Satyress with vase (one of a pair)

Andrea Briosco, called Riccio Italian

Not on view

Goat-legged satyrs of Greco-Roman myth were creatures of the woodland forests who often accompanied Bacchus, the god of wine, in unruly celebrations and processions.[1] As personifications of basic human impulses, satyrs were frequent subjects of classical marble statuary, sarcophagi, and bronze statuettes that were admired by Renaissance collectors and artists.[2] The lithe proportions, curved horns, and long floppy goat ears of The Met’s Satyr and Satyress ultimately derive from the rowdy drunken satyrs carved in relief on an ancient Roman sarcophagus famous during the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries.[3] However, our figures are decorous rather than rude. They stand side by side, upright and still, left legs forward, right legs back, and look up as they tilt their heads toward each other. The Satyress is slightly shorter and more physically delicate than her muscular male companion. Each steadies a tall vase, probably a wine amphora, with the right hand and holds a musical instrument in the left. During the Renaissance, the Satyress’s lyre was associated with the high art of poetry; her companion’s panpipes (syrinx), with the simple rustic music of the countryside.[4] In keeping with the pair’s complementary juxtaposition of the high and low arts, the Satyress is crowned with a garlanded diadem, and her amphora is decorated with swags. The Satyr and his vase lack these honorific embellishments. Displayed in a Renaissance scholar’s study, the pair might have evoked distinct literary conventions such as lyric and pastoral poetry.

First published in 1914 without attribution, the bronzes next appear as works by the Paduan sculptor Andrea Riccio in the massive Berlin auction catalogue dedicated to the sale of Richard Kaufmann’s collection in 1917. Wilhelm von Bode, director of the Kaiser-Friedrich Museum in Berlin, who worked closely with Kaufmann on the acquisition of bronzes for that institution, probably was responsible for assigning the statuettes to Riccio.[5] In the auction catalogue, Otto von Falke noted that they were fashioned with the utmost care and are unique casts. These two characteristics so often stressed by Bode are to this day indicative of Riccio’s artistic methods.[6] The attribution to the master was sealed by Leo Planiscig’s inclusion of the statuettes in his monograph on Riccio in 1927. Writing fifty years later in 1977, James David Draper maintained the attribution, noting that “the thin figures and taut facture are extremely impressive like the figures in the best of Riccio’s reliefs.” And he compared the bronzes to Riccio’s Descent into Limbo,[7] “where the elongated nudes and tightly organized, delicately hammered surfaces are virtually identical and produce similarly elegiac effects.” Although our Satyress is a unique example, two other slightly larger versions of the Satyr (holding the syrinx but lacking the vase) are presently known.[8]

Richard Stone’s technical analysis has shed doubt on our statuettes’ longstanding attribution to the Paduan master. Riccio’s small bronzes are generally thick-walled copper-alloy casts that were usually executed with the direct method, which does not allow for replication. The Satyr and Satyress, on the other hand, are thin-walled casts composed of a brass alloy and were cast using the replicative indirect method.[9] Although these differences in material and casting technique are not enough evidence to change an attribution, they do challenge it. Riccio’s magnificent bronze satyrs on the Paschal Candelabrum (p. 00, fig. 13c) and his independent statuettes of Drinking Satyrs helped to popularize this subject in the Veneto.[10] His followers as well as numerous anonymous emulators produced ubiquitous, varied interpretations of satyr statuettes in the decades following the master’s death. This sixteenth-century context invites the questioning of attributions to Riccio made during the early twentieth century, when admiration for his work was at its height. Today, it is easier to discern that the formal characteristics of the Satyr and Satyress are unlike any other bronze statuettes bearing credible attributions to Riccio. The pairs’ projecting curling horns, heavy brows, and pointed features are, instead, formally similar to works currently assigned to Riccio’s follower Desiderio da Firenze.[11] Moreover, the carefully hammered surface so characteristic of Riccio’s bronzes is absent on the arms of the Satyress, which have been crudely filed to a smooth finish. The completely flat, disturbingly unarticulated back of her lyre presents a strange lapsus in a sculpture that was intended to be seen fully in the round. This figure also suffered extensive damage and repairs to the legs, and the identification and dating of these reconstructed elements await further study.

Independent bronze statuettes designed to be companion or pendant compositions are rare during the first half of the sixteenth century. In the later 1500s, separate bronze figures most often appear as pairs on functional objects such as firedogs (see cats. 79–81), or are incorporated into grand decorative ensembles such as Willem van Tetrode’s Pitigliano Cabinet of the 1570s.[12] The Satyr and Satyress conform to neither of these late Renaissance conventions. Although they might have been made as embellishments to a type of furnishing, such as a small wood cabinet or chair, their present character as independent statuettes is likely a nineteenth-century phenomenon. During this period of intense collecting interest, Renaissance bronze figures often were detached from functional objects and sold as independent sculptures by dealers eager to supply the demands of the market (see cat. 42).

(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. On satyrs in the Renaissance, see McStay 2014, pp. 323–37, with earlier references.
2. For the popularity of bronze satyr statuettes in the Renaissance, see Malgouyres 2020, pp. 213–30.
3. See the foundational article, Rubinstein 1976; see also Syson and Thornton 2001, pp. 96–100.
4. On the distinction between high and low classical musical instruments, see Rubinstein 1976, pp. 136, 140–41; on the interpretation of classical instruments in the early modern period, see Ghirardini 2008, pp. 174–82.
5. For the fundamental importance of Bode’s contribution to the development of the study of Italian Renaissance bronzes and to the formation and display of the Berlin state museum’s collections, see Krahn 2013.
6. For a discussion of Riccio’s preferred method of direct casting to produce a unique bronze example and his characteristic habit of hammering the finished bronze in the metal to create flickering light effects, see Motture 2008; see also Motture 2019, pp. 34–39, 167–71.
7. Louvre, OA 9101.
8. Workshop of Andrea Riccio, Satyr with Syrinx, Museo Correr, Venice: Beck and Bol 1985, pp. 462–63, cat. 165; Workshop of Andrea Riccio, Satyr, sold Sotheby’s, New York, January 12, 1993, present location unknown.
9. Evidence of transfixing core pins and a plaster core also distinguishes these bronzes from Riccio’s typical facture. R. Stone/TR, January 17, 2021. For Riccio’s casting technique, see Motture 2008; Stone 2008.
10. For the Paschal Candelabrum, see Banzato 2008b, pp. 52, 55. For Riccio’s Drinking Satyrs, see Kunsthistorisches Museum, KK 5539 (Claudia Kryza-Gersch in Allen 2008a, pp. 158–63, cat. 10); Musei Civici, Padua, 197, and the Louvre, TH 89 (ibid., pp. 164–73, cats. 11, 12).
11. For Desiderio da Firenze, see Warren 2001a. For an outstanding example of the satyr type currently associated with Desiderio da Firenze, see the satyr with pipes surmounting a bronze perfume burner, ca. 1540–50, Ashmolean, WA2004.1 (Warren 2014, pp. 196–206, no. 50).
12. See Binnebeke 2003.

Satyress with vase (one of a pair), Andrea Briosco, called Riccio (Italian, Trent 1470–1532 Padua), Bronze, Italian, Padua

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