Apollo with lyre

After a model by Tiziano Aspetti Italian

Not on view

The small statuette represents Apollo, as can be deduced from his kithara, or lyre, and his distinctive coiffure. The deity is entirely nude but wears fancy sandals reminiscent—as is the hair gathered into a bow on the crown of the head—of the antique Apollo Belvedere in the Vatican Museums. Differently than in that famous statue, which depicts the god as an archer, the lyre identifies the bronze statuette as Apollo Musagetes, god of music and art and protector of the Muses.

The figure is given an elegant contrapposto, placing its weight on the left leg. The relaxed right leg is supported by a small, polygonal block, causing a slight twist in the upper body, which is balanced by a dynamic turn of the head toward his left shoulder. Apollo has placed the lyre on his subtly elevated right thigh, while steadying it with his left hand. The right arm is extended on the side; its delicate fingers hold a short stick that can be identified as a plectrum, the tool used to pluck the strings of the kithara.[1] The youthful god, whose long tresses fall on his right shoulder, gazes into the distance and appears to be listening to the sound of a fading melody.

While the quality of the present cast is mediocre, it nevertheless conveys the grace of the original model, which can be attributed without doubt to Tiziano Aspetti. The pose of the figure (in reverse) can be compared to the large bronze statue of Peace in the Grimani chapel in San Francesco della Vigna, Venice, which Aspetti executed in 1592–93 (fig. 63a).[2] Also the face of the strangely androgynous personification is very similar to that of the Apollo. The god’s sandals seem to be the same model worn by Aspetti’s bronze statues of Fides and Spes, which today adorn the balustrade in front of the high altar in Sant’Antonio, Padua. These two figures, as well as a Caritas and a Temperantia, were created by Aspetti between 1593 and 1594 for the shrine of Saint Anthony in the same church. The elegant gestures with which these Virtues grip their respective attributes are very close to the hands of the Apollo. Particularly the flexed index finger of the Apollo’s left hand is so characteristic of Aspetti that it could be called one of the hallmarks of his style. One may therefore suggest that Aspetti created his model for the Apollo in the same years, that is to say, in the first half of the 1590s.

The model was reproduced several times, and it appears, as was so often the case, that some of the casts were executed much later. The best replicas, which reflect the artist’s direct involvement, are in the Robert H. Smith collection in Washington, D.C., and the Statens Museum for Kunst in Copenhagen.[3] The latter has traces of gilding on the hair band, lyre, and sandals. While the heights of these two casts and of the one in The Met vary, all three feature the same circular, thin, integrally cast base. Another even smaller cast is in the Musée de Grenoble.[4] The model is also occasionally encountered on the art market.[5]

The Apollo offered at the sale of the princely collection Thurn und Taxis was paired with a Venus standing on a dolphin and holding a shell in her left hand (fig. 63b).[6] Since the composition of this figure complements that of the Apollo rather nicely, it has been plausibly proposed that her model was also invented by Aspetti.[7] However, I tend to think that the two are products of a bronze foundry, certainly Venetian, that wanted to market the Apollo model as a surmounting figure of a pair of andirons and was thus in need of a suitable companion. The model of this Venus seems to be a generic invention that does not show the recognizable hand of any specific sculptor. Interestingly, Venus is barefoot, and to accompany her Apollo’s lovely sandals had to be removed.

Auction houses have offered another pair of similar Apollo and Venus statuettes that demonstrate how the old models were transformed according to a more “Baroque” taste (fig. 63c).[8] The subtle changes in the modeling, evident especially in the voluptuous physique of the goddess, make these figures look almost Florentine rather than Venetian, and one wonders whether Aspetti’s pupil Felice Palma, who came from Massa, might have used his master’s models for reproduction. Since so little is known about Palma, the theory is hard to follow up.

In the case of our Apollo, the rough surface suggests it is a seventeenth-century cast; later versions look as though steps were taken to regularize and prettify them. The lyre also speaks for such a date: unlike the examples in Washington and Copenhagen, our Apollo’s instrument is not cast integrally with the figure, but is an addition, made of iron. However, the clever lap joins affixing the lyre to Apollo’s left hand are seen more often in seventeenth- than in nineteenth-century casts. The Met’s Apollo appears thus to be a typical product of the Venetian bronze-casting industry that continued to use models by the great sculptors working in Renaissance Venice throughout the seicento.[9]

(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. Penny and Smith in Smith Collection 2007, p. 40.
2. For this statue and the companion figure of Justice, see Claudia Kryza-Gersch in Bacchi et al. 1999, pp. 422–25, cat. 95.
3. Penny and Smith in Smith Collection 2007, pp. 40–43; Manfred Leithe-Jasper in Seipel 1997, p. 60, cat. 18.
4. Beylié 1909, pl. 189.
5. Sotheby’s, New York, June 1, 1991, lot 87; Sotheby’s, New York, June 8, 2007, lot 437 (entirely gilded, good cast), sold again at Sotheby’s, London, December 5, 2012, lot 45. Another good cast from the early seventeenth century with missing hair-bow is at Dario Mottola, Milan.
6. Penny and Smith in Smith Collection 2007, p. 42.
7. See V. Avery 2011.

Apollo with lyre, After a model by Tiziano Aspetti (Italian, 1565–1607), Bronze, iron (lyre), Italian, Venice

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