Saint Pius V

Possibly after a model by Angelo de Rossi Italian

Not on view

The refined bust, in high relief, depicts Antonio Ghislieri, the Dominican cardinal and Grand Inquisitor elected pope in 1566 as Pius V. During his short reign, Ghislieri was a zealous reformer. Soon after his death in 1572, he began to be invoked as a saint, and a series of paintings, medals, and engravings reproduced his ascetic features. In 1588, his body was transferred to a monumental tomb in the Sistine Chapel in Santa Maria Maggiore. Sixtus V commissioned the tomb and launched the campaign for his canonization. The head of the Dominicans, Antonin Cloche, actively promoted his cult. From beatification in 1672 to canonization in 1712, the Grand Inquisitor was celebrated in a number of artworks: in 1692, Francesco Nuvolone’s lifesize bronze statue sent to the Ghislieri Collegium in Pavia; in 1697–98, Pierre Le Gros’s gilt-bronze relief of the pontiff on his deathbed (which embellishes the green marble sarcophagus that holds his remains); in 1701, a marble statue carved by Francesco Melone for the monumental staircase in Pavia; and in 1712, several paintings commemorating episodes in his life, among them a work commissioned by Cloche from Benedetto Luti as a gift to Clement XI.[1]

The Met’s effigy was probably created during this forty-year span. The bony, elderly face and long sharp nose are customary in Pius V’s portraiture. He wears the typical papal vestments—a mozzetta, an elaborately embroidered floral stole, and a camauro. During the bust’s early years in the collection, it was assigned to Camillo Rusconi, whose role in supplying models to be cast in metal has recently been elucidated,[2] but it lacks the energetic modeling, incisive rendering of facial features, and deeply undercut folds that typify his figures. On the other hand, in its masterful ebb and flow of forms, it invites comparison with later Baroque Roman works, especially the glittering bronzes for the altar of Saint Ignatius in the church of the Gesù (1692–95). In fact, in a letter of 1972, James David Draper noted the technical and compositional correspondence between our portrait and Angelo de’ Rossi’s gilt-bronze relief Saint Ignatius Exorcising a Man Possessed, made for that altar.[3] This promising lead was set aside at the time of acquisition but merits reconsideration.

In the early 1690s, after apprenticing with Filippo Parodi in Genoa and the Veneto, de’ Rossi settled in Rome, where he soon became an accomplished sculptor, particularly adept in relief. Following his work on the altar of Saint Ignatius, he became a protégé of the cultivated Cardinal Pietro Ottoboni, a key figure in early settecento Rome, who entrusted de’ Rossi with the tomb of Pope Alexander VIII in Saint Peter’s, following the architectural design of Count Enrico di San Martino. De’ Rossi did not complete the project before his death in 1715, although he had fashioned the model of the seated pontiff’s statue to be cast by Giuseppe Bertosi, and carved and signed the Canonization of Five Saints (fig. 161a), a marble relief for the tomb that enjoyed immediate success.[4] De’ Rossi’s technical acumen is here on full display. The striking gallery of human types paraded before the viewer are individually characterized.[5] From every approach, the faces appear to have a completely different perspective, with undulating effects emphasized by the passages of light. Comparisons between the Vatican marble slab and our bronze are compelling, especially in the treatment of the broad forehead, the fine line of the eyebrows, and the manner in which the eyes intersect the nose, creating small pockets of shadow. The execution of details such as the fur trim and floral embroidery is equally deft.

The overwrought folds in Pius V’s garments differ slightly from de’ Rossi’s generally longer, sharper folds, but the reason may reside in the bust’s peculiar shape. The way in which the creased stole masks rather than reveals the figure’s anatomy is a feature of de’ Rossi’s style. The severe iconography of the Grand Inquisitor is softened by the beard’s almost liquid rivulets and the slightly parted lips. His countenance is serene, even benign. The play of curly volutes in the socle, typical of early eighteenth-century Roman ornament, recalls the papal throne in the Canonization. De’ Rossi worked closely with goldsmiths and supplied models to expert silversmiths such as Giovanni Giardini. Indeed, the refined chasing of the bust suggests the collaboration of a goldsmith.

While the function and original location of the bust remain a mystery, a staple cast into the back indicates that it was suspended. We can imagine it against a colored marble background, possibly in a Roman chapel, but it might also be asked whether the work was made for Liguria, a region where Pius V was especially venerated, having started there as a priest.

(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. See the drawing for Luti’s work, MMA, 69.169.
2. Montagu 2006 and 2007.
3. Letter to Olga Raggio, May 1972, ESDA/OF.
4. Enggass 1976, p. 165; Franz-Duhme 1986, pp. 201–3, no. 8; Olszewski 2004, pp. 106–11.
5. The youth at the far right, on whose garment de’ Rossi inscribed his name, has been identified as a self-portrait.

Saint Pius V, Possibly after a model by Angelo de Rossi (Italian, 1671–1715), Bronze, fire-gilt, Italian, Rome

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