After a model by Giambologna Netherlandish

Not on view

The statuette of Mercury entered The Met in 1974 as part of the bequest of Irwin Untermyer, who had acquired it from Michael Hall Fine Arts in 1969 for the considerable sum of $7,875. The price was justified by the fact that, at the time of sale, the bronze was attributed to the Flemish sculptor Adriaen de Vries.[1] This attribution acknowledged a dependence on Giambologna’s prototype, faithfully cited in the overall composition though altered in certain idiosyncratic elements, for example the chubby face on which the youthful deity is poised. The attribution to de Vries, which situated the bronze in the second half of the sixteenth century and in the Italian apprenticeship of a foreign artist, accounted for its “up-to-date” but nonetheless eccentric character with a proclivity for extravagant license compared to the Florentine canon of the time.

Museum curators seem to very soon have had second thoughts, for in the years following its acquisition, the Mercury was not included in publications or exhibitions that showcased works after Giambologna no less serial—for instance, the Abduction of a Sabine and the Astronomy (cats. 129, 126). The Mercury is a miniature version of Giambologna exemplars with illustrious provenances in the Kunsthistorisches Museum (perhaps made for Maximilian II around 1564–65); the Capodimonte (sent to Ottavio Farnese in 1575–78); and the Grünes Gewölbe, Dresden (sent to Christian I in 1587).[2] Our statuette shares their arabesque pose, slim anatomy, and details such as the convex brim of the helmet. Its distinguishing feature is the “sculpted” base, which is in fact a misreading of the support element that appears on Giambologna’s own variant of his invention, a Mercury mounted as a fountain figure and installed in the gardens of the Villa Medici in Rome in 1580 (today in the Bargello).[3] The child’s head at the base of this sculpture represents a wind god, probably Zephyr (and was understood as such at the time per the villa’s 1588 inventory). With its wide-open mouth and puffed-out cheeks, it blows a stream of air—rendered in stylized ascending shafts—that propel the upward movement of the celestial messenger. This narrative function is completely abolished in our Mercury: absent the column of air, the base is reduced to a decorative grotesquerie.[4] Add to this the clumsily incised racemes on the helmet, another incongruity that sets our bronze outside the copious sequence of replicas and derivations that can be traced to the direct involvement of Giambologna’s workshop.

These and similar oddities associated with an inferior casting suggest a later date for the Untermeyer Mercury, which can be read as a pastiche of various Giambolognesque inspirations.[5] A bronze that shares this composite peculiarity is in the Fondation Bemberg, but cannot be assigned to the same hand.[6]

(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. Invoice on Michael Hall Fine Arts letterhead, February 26, 1969, ESDA/OF.
2. KHM, KK 5898; Capodimonte, AM 10748; Grünes Gewölbe, N. IX 94; see Paolozzi Strozzi and Zikos 2006, pp. 259, cat. 53 (Antje Scherner), 261–63, cat. 54 (Manfred Leithe-Jasper), 264–65, cat. 55 (Fernanda Capobianco).
3. Ibid., pp. 268–69, cat. 57 (Maria Grazia Vaccari).
4. The column of air does appear on other copies; see Louvre, MR 3271.
5. Radiographs reveal that the core was supported on an internal armature of wires that extend from the largely hollow legs into the open chest and head and across the chest into the solid arms, a technical feature that differs from typical Florentine practice. R. Stone/TR, 2011.
6. Cros 1996, pp. 109–11.

Mercury, After a model by Giambologna (Netherlandish, Douai 1529–1608 Florence), Bronze, Italian

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