Spinario (boy pulling a thorn from his foot)

Workshop of Severo Calzetta da Ravenna Italian

Not on view

These two statuettes entered The Met at nearly the same moment thanks to a pair of important bequests, the first in 1941 from George Blumenthal and the second in 1949 from Jules S. Bache.[1] Both bronzes were inspired by the renowned classical model of the Spinario (p. 00, fig. 9a), an ancient sculpture that drew much attention and acclaim in the modern era due certainly to its continuous display, starting at least from the twelfth century, in prominent places in the center of Rome; it was recorded in 1165–67 next to the Palazzo del Laterano and the Archbasilica of Saint John Lateran, and then transferred to the Capitoline at the behest of Pope Sixtus IV where he was assembling a group of important ancient Roman relics, including the She-wolf now in the Palazzo dei Conservatori.[2]

However, compared with this well-known prototype, The Met sculptures present numerous variations. Beyond the obvious divergence in scale, there are stylistic differences such as the dry, almost coarse treatment of the hair and anatomy, as well as compositional changes. The figure’s pose itself differs, with the leg positions reversed (in the original, the right leg supports the left). The same reversal is documented in a print attributed to Marcantonio Raimondi usually dated to the years 1502–4;[3] and although in this case the modification can be explained by technical reasons related to the engraving process, documents such as this can be deemed authoritative “precedents” in the engaging game of variatio.

It is these discrepancies that link our two objects to a wider corpus of bronze Spinario reductions, to which can be added another in The Met (cat. 41).[4] The Bache bronze has an elaborate triangular base supported by lion’s paws and holding up a small pilaster decorated with a phytomorphic mask. A similar though not identical element can be seen on the version once owned by John Edward Taylor.[5] The concordance between the mask on the Bache base and that on a lantern of a satyr in chains attributable to Severo da Ravenna, a cast of which can be found in the Frick, prompted John Pope-Hennessey to connect our bronze to the artist’s workshop.[6] Moreover, a similar motif can be seen on lamps and metal boxes that have been traced back to the same production context.[7] It is important to note, however, that recent technical analysis underlined modern alterations to the figure to accommodate its join to the base, suggesting that the two elements were not created together to form a single statuette.[8]

Nevertheless, scientific analysis carried out on various examples of Spinarios related to the above-mentioned group in, for instance, London, Oxford, and Washington, D.C.,[9] shows fabrication methods consistent with the practices of Severo’s workshop. Anthony Radcliffe places the prototype for this group in the early phase of the sculptor’s output, while Dylan Smith has situated it in a more advanced stage of his career, understood as the second decade of the sixteenth century.[10]

The Bache bronze is distinguished by an uneven cast and an apparent absence of cold work. The boy’s pupils are defined. His right hand holds the ankle, which rests on his left leg, and the thorn is stuck in his right heel. The Blumenthal Spinario is also the result of a technically defective casting and shows no evident traces of chiseling. Here, the boy’s right palm rests higher up on the calf of his bent leg, while he pulls the thorn from the sole of his foot. The boy’s hair has less volume, and his pupils are not delineated. These characteristics suggest slightly later, lesser-quality derivations of Severo’s prototype.

(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. Before Bache’s bequest, his collection was on view at The Met from 1944; see https://libmma.contentdm.oclc.org/digital/collection/p16028coll12/id/335.
2. Haskell and Penny 1981, p. 308, no. 78.
3. One example is in the British Museum, 1973-U.83; see Laura Aldovini in Gregori 2003, vol. 1, p. 466, cat. XI.20.
4. The series of Spinarios includes examples in the Walters Art Gallery, Baltimore, 54.71; formerly Bode-Museum, 1809 (now lost; see Bode and Knapp 1904, p. 15, no. 329); Bargello, 393 B; V&A, 4533&A-1858; Trivulzio collection, Milan (see Bode 1907–12, vol. 1, pl. LXXXVIII); Ashmolean, WA1899.CDEF.B1078; Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto, 976.156.1 (see Keeble 1982, pp. 45–47, no. 20); Fondation Bemberg, Toulouse (see Cros 1996, p. 39); Robert H. Smith collection, Washington, D.C. (see Radcliffe and Penny 2004, pp. 80–83); Galleria Giorgio Franchetti, Ca’ d’Oro, Venice, 61 (see Candida 1981, pp. 19–23, no. 3); Kunsthistorisches Museum, KK 5441 and KK 5537 (incomplete works; see Planiscig 1924, pp. 15–17); ex-Beit collection (see Richard 2007, pp. 33–35); ex-J. Pierpont Morgan collection (see Bode 1910, vol. 1, p. 25, no. 87); ex-Thomas Gibson Carmichael collection, auctioned at Christie, Manson & Woods, London, May 12–13, 1902, lot 45; Christie’s, London, June 23, 1982, lot 108. This list is based on D. Smith 2008, p. 78 n. 91. The versions range in height from 16.9 to 20 cm.
5. The ex-Taylor is now lost but available in old photographs; see Christie, Manson & Woods, London, July 1–9, 1912, lot 7; Parke-Bernet, New York, October 28, 1967, lot 38.
6. Frick, 1916.2.20; see Pope-Hennessy 1970, pp. 145–46.
7. Radcliffe et al. 1992, pp. 206–9, no. 33.
8. XRF indicates the figure was cast in a tin bronze and the base is a brass. R. Stone/TR, June 20, 2018. Stone notes that the two elements appear to be of the same period.
9. See note 4.
10. Radcliffe and Penny 2004, pp. 80–83, no. 12; D. Smith 2008, pp. 65–66, 69; Warren 2014, pp. 124–29, no. 35.

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

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