European Galleries, second floor
From the Sculptor's Studio: Italian Baroque Terracottas from The Hermitage features 35 sculptural models from the Farsetti collection, including works by the pre-eminent Giovanni Lorenzo Bernini and Alessandro Algardi, each born 400 years ago this year, and by a dozen other seventeenth-century Roman artists. Formed in the mid-eighteenth century, the Farsetti collection, one of the finest of this rare material, has been exhibited previously only in Venice and Rome. This is a working study for the figure of the executioner in the Beheading of St. Paul, a two-figure marble group on the high altar of the church of S. Paolo Maggiore in Bologna. (The final figure is H. 282cm) In this study from early in the creative process, Algardi has achieved many features of the pose of his figure, but the exact position of the raised right shoulder and the way it effects the legibility of the executioner's expression is still an issue. A factor complicating the determination of the final form of the marble group was its placement above eye level and behind an altar. The clay between the executioner's legs is unarticulated in the Hermitage terracotta. In the final group this shape became a sizable fall of drapery that helps to support the weight of the upright marble figure. Typical of Algardi's studies in the planning stage is the figure's lithe build and dance-like pose. In the completed marble, the executioner is more muscular in increased contrast to the submissive older figure of St. Paul kneeling at his feet. The terracotta is related to the marble group above the altar in the Cornaro family chapel in the church of S. Maria della Vittoria in Rome. The marble was executed in 1644-47. Few studies, drawn or modeled in clay, survive to chart Bernini's development of one of his greatest works, the group of St. Teresa's ecstasy, a visual realization inspired by the saint's graphic written description of her heart being pierced by an arrow that filled her with the love of God. Thought by some scholars to be a copy after the group, this terracotta has been reevaluated by other writers who see it as an advanced preparatory model in which many aspects of the complicated composition have been determined. In completing the marble, Bernini attended more to the facial expression of the saint making it the riveting focus of the dramatic sculpture. This model and four others in the exhibition relate to the sculptural decoration of the bridge leading to the Castel Sant'Angelo in Rome. For this commission Bernini directed a group of assistants to create a dozen statues comprising figures of Saints Peter and Paul and ten angels, each holding an object associated with the passion of Christ. When the decision was made to remove Bernini's own statue of this angel from the series to decorate the Ponte Sant'Angelo, the sculptor involved his young assistant Giulio Cartari in creating a replacement. However, 17th-century sources relate that Bernini was involved in realizing the second statue, too. This study belongs to Bernini's process of revising his own earlier composition for the second version that is still to be seen on the bridge. Here Bernini experiments with making the angel's garment simpler and bolder. It is a splendid sketch in which we see Bernini's unrivaled assurance and can sense something of the speed at which he could work as a modeler in clay. This study of a lion was made to prepare a detail of the large marble relief of the Martyrdom of St. Eustace in the church of Sant'Agnese in Agone in Rome. A model in the Palazzo Venezia in Rome, from 1659-60, shows Caffà dealing with the whole composition of the relief. Here the lion is detached from the necessary background plane, to allow Caffà to explore the animal's pose before integrating it into the unusual concave shape of the relief. Caffà completed the composition of the relief, but, after his untimely death, the carving was carried out by Ercole Ferrata and Giovanni Francesco Rossi.
This exhibition was organized by The Art Institute of Chicago and The State Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg, with the participation of the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
The exhibition catalogue, From the Sculptor's Hand, Italian Baroque Terracottas from the State Hermitage Museum (published by the Art Institute of Chicago) includes entries on each terracotta, color reproductions, and comparative illustrations, and essays by scholars on the history of the collection, the collecting of Italian sculptural models, and the role of terracottas in sculptural practice.
The exhibition is supported by The Pew Charitable Trusts, the Areté Foundation, and the Malcolm Hewitt Wiener Foundation, Inc.
Dean Walker • Henry P. McIlhenny Senior Curator of European Decorative Arts and Sculpture