2] The last, studied by Nicholas Penny, is closest to our cast. Minor differences are evident across all four versions, particularly in the base moldings and the chasing of the hair. The Ashmolean Christ entered the collection with an attribution to Bastiano Torrigiani, following the judgment of Cyril Humphris.[3] On the other hand, Ursula Schlegel assigned the Berlin version, which has a cartouche instead of a cherub, to Antonio Abondio based on purported similarities to his series of Christ medallions.[4] Rudolf-Alexander Schütte was skeptical, opting instead for an unknown sculptor, late sixteenth century.[5] Penny discarded Abondio altogether and, interestingly, regarding the Ashmolean bust, expressed doubts about the date, stating that he had never seen “this finish on any other bronze of the sixteenth or seventeenth century although it is a distinctive characteristic of the bronzes produced by the firm of Elkington in Birmingham in the mid-nineteenth century.”[6] The finish of our Christ is also highly unusual. It was chased with meticulous attention to detail, exhibiting in the delicate curls of hair and beard an almost compulsive neatness and precision.[7] The garment was worked with a roulette, just enough to suggest the woven texture of cloth, which in the Ashmolean version is rendered in crosshatched lines. In our Christ, the pupils are concave, the irises traced with circles, and the eyebrows delineated with short oblique lines, while the Ashmolean bust lacks all these tricks.

At present, what seems most plausible is that this group of bronzes is a product of post-Tridentine Rome. Penny observed a late sixteenth-century Florentine sensibility in Christ’s “impassive” countenance. Though our bronze does not display the vibrancy of Torrigiani’s oeuvre, the time period coincides with his output. The popularity of busts of Christ grew after the Council of Trent, and in particular under the pontificate of Pius V (1566–72), who showed a strong predilection for this type of religious artifact.[8] It is also worth mentioning that the cherub’s head, looking down and flanked by wings on the base, is similar to that above the emblem of the Society of Jesus designed by Bartolomeo Ammannati for the facade of the Gesù, Rome, in 1576.[9] This may provide a direction for the dating and place of production of the base.

(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. According to a note in ESDA/OF regarding the bust’s function, it might have been used as a finial, perhaps for a ceremonial staff. The exceptional casting of both bust and base suggests the possibility that they were made by a silversmith rather than a bronze caster. The base was cast in brass with only a minor amount of tin, and was chased with a looser hand. The bust is a tin bronze. R. Stone/TR, October 21, 2010.
2. Skulpturensammlung, 10/62 (Schlegel 1966); ex-Bondy: Sotheby’s, New York, November 25, 1986, lot 76; Ashmolean, WA1961.58 (Penny 1992, vol. 1, pp. 191–93, no. 134). Schlegel (p. 392) discusses a possible fourth bust at that time in New York (Germain Seligman) that lacked the original socle. Although similar to our bronze, it differs in the cutting of the chest (a more pronounced V shape), the garment folds, and the design of the hair on the shoulder.
3. See Penny 1992, vol. 1, p. 191.
4. Schlegel 1966, pp. 391–94.
5. Vienna 1988, vol. 1, pp. 593–94, cat. 491.
6. Penny 1992, vol. 1, p. 191.
7. R. Stone/TR, October 21, 2010.
8. See Natale 2002, pp. 85–87.
9. Pecchiai 1952, p. 72.

Bust of Christ, Bronze, Italian, Rome

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