Saint Daniel of Padua dragged by a horse before the Roman governor of Padua
Francesco Bertos Italian
After a composition by Tiziano Aspetti Italian
Not on view
Olga Raggio attempted to demonstrate that these reliefs are Tiziano Aspetti’s originals, and that the pair originally embedded in the altar-tomb of Saint Daniel, Padua Cathedral, and now in the Museo Diocesano, are modern replacements. She could not, however, explain why or when the substitution had taken place, and her claim was rejected when the Padua reliefs were exhibited in London in 1983. Bruce Boucher assumed then that both pairs were made in the sixteenth century—the Padua set is datable to 1592–93. Charles Avery proposed Francesco Bertos as the author of The Met duo, citing the drilled eyes and arbitrary veining characteristic of his work (see cat. 168).Moreover, our plaques almost certainly had been owned by one of Bertos’s best patrons, Dondi dell’Orologio, being catalogued as situated under the staircase of his house in Padua.
Andrea Bacchi has recently dashed the Bertos idea, proving that the founder signing himself M.A.V. was Michelangelo Venier, also called Michelangelo Chieregin. That little-known master’s noses are noticeably less retroussé than Bertos’s, and the tenaciously neo-cinquecentesque costumes find ready equivalents in Venier’s four Virtues found by Bacchi in a private collection; the socle of Faith is signed “Michiel Agnolo Venier.”
These grisly episodes from the martyrdom of Daniel, a young deacon and patron saint of Padua, are perfect instances of the Counter-Reformation’s interest in excruciatingly literal reenactments of the tribulations of Early Christian martyrs. Why the subjects would continue to appeal to later collectors, especially those of the eighteenth century, apart from Aspetti’s artistry in the originals, is a mystery. Perhaps simply because they were representations of a Paduan, by a Paduan, for a Paduan? Equally, they form part of the revival of earlier masters that was particular to academic art in the Veneto of the mid-eighteenth century.
The Met’s reliefs, weighty at 51 and 47 pounds, are marginally larger than the Padua pair and so are not surmoulages. Their edges are untrimmed, meaning that they cannot have been made for insertion into a stone architectural setting such as that of Saint Daniel’s tomb. Venier conceivably had access to Aspetti’s preliminary models, but certain picturesque touches are his own: punchwork, stippling, and brick walls instead of Aspetti’s solid masonry. He replaced the round holes at the corners of Aspetti’s reliefs with square ones.
(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. Compare the arms of the kneeling executioner at the center of our plaque B with C. Avery 2008, figs. 72, 73.
2. Levi 1900, vol. 2, p. 220: in an inventory of January 2, 1750, among “cose di Galeazzo Dondi Orologio in Padova,” were “2 Bronzes, Martydom of S. Daniele bas-relief.” See C. Avery 2008, pp. 247–48, for papers among which is an appraisal of the same date, occasioned by a struggle among legitimate family members over the inheritance of the apparently illegitimate Giovanni Antonio Galeazzo, that locates the reliefs, valued together at 200 lire, “below the stairs.” This palace was in via Battisti.
3. Bacchi 2017, p. 219.
4. Ibid., figs. 5–13.
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