Paolo Giordano II Orsini, Duke of Bracciano

Probably cast by Johann Jakob Kornmann (called Cormano)

On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 542

The duke sports a finely silvered cuirass all’antica decorated with the head of Medusa, emblem of leadership. Expertly cast in one piece, the bronze appears to have retained the original rich black patina on the face and rather bovine neck. The armor was attentively chased. The choice of the alloy would appear to be deliberately coloristic, as the sleeves, collar, and Medusa’s head were left the rich coppery color of the underlying metal. Traces of gold paint in these areas are not original.[1] Particularly striking is the treatment of the ringlets on the crown of the head and the forelock combed in a fashionable style of the early Baroque. The cuirass is pounced, simulating perforated armor and revealing the chest’s anatomy.

Paolo Giordano II Orsini, duke of Bracciano (1596–1656), was a flamboyant character on the Roman cultural scene. His correspondents included Queen Christina of Sweden. He hosted Gian Lorenzo Bernini at his palazzo and frequently visited the sculptor’s atelier. In one of his best-known satires, Orsini refers to the caricatures of his guests that he drew in Bernini’s company.[2] Throughout his life, the duke commissioned a great number of likenesses of himself in different mediums and sizes.

The Met’s miniature bust surfaced on the art market in the 1960s. Based on documents of 1623–24 in the Orsini archive, Rudolf Wittkower identified it as that cast by the founder Sebastiano Sebastiani after Bernini’s wax model of Orsini’s head.[3] Two other versions of the miniature are known: in the Plymouth City Museum and Art Gallery and another auctioned in 1979 and now in the Weil collection in St. Louis.[4] They share with the Linsky portrait the same dimensions and classicizing corselet with deep-cut imbricated patterns, but are later casts of lesser quality. Anthony Radcliffe published both in 1978–79 and assigned them to Bernardino Danese, a founder who collaborated with Bernini in 1675.[5] In 1984, after the Linsky bust entered The Met, James David Draper dismissed the Bernini/Sebastiani/Danese attributions, assigning the three small bronzes to the goldsmith and medalist Johann Jakob Kornmann (italianized Cormano), who had made several medals of Orsini’s profile.[6] Draper cited unpublished research by Gisela Rubsamen, who argued that the Bernini/Sebastiani bronze described in the 1623–24 documents must have been a “massive work,” given the 1,050 Roman libbre paid to founder Giacomo Laurenziani to make a second cast in 1624. She also discovered a seventeenth-century engraving of the small bronze that bears an inscription identifying Kornmann as the artist.[7] Recent scholarly attempts to restore a direct correspondence between the three miniatures and the Sebastiani/Laurenziani casts after Bernini’s model are unpersuasive.[8] They overlook the technical specifications clearly stated in the documents, the insightful analyses by Draper and Rubsamen, Bernini’s workshop practices, and the disparate quality of the small busts themselves.

Sifting through the known documents, it is clear that they refer to casts after a different, larger model, all now lost.[9] Bernini worked on a lifesize wax model of the head of Paolo Giordano II in June 1623, and Sebastiani received a single down payment (in conto) for a bronze cast of it. In May 1624, Bernini received final payment for the model and, in August 1624, Laurenziani was paid to cast what had to be a monumental bronze. The change of founder working with Bernini does not relate to a supposed second version of the bust, but is explained by Sebastiani’s death in 1624. This intricate history is further complicated by two lifesize marble busts (Galleria Doria Pamphilj, Rome, and Castello Orsini-Odescalchi, Bracciano) that are based on Bernini’s design but were carved by an unknown master.[10]

In terms of iconography, material, and size, the Orsini effigies are exceptional in the context of Bernini’s production of portrait busts. Still, as Tomaso Montanari observed, this does not preclude the possibility of a Bernini portrait that may not have progressed beyond the model stage but inspired a series of small-scale bronzes and versions in marble.[11] Rubsamen points to a letter of 1632 in which the duke confirms that Bernini was at that time occupied with two statues of him, one in marble and the other in porphyry. The Linsky bronze may have been created at that time and cast by Kornmann shortly afterward. Or perhaps Orsini commissioned it as a form of ekphrasis, which captures the paradox of greatness in miniature. We can agree that Bernini was not directly involved in the making of the small-scale bronze, but he was likely aware of Kornmann’s masterful portrait after his own larger model.

(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. The alloy is a leaded copper with only a minor amount of tin and trace impurities. The silvering on the cuirass was applied by flowing silver solder (composed of silver, copper, and zinc) onto the surface and chasing with a matting punch to create a convincing texture and disguise inconsistencies in the solder layer. There is evidence of a wax-to-wax join at the shoulder and remnants of an iron pin in the proper right shoulder. The broken stump of an integrally cast screw at the bottom shows that the bust originally had an accompanying base. R. Stone/TR, March 8, 2011.
2. Orsini 1648, p. 65.
3. For the documents, see Haskell 1980, pp. 96–97, 388.
4. Sotheby’s, London, July 12, 1979, lot 184; Mann and Wyckoff 2017, p. TK.
5. Radcliffe 1978; London 1979, pp. 31–32, cat. 1.
6. See Pollard 1973.
7. Gisela Rubsamen, “Bernini and the Orsini Portrait Busts,” in Abstracts of Papers Delivered in Art History Sessions, Sixty-third Annual Meeting of the College Art Association of America, Washington, D.C., January 22–25, 1975.
8. See Petrucci in Bernardini and Fagiolo dell’Arco 1999, pp. 334–35, cat. 50; Benocci 2006, pp. 57–69. See also Desmas 2017, p. 98, and Amendola 2019, p. 250, who have ruled out a connection between a large-scale model by Bernini and the miniature busts. 9. Amendola 2017, pp. 129–32, 170–71, docs. 14–17.
10. Montanari 1998, pp. 345–46; Montanari 2015, pp. 428, 430.
11. Montanari 2015, p. 428. An Orsini inventory of 1656 records two metal busts of the duke, valued at 25 and 15 scudi, which suggests a small size; see Rubsamen 1980, pp. 11 (no. 123), 13 (no. 151).

Paolo Giordano II Orsini, Duke of Bracciano, Probably cast by Johann Jakob Kornmann (called Cormano) (born Augsburg 1620, active Rome, died after 1672), Bronze, partially silvered, Italian, Rome

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