19 juin 2018

Giambologna (1529-1608) Italian, The Dresden Mars, Florence, before 1587










Lot 5. Giambologna (1529-1608) Italian, The Dresden Mars, Florence, before 1587, inscribed with the 1726 inventory number: 176 in white to the proper left calf; bronze, on an ebonised wood base; bronze: 39.3cm., 15 1/8 in., the ebonised wood base: 8.5cm., 3 3/8 in. Estimate 3,000,000 — 5,000,000 GBP. Courtesy Sotheby's

ProvenancePersonal gift from the artist to Christian I, Elector of Saxony (first mentioned in the inventory of the Dresden Kunstkammer, inv. Fol. 66r, in 1587);
Listed in the Dresden Kunstkammer inventory in 1726, no. 176;
Nationalized from the Royal House of Saxony in 1919;
Skulptursammlung, Staatliche Kunstsammlung, Dresden, until 1924;
Restituted by the Freistaat Sachsen to the Verein Haus Wettin Albertinische Linie e.V 1924;
Consigned on behalf of the Verein Haus Wettin to Galerie Altkunst GmbH, Berlin;
Acquired from the above August 25, 1927 for a corporate collection, presented to an outgoing board member on his retirement in 1943;
thence by inheritance until gifted to Bayer AG in 1988.

ExhibitedEdinburgh, Royal Scottish Museum; London, Victoria and Albert Museum; Vienna, Kunsthistorisches Museum, Giambologna 1529-1608: Sculptor to the Medici, 1978, no. 43;
Berlin, Altes Museum, Von allen Seiten schön. Bronzen der Renaissance und des Barock, 1995, no. 114;
Florence, Museo Nazionale del Bargello, Giambologna: gli dei, gli eroi. Genesi e fortuna di uno stile europeo nella scultura, 2006, no. 24;
Vienna, Kunsthistorisches Museum, Giambologna. Triumph des Körpers, 2006, no. 11;
Dresden, Grünes Gewölbe im Dresdner Residenzschloss, Giambologna in Dresden. Die Geschenke der Medici, 2006.

LiteratureA. Desjardins, La vie et oeuvre de Jean Boulogne, Paris, 1883, pp. 172-174;
W. Holzhausen, 'Die Bronzen der Kurfürstlich-Sächsischen Kunstkammer zu Dresden', in Jahrbuch der Königlich-Preußischen Kunstsammlungen, 54, 1933, pp. 54-62; 
E. Dhanens, Jean Boulogne. Giovanni Bologna Fiammingo, Douai 1529-Florence 1608. Bijdrage tot de studie van kunstbetrekkingen tussen net het Graafschap Vlaanderen Italië, Brussels, 1956, p. 198; 
C. Avery & A. Radcliffe (eds.), Giambologna 1529-1608: Sculptor to the Medici, exh. cat., Royal Scottish Museum, Edinburgh; V&A, London; Kunsthistorisches Museum Vienna, 1978, p. 96, no. 43; 
M. Leithe-Jasper, 'Bronze statuettes by Giambologna in the Imperial and other early collections', in C. Avery & A. Radcliffe (eds.), Giambologna 1529-1608: Sculptor to the Medici, exh. cat., Royal Scottish Museum, Edinburgh; V&A, London; Kunsthistorisches Museum Vienna, 1978, pp. 51-60; 
M. Raumschüssel, 'The Collection of Bronzes', in The Splendor of Dresden: Five Centuries of Art Collecting. An Exhibition from the State Art Collections of Dresden, German Democratic Republic, exh. cat. Washington, National Gallery of Art; New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art; San Francisco, The Fine Arts Museums, 1978-1979, pp. 197-198; 
C. Avery, Giambologna. The Complete Sculpture, Oxford, 1987, pp. 137, 261, no. 69;
V. Krahn (ed.), Von allen Seiten schön. Bronzen der Renaissance und des Barock, Altes Museum, Berlin, 1995, pp. 114-115, 368-369, no. 114; 
B. Marx, ‘Künstlermigration und Kulturkonsum. Die Florentiner Kulturpolitik im 16. Jahrhundert und die Formierung Dresdens als Elbflorenz’, in Deutschland und Italien in ihren wechselseitigen Beziehungen während der Renaissance, Wiesbaden, 2000, pp. 211-297;
B. Marx, ‘Italianità und frühneuzeitliche Hofkultur: Dresden im Kontext’ in Elbflorenz. Italienische Präsenz in Dresden 16-19. Jahrhundert, Dresden, c. 2000, pp. 7-36 (mentioned on p. 21);
D. Dombrowski, ‘Dresden-Prag: Italienische Achsen in der zwischenhöfischen Kommunikation’ in Elbflorenz. Italienische Präsenz in Dresden 16-19. Jahrhundert, Dresden, c. 2000, pp. 65-99 (mentioned p. 74, pl. II); 
D. Syndram and Antje Scherner (eds.), Princely Splendor. The Dresden Court 1580-1620, exh. cat., Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe, Hamburg and The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 2004, pp. 268-270; 
M. Leithe-Jasper and P. Wengraf, European Bronzes from the Quentin Collection, exh. cat., The Frick Collection, New York, 2004, pp. 120, 125, 127, 130, 131 n.4, figs. 2, 5; 
B. Paolozzi Strozzi and D. Zikos (eds.), Giambologna: gli dei, gli eroi. Genesi e fortuna di uno stile europeo nella scultura, exh. cat., Museo Nazionale del Bargello, Florence, 2006, pp. 209-213, no. 24; 
W. Seipel (ed.), Giambologna. Triumph des Körpers, exh. cat. Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna, 2006, pp. 218-221, no. 11; 
D. Syndram, M. Woelk & M. Minning (eds.), Giambologna in Dresden. Die Geschenke der Medici, exh. cat. Grünes Gewölbe im Dresdner Residenzschloss, Dresden, 2006, pp. 35-41; 
D. Zikos, 'Die Dresdner Giambolognas. Apologie ihrer Eigenhändigkeit’ in D. Syndram, M. Woelk & M. Minning (eds.), Giambologna in Dresden. Die Geschenke der Medici, exh. cat., Grünes Gewölbe im Dresdner Residenzschloss, Dresden, 2006, pp. 89-94;
B. Marx, ‘Vom Künstlerhaus zur Kunstakademie. Giovanni Maria Nossenis Erbe in Dresden’, in Sammeln als Institution. Von der fürstlichen Wunderkammer zum Mäzenatentum des Staates, Munich and Berlin, 2006, pp. 61-92 (mentioned on pp. 66-67); 
P. Wengraf, Renaissance & Baroque Bronzes from the Hill collection, London, 2014, pp. 164-166; 
B. Marx, ‘Die Kunstkammer als Museum’, in Sehen und Staunen. Die Dresdner Kunstkammer von 1640, Berlin, 2014, pp. 59-116 (mentioned on p. 60 and p. 686, no. 3064).


By Dimitrios Zikos

The Dresden Mars was a personal homage by Giambologna (c. 1529-1608) to the Elector of Saxony and Erzmarschall of the Holy Roman Empire Christian I (1560-1591, r. 1586) (fig. 1). This is the only small bronze the sculptor is known to have presented to a prince. First documented in 1587 in the first inventory of the Dresden Kunstkammer together with three more Giambologna bronzes that had reached Saxony in the same year as part of a larger gift by the Grand Duke of Tuscany, Francesco de' Medici (1541-1587, r. 1574) (fig. 2), to the Elector, the Mars belongs to the small group of Giambologna's earliest bronze statuettes and is the oldest documented cast of this particular model and the only one documented during the artist’s life.



fig. 1. Andreas Riehl, Kurfürst Christian I. von Sachsen, 1590, bpk | Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden | Elke Estel | Hans-Peter Klut.


fig. 2. Alessandro Allori, Francesco I de’ Medicicirca 1570-75 © Museum Mayer van den Bergh inv. No. 0199.

The inventory, which was completed by the end of June 1587,[1] describes the bronze as: '1 image of Mars, cast in brass, sent by Giovanni Bologna to His Electoral Grace'('1 Mößingk gegoßen bildtnus Martis. Hat Johan Pollonia seiner churfürstlichen gnaden zugeschickt')[2].

'Zugeschickt' means 'sent' but proof that the Mars was a personal homage is provided by another document from the same year: a payment by the Elector to the goldsmith Urban Schneeweiß who, on 16 September 1587, received a little more than 164 Reichsthaler for a golden chain (fig. 3).


Hendrick Goltzius, Giambologna (wearing the gold chain gifted to him by Christian I), 1591, Teylers Museum Haarlem, The Netherlands. 

The comment to this payment reads: 'Giambologna, a sculptor in Florence, was presented with this chain because of the beautiful and artful image he had consigned to his Electoral Grace through Carlo Theti and this chain was presented by the said Theti when he travelled to Italy on another occasion.'

('Damit ist Johan Belegina [sic] ein Bilthauer zu Florentz, wegenn eines schönen Kunstreichenn Biltnus so Seine Churfürstlichen Gnaden er durch Carll Thetti vberantwortten lassen, beschencktt vnnd durch ermeltten Thetti, als er sonstenn in Italienn vorreiset Zubracht worden').[3]

The concept that no price was sufficient for a great work of art and therefore a great artist could give his works away at his discretion, was a topos based on the story of the ancient painter Zeuxis who presented two of his works because he claimed that no payment could ever match their immense value. The story was recounted by Pliny the Younger and repeated by Alberti and Vasari in the Renaissance, and was thus familiar enough that many important artists of the Cinquecento - Dürer, Holbein, Raphael, Titian - followed the example of Zeuxis. It was a way of demonstrating that art was more than a commodity and that the artist had a standing that allowed direct interaction with princes and reciprocal generosity. Many an artist's gift was, of course, made to obtain favour from a prince but this does not seem to have been the case with Giambologna's Mars. Indeed, the artist is known to have accepted what he was given for his work thus avoiding the need to set a price.[4]

This is best demonstrated by the circumstances described in a 1580 letter by Simone Fortuna, ambassador of the Duke of Urbino to the Tuscan court, to his master who was toying with the idea of commissioning sculptures from Giambologna. Fortuna says that Giambologna had been given precious fabric worth 50 scudi for a small bronze group of Nessus and Deianira, and a chain valued 60 scudi for another cast of the same model.[5] The fortunate owners of the two casts of Nessus and Deianira were not princes but two of the sculptor's very close friends, Niccolò Gaddi and Jacopo Salviati. It is also significant to note that Giambologna had opted to serve the Medici exclusively and thus would have presented his Marsto the Elector (whom he never met) expecting nothing in return beyond an appreciation for his art, and the hope that his already great international fame might spread.

The precise circumstances of this personal gift will perhaps never be known, but it was connected to a larger diplomatic gift from the Medici Grand Duke. One of the most important gestures of its kind, the Medici gift of 1587 comprised horses, Turkish weapons, and the three other Giambologna bronzes which also appear in the 1587 Kunstkammer inventory and are still in Dresden: a Nessus and Deianira (fig. 6)of the same type as the Gaddi and Salviati casts, a Mercury (fig. 4), and a Sleeping Nymph with a Satyr (fig. 5).[6] This lavish gift was in large part prompted by the Elector's wish to acquire thoroughbred horses in Italy for the new stables he began constructing in the summer of 1586.[7] A legation led by Heinrich von Hagen and Carlo Theti, both in the Elector’s service, left Dresden for Italy with this task in October 1586.[8] Instead of buying horses, the ambassadors received horses as gifts from the Duke of Savoy, the Grand Duke of Tuscany, the Duke of Mantua, and the Duke of Ferrara.[9] Arms were added by the Duke of Savoy and the Grand Duke of Tuscany, destined for the Dresden Ruestkammer.[10] Finally, besides the bronzes presented by Francesco de’ Medici, the Duke of Mantua, Guglielmo Gonzaga, also gave the ambassadors a bronze: an equestrian statuette of Marcus Aurelius by Filarete, which is still preserved in Dresden.[11]


fig. 4. Giambologna, Mercury, before 1587, bpk | Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden | Jürgen Karpinski


fig. 5. Giambologna, Sleeping Nymph with Satyr, before 1587, bpk | Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden | Jürgen Karpinski.

Leading up to the gift of 1587 were years of diplomatic exchange between the two courts, which although of different faiths, shared many interests, underpinned by a common loyalty to the Emperor. These interests centred on mining and had led Francesco de' Medici's father Cosimo I to approach Christian's father Elector August thirty years earlier.[12] In exchange for Saxon know-how in mining, Count Rocco di Linar - a Tuscan architect close to Cosimo I who had ennobled him - was appointed architect to the Saxon court in 1569. Rocco di Linar travelled to Italy in 1572 on behalf of the Elector and returned with a request from the Medici court for masters in artillery. A first Medici gift, of 12 Reitesel, or riding donkeys, took place the same year, and it is interesting that this was presented by Francesco de' Medici who was then regent. After coming to the throne two years later, Francesco (who was married to a Habsburg princess, Joanna of Austria, sister of Emperor Maximilian II) intensified relations with the Saxon Court and was rewarded with Elector August's support in a renewed appeal to the Emperor for confirmation of the Grand Ducal title that had been bestowed on Cosimo I by the pope.

Through Francesco's gentiluomo Hans Albrecht von Sprinzenstein (who had brought the twelve donkeys to Dresden in 1572), the Italian artist Giovan Francesco Nosseni (1544-1620) was hired by the Saxon court in 1575. It is thanks to Nosseni who remained in Saxony until his death, that the modern Italian style - especially Florentine - was introduced to Dresden where it flourished under the short reign of Christian I.[13] Just two years later, in 1577, Dresden was dubbed 'another Florence' (altera Florentia) and is today still known as Elbflorenz, or 'Florence on the Elbe'. In short, Tuscany offered art and artists in exchange for technical know-how and political support. The exceptional donation of bronzes by Francesco de' Medici’s court-sculptor marks the high point in these relations and contributed to the continued appreciation of Italian art by Christian I and his successors.

A key figure in the relations between Francesco de’ Medici and Christian I was the Neapolitan architect Carlo Theti (1529-1589) - the intermediary between Giambologna and Christian I.[14] Hired in 1584 to teach Prince Christian, Theti had worked both for the Emperor and the Medici. After Christian was invited by his father to help him rule the country, Theti was sent to Florence in 1585 to inform the Grand Duke.[15] Francesco's response was to write to both August and Christian asking them what gifts he could offer them.[16] This question may already have prompted a request for Giambologna bronzes from Dresden.[17] It is commonly assumed that Giambologna’s Mars was dispatched to Dresden together with the Medici gifts for the Elector, although the Mars was a personal gift from the artist. Damian Dombrowski has argued that Theti is not known to have travelled to Italy between the spring of 1587 and the spring of the following year. Since the payment document reports that he had given the golden chain to Giambologna, he would have done so towards the end of 1586. This would have allowed Giambologna enough time to make the Mars, which could, however, still have been dispatched with the Grand Duke’s gifts for Dresden.

With regard to the three other Giambologna bronzes presented by the Grand Duke, these could have not been made in the three weeks the Saxon legation stayed in Florence.[18] In a letter addressed to Christian I, which accompanied the gifts, Francesco de’ Medici says on 26 January 1587 that he was confronted suddenly - 'all'improviso' - with the Elector's desire for horses and that he thought fit to add ‘other things’.[19]  These were the Turkish weapons, which the Grand Duke had been expecting in a shipment from Constantinople. In order that they could be included in the gift, the Saxon legation prolonged its stay in Florence – so it originally planned to stay even less than three weeks.[20]

All this points to an improvised addition of the Giambologna bronzes to the Medici gift. In 1612, Grand Duke Cosimo II sent a group of Giambologna bronzes to Henry Prince of Wales, some of which were taken from the Medici collections.[21]Francesco would have done likewise, that is, taken bronzes from his own collections for an important diplomatic gift. As he had promoted Giambologna’s career and avidly collected his works, Francesco had a number of small bronzes by him in his possession (some of them are today in the Museo Nazionale del Bargello, Florence). He was, in fact, the first systematic collector of silver and bronze sculpture by Giambologna.

The addition of bronzes to the 1587 Medici gift appears, however, not to have been done spontaneously as a personal decision but as a response to an interest for works of this type. Indeed, Nosseni had urged Christian I to ask the Medici for sculpture in a letter written on 28 September 1586, shortly before the departure of the legation for Italy.[22] As a patron of the arts comparable to the Italian princes, the Emperor, and the Duke of Bavaria – so Nosseni’s argument runs – the Elector was entitled to request works from the Grand Duke made by the best artists after the arts 'came back to light' ('die Künste widerumb ans Licht kommen'). Among the Italian princes the Medici are singled out by Nosseni as the greatest art collectors. Moreover, Giambologna was the only living artist among the best artists mentioned by Nosseni. Therefore, works by him would have been an obvious choice to request in Tuscany - an idea reinforced by the fact that the Emperor and the Duke of Bavaria could boast owning works by Giambologna.

Christian did not send a written request for bronzes to the Italian princes who would be visited by his ambassadors.[23] But what was not said in a formal letter could be transmitted more subtly, since the Elector also received a bronze from Mantua, which suggests that he followed Nosseni’s advice. A small bronze by Giambologna, moreover, had the advantage of representing high art in a form that was portable and materially precious.

In a treatise on the formation of a Kunstkammer written by Gabriel Kaltemarckt in 1587 shortly after the arrival of the Giambologna bronzes in Dresden, Christian I is urged to create a veritable Kunstkammer, one that included art in the manner of the Medici and the other art-loving princes of Europe. Here Giambologna is described as the most esteemed sculptor in Europe.[24] The arrival and inclusion of his statuettes in the Dresden Kunstkammer where they are first documented in the Elector’s Reißgemach contributed to the transformation of this space according to Kaltemarckt’s instructions and provided the foundations for its further development as one of the most important and impressive Kunstkammern (fig. 7) in Europe.


fig. 7. Residenzschloss: View of the historic Bronzenzimmer in the Grünes Gewölbe, bpk | Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden | David Brandt. 

At any rate, the 1587 donation of Giambologna bronzes to Christian I remains a highly exceptional gesture. Before then, the Medici had only once presented bronzes to a sovereign when, in 1565, works by Giambologna were given to Emperor Maximilian II. And only one other important bronze had left Italy as a gift, the lost bronze David by Michelangelo, which had been given by the Republic of Florence to Marshall Giè. Theti may have been aware of the 1565 gift of Giambologna bronzes to the Emperor, since he had been employed at the Imperial court. Theti may also have informed the Elector of this precedent as support for Nosseni's recommendations, and once he arrived in Florence, Theti could have conveyed to the Grand Duke how pleased the Elector would be to receive a gift comparable to the Emperor's. Cosimo's 1565 gift of Giambologna bronzes to Maximilian II had been dictated by the practical concern to satisfy the Emperor's love for bronzes.[25] In 1565 Giambologna adapted the model of a Mercury, that had been commissioned for the Archiginnasio in Bologna, and invented a relief and a ‘figurina’, or small figure.

A year (or, in exceptional cases, six months) was needed to make a model and have it cast and finished by one of the goldsmiths in the Grand Duke's service.[26] If the three Giambologna bronzes were not chosen from the Medici collections but were made expressly to send to Dresden, then they must have been commissioned from Giambologna some time before. If the latter was the case, it is interesting that he resorted to older inventions. The Nessus and Deianira (fig. 6) was first modelled in the mid-1570s and the signed cast made for Niccolò Gaddi has survived in the Huntington Art Collections. The model for the Mercury (fig. 4) sent to Dresden had been created by 1579 when a cast was sent to Ottavio Farnese, Duke of Parma (a city also visited by the Saxon legation); this bronze is in the Museo Nazionale di Capodimonte, Naples. The oldest mention of a bronze Sleeping Nymph (fig. 5) by Giambologna dates from 1584, when a bronze of the subject was sent to the Roman household of Cardinal Ferdinando de' Medici, Grand Duke Francesco's younger brother and heir. And we shall make the case that the model of the Mars existed already by 1565.


 fig. 6. Giambologna, Nessus and Deianira, before 1587, bpk | Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden | Arrigo Coppitz

For the reasons stated above it is likely that Francesco de' Medici deprived himself of some of his Giambologna bronzes in order to send them to Dresden but the sculptor’s personal gift of the Mars would have been made intentionally some time before the arrival of the Saxon legation in Dresden.[27]

From the reconstruction we have presented, it is evident that not all four Giambologna bronzes in Dresden could have been made at the same time and this accounts for the notable differences in their facture. These differences were last studied in detail when these statuettes were displayed together during the Giambologna exhibition in the Museo Nazionale del Bargello curated by the author and by Beatrice Paolozzi Strozzi,[28] in the Vienna venue of the same show [29], and in an exhibition dedicated to only these four bronzes, which opened in Dresden in the same year. I have tried to account for these differences in an essay written for the catalogue of the Dresden exhibition.[30]

Before 1587 the making of small bronzes by Giambologna was exceptional. His priority - understandably in a Florentine artistic milieu that still revered Michelangelo - was large marble sculpture. Models for sculpture in a smaller size were more often designed for the small silver statues very much loved by Grand Duke Francesco I. Small bronzes were destined to a handful of commissions that came from outside of Florence while in Florence itself the only small bronzes Giambologna made for someone other than the Grand Duke are the two groups of the Nessus and Deianira mentioned above. Casting and finishing were delegated and on one occasion Giambologna expressed his hope that the chiseller would not change too much of the model through his finish.

It is not until around 1600 that the idea gains ground within the workshop of Giambologna to make the production of bronze statuettes a more common practice - especially that of small crucifixes. Two names of assistants are linked to this production: Felice Trabellesi and Antonio Susini.[31] The latter was not an inventive artist and Giambologna directed him towards making bronzes after his own models and after the Antique. These bronzes were cast for Susini in a foundry used by Giambologna himself, that of Domenico Portigiani, before establishing his own workshop, directly after Giambologna’s death, where he continued casting and chiselling small bronzes after the models of his master. The most characteristic example of this type of production are the bronzes first documented in the collection of Markus Zäch in 1611 – a series made up of older Giambologna models with a uniform design, cast, finish, and colour.[32] The hallmark of these technically excellent bronzes and of most bronzes made in Florence after Giambologna's death is a definition of detail so precise that it can eventually degenerate into a mechanical design. Because this precision has often been perceived as alien to the idiosyncrasy of Giambologna, such bronzes have commonly been ascribed to Susini and have therefore been considered workshop. As I have argued elsewhere, there is no historical basis for this opinion and it should be borne in mind that Giambologna himself wrote in 1605 that casts by Susini after his models are among the best things that can be acquired from his own hands -proof that we should appreciate them as autograph. Although Susini was active since the mid-1570s - for a while independent and then in Giambologna's workshop - his activity for his master before 1600 appears to have been limited to preparing the casts, patinating the Apollo in the Studiolo (1586) and he is even known to have made small wax models a year after the departure of the Saxon legation from Florence.

Any goldsmith in the Grand Duke’s service could have been involved in the making of the Dresden Mars, but it is impossible and historically wrong to ascribe it to Susini and not to consider it as an autograph work by Giambologna. And we should never forget that it was the artist himself who chose the Mars as his own personal gift to a ruler. He would not have presented so important a prince as the Erzmarschall of the Holy Roman Empire with something not made by himself. The Dresden Mars is not chiselled with the regular patterns that became standard around 1600, but rather is finished with great liveliness and intensity. It is an early autograph bronze belonging to that small group of bronzes made before 1587. With the death of Francesco de’ Medici in that year, Giambologna embarked on the making of large bronze statuary and completely delegated the production of bronzetti which from then on assumed the more uniform appearance referred to above. Among the Dresden casts only the Sleeping Nymph and Satyr (fig. 5) in the Grünes Gewölbe is so precisely defined and includes carefully engraved ornamental patterns, such as the decoration of the pillow as to appear to belong to that later type of Giambologna bronzes.

The same differences between the casts of the Dresden set of Giambologna bronzes can be also noted in the comparative analysis of other Giambologna bronzes made before 1587. The 1575 Apollo for the Studiolo of Prince Francesco has passages like the curls of the hair, which are reminiscent of carved wood.[33] The Gaddi Nessus and Deianira in the Huntington Art Collections made before 1580 is a translation of the fluid modelling in wax into the permanent medium of metal. We could go on describing the qualities of these earliest Giambologna bronzes, but we will not be able to define a common denominator in their facture other than technical prowess. This can only mean that Giambologna had no objection to such variations provided that bronzes would remain faithful to his models and to his technical standards. More and more, however, finish became an essential part of their appearance. This must have occurred in the 1580s. The increasing importance of finish was facilited by the employment of expert goldsmiths as it is implied in the 1580 Fortuna letter and as was made possible by the physical vicinity of Giambologna’s workshop in the Palazzo Vecchio to the workshops of the goldsmiths in the service of the Grand Duke, which were located in the same building. Notwithstanding this new importance of chiselling, every bronze dated before 1587 retains a unique character and remains an autograph, unique sculpture.

The Dresden Giambologna bronzes are expertly cast (with the exception of the Nessus and Deianira), finely polished, and bear the red varnish with a golden shimmer that became the hallmark of the Florentine bronzes around the end of the 1580s. However, the precise and regular outline of every detail according to a standard pattern is not a priority.

In particular, the Dresden Mars is chiselled with great skill throughout, especially in the hair and the beard. We can perceive, when handling it, how important finish had become for Giambologna in the definition of detail. This is no longer the cast of a bozzetto left untouched after the metal has cooled but almost the work of a goldsmith who has conveyed a lively surface, best appreciated when studied closely as the Elector would have done in his study.

There are many casts of the Mars and several of high quality but only three are documented as autograph. Aside from the Dresden Mars, these are a version formerly in the Ernö Wittmann collection in Budapest which bears the initials I.B. and a cast formerly in the collection of Markus Zäch.[34] The Mars in the Quentin Foundation collection, London, has been perceived as very similar to the Huntington Nessus and Deianira and would therefore date from around that time, as does the Mars in the Stockholm Nationalmuseum, which appears to share many characteristics with it.[35] The most up to date and convincing analysis of the various casts has been provided by Manfred Leithe-Jasper, in the 2006 Giambologna exhibition catalogue.[36]

As Leithe-Jasper has put it, the Mars is Giambologna's most dynamic male nude figure and a development of two of his earliest monumental sculptures, the large bronze Neptune (fig. 8) on the fountain in Bologna and the slightly later Neptunefrom the Oceanus Fountain in the Boboli Gardens, today in the Bargello.[37] The magnificent gesture of the left arm is similar to the large bronze in Bologna (to which Heiner Protzmann has dedicated an inspiring essay[38]), as is the turning of the head in such a way as to permit the god to look over his left shoulder. But neither statue has the peculiar design of the hair of the Mars that has been linked - not without reason - to the anastole of the hair in the portraits of Alexander the Great. Whether this was a deliberate reference is impossible to prove but the locks of hair are undoubtedly one of the most striking parts of the model. Leithe-Jasper’s observation that not all of the better casts show the same pattern of hair is proof that in preparing the wax-casting model Giambologna took the liberty to make slight variations, which is a leitmotif of his art.


fig. 8. Giambologna, Fountain of Neptune, Piazza Maggiore, Bologna, 1567, Raffaello Bencini | Alinari Archives, Florence

Another important element of the model is the stride of the figure. The length of the stride is essential in determining the extent of the energy that emanates from the pose. This was ascertained after careful measurements were taken from the many versions in the Vienna venue of the 1978-1979 Giambologna exhibition. Nevertheless, as these measurements have also shown, length alone does not guarantee the appearance of such vitality. In some of the best models the left heel is not raised but a raised left heel, which adds momentum to the action, becomes an integral part of the composition in later casts and is present in the Dresden Mars. This slight raising of the heel and the torsion of the body, the gestures of the arms, and the turning of the head all make the model a veritable figura serpentinata, as can be best perceived when handling the bronze or looking at it from above (see p. 48).

In his entry on the Mars, in the catalogue of the 2006 exhibition Giambologna in Dresden. Die Geschenke der Medici, Moritz Woelk described the sculptor's present to the Elector as an image fit for a ruler: 'The pose of the heroic figure combines power, attention, and self-control - all virtues proper to a ruler'.[39] This makes the Mars an ideal choice for a present to a monarch - especially one who held the highest military office in the Holy Roman Empire, that of the Erzmarschall, and accounts for Giambologna's decision to choose the Mars among all his available models for his homage to Christian I.

The sculptor’s decision cannot have been accidental and I believe that an additional reason is because Cosimo I had sent another bronze statuette of Mars by Giambologna to Emperor Maximilian II in 1565 (along with a large scale Mercury and a bronze relief also by Giambologna).

Indeed, as has been often noted, the model of the Mars was known to Pietro da Barga who made a copy (fig. 9), today in the Museo Nazionale del Bargello. The first scholar to refer to Pietro da Barga's Mars copy was Anthony Radcliffe, but he doubted the identity between the bronze in the Bargello and the Gladiator (as the Mars was described) that was consigned to the Guardaroba of Cardinal Ferdinando I in 1575.[40] There is, however, no reason for so much caution: the Bargello Pietro da Barga Mars is the bronze documented in 1575 because its history in the Medici household can be traced together with the other copies made by the same sculptor for the cardinal – copies that belong to the uniform group today in the Bargello.


fig. 9. Pietro da Barga, Mars, before 1575, Museo Nazionale del Bargello, Florence. Reproduced with the permission of Ministero per i Beni e le Attività Culturali / Finsiel/Alinari Archives

This copy alone is enough solid proof that Giambologna's model of the Mars had been invented before 1575. Additional evidence for such a dating is provided by another observation. As has been convincingly argued by Eike D. Schmidt the pose is reflected in Domenico Poggini's bronze Pluto (fig. 10) for the Studiolo of Prince Francesco, which can be dated around 1571-1572.[41]



fig. 10. Domenico Poggini, Plutocirca 1571-72. Archivi Alinari, Firenze. 

Before that date, however, Giambologna is known to have made only one small bronze, the ‘figurina’ presented to Emperor Maximilian II in 1565. This bronze has been traditionally identified with the signed Standing Venus in the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna, which has long been believed to be a unique cast. The Venus was suggested also because it was assumed that Giambologna's 1565 bronze statuette would have represented a female figure. However, it is now clear today that the Vienna Venus is not a unique version (another very similar cast was displayed in the 2006 Vienna exhibition) but also of a later date.[42] A figurina - in Italian a feminine noun - is merely a small figure not necessarily a small female figure as is also proven by an archival registration discovered by Herbert Keutner of a ‘figurina con uno sgudo in Mano et uno bastone, innuda’ ('a small naked figure holding a shield and a baton'), which was clearly a statuette of a small male warrior, which the great Giambologna scholar had assumed was a silver version of the Mars.[43]

For all these reasons it is evident that a Mars was the figurina given by Cosimo I to the Emperor in 1565. This is corroborated not only because this was an image fit for a monarch, but also by the obvious proximity of its model to the Bologna Neptune, which was begun shortly before, in 1563.

Rarely has a bronze by Giambologna more eloquently demonstrated the sculptor's status as Europe's most important representative of his art after the death of Michelangelo. He was famous and respected enough as to take the liberty to make a personal gift to a prince - a gift that was part of one of the most important diplomatic exchanges of the Renaissance. The sculptor chose an older model, made for an Emperor, Maximilian II, and this explains why Giambologna invested so much of his creativity in this model: it is not a mere study of the male nude, but an entirely convincing and very personal rendering of a human body and a revolutionary excercise in movement - dynamic but controlled - that can only be appreciated in its historical importance if seen in the context of Giambologna's great achievements of the mid 1560s, that is, the large scale statues of Neptune and the Mercury sent to Emperor Maximilian II. For the history of bronze Kleinplastikin particular, the Dresden Mars is, together with the other three Dresden Giambolognas and the bronzes commissioned by Francesco de' Medici today in the Bargello, the epitome of the new importance that the casting of bronze statuettes had achieved for the sculptor in the 1580s - in the wake of Grand Duke Francesco's commissions of small silver statues and exquisitely wrought small bronzes finished by some of the most refined goldsmiths in the service of the Medici. Made long before this branch of his production became standardised as the result of the popularity of his models, the Dresden Marsmarks the end of the sculptor’s most inventive years. More important than any historical consideration, however,  is the fact that this bronze is undoubtedly a great work of art.


[1] The terminus ante quem for the compilation of this inventory has been established by M. Minning, 'Das Inventar der kurfürstlich-sächsichen Kunstkammer. Zur Einführung', Die kurfürstlich-sächsische Kunstkammer in Dresden. Das Inventar von 1587, ed. by D. Syndram and M. Minning, Dresden 2010, unpaginated.

[2] Transcribed from the edition of this inventory in Die kurfürstlich-sächsische Kunstkammer in Dresden. Das Inventar von 1587, ed. by D. Syndram and M. Minning, Dresden 2010, unpaginated, fol. 66r of the inventory. The connection between this passage and the bronze was first made by W. Holzhausen, 'Die Bronzen der kurfürstlich-sächsischen Kunstkammer in Dresden', Jahrbuch der preußischen Kunstsammlungen, 54, 1933, BEIHEFT, pp. 45-88: 55.

[3] Also this archival reference was discovered and first published by Holzhausen 1933 (as note 2), p. 55, whose transcription we follow here. The date of the payment is, on the contrary, first referred to by D. Dombrowski, 'Dresden-Prag. Italienische Achsen in der zwischenhöfischen Kommunikation', Elbflorenz: Italienische Präsenz in Dresden 16.-19. Jahrhundert, ed. by B. Marx, Amsterdam/Dresden 2000, pp. 65-94: 73 note 63 (on p. 90).

Barbara Marx was the first to doubt that the chain was ever handed over by Theti to the sculptor; B. Marx, 'Künstlermigration und Kulturkonsum. Die Florentiner Kulturpolitik im 16. Jahrhundert und die Formierung Dresdens als Elbflorenz', Deutschland und Italien in ihren wechselseitigen Beziehungen während der Renaissance, ed. by B. Guthmüller, Wiesbaden 2000, pp. 211-298: 271. However, if we trust the wording of the payment record, the chain was given to the sculptor by Theti before the 16 September 1587.

As was noted by M. Leithe-Jasper, the date of this payment adds support to the hypothesis that the Mars was given by the sculptor to the Elector not long before that date and indeed the occasion of the 1587 Medici gift appears the most likely opportunity; M. Leithe Jasper, 'Marte', Giambologna: gli dei, gli eroi, exh. cat. Florence, Museo Nazionale del Bargello, 2006, ed. by B. Paolozzi Strozzi and D. Zikos, Florence 2006, pp. 209-211: 210.

Dombrowski has argued for an earlier date although he also agrees that the bronze arrived together with the Medici gift, but he appears to have done so because he was not aware that the Medici gift was dispatched to Dresden in January 1587; Dombrowski 2000 (as note 3), p. 73 note 63 (on p. 90).

[4] See, for a broader picture on this issue, W. Warnke, Hofkünstler, Cologne 1985, pp. 190-201.

[5] Simone Fortuna to Francesco Maria II della Rovere, Florence, 27 October 1580; more recently edited with the correct date by P. Barocchi and G. Gaeta Bertelà, Collezionismo mediceo: Cosimo I, Francesco I e il Cardinale Ferdinando. Documenti 1540-1587, Modena 1993, pp. 180-182, document 196.

[6] For this gift, see Giambologna in Dresden. Die Geschenke der Medici, exh. cat. Dresden, Staatliche Kunstsammlungen, 2006, ed. by D. Syndram, M. Woelk und M. Minning.

[7] The new stables were a 'memorial' to his father August who had died earlier that year, on February, 11; Marx 2000 (as note 3), p. 259.

[8] Marx 2000 (as note 3), p. 261.

[9] As Hagen relates to the Elector in two letters dated Mantua, 6 March 1587, and Trento 22 March 1587; Marx 2000 (as note 3), pp. 283-285, Appendix II, documents 1 and 2.

[10] This was the Elector's armoury which had been admired the previous year by the Tuscan ambassador to the Imperial Court when he had travelled to Dresden on his condolence visit to Christian I for the death of his father; Marx 2000 (as note 3), p. 259.

[11] M. Raumschüssel, in Von allen Seiten schön. Bronzen der Renaissance und des Barock, exh. cat. Berlin, Altes Museum, 1995/1996, pp. 132-133, act. 2. This bronze was linked by its subject to the Elector's desire for horses for his stables.

[12] This summary on the relations between Saxony and Tuscany preceding the 1587 Medici gift is based on Marx 2000 (as note 3), pp. 225-261.

[13] M. Meine-Schawe, 'Giovanni Maria Nosseni. Ein Hofkünstler in Sachsen', Jahrbuch des Zentralinsituts für Kunstgeschichte, 5/6, 1989/90, pp. 283-326.

[14] Marx 2000 (as note 3), pp. 255-258.

[15] See Marx 2000 (as note 3), p. 258 note 162, for a source that Theti was expected in Florence in late June 1585. It is Dombrowski who writes that the scope of this mission to Florence was to inform the Tuscan sovereign about Christian's assumption of the co-regency; D. Dombrowski, 'Die Entdeckung der Virtus. Florenz und der Aufschwung der Dresdner Kunst unter Christian I. von Sachsen', Giambologna in Dresden. Die Geschenke der Medici, exh. cat. Dresden, Staatliche Kunstsammlungen, 2006, ed. by D. Syndram, M. Woelk und M. Minning, pp. 73-80: 74.

[16] In the letter to August, the Grand Duke asks the Elector to let Theti know if he needed something from Florence and give him his orders hoping to receive them after Theti would have ascertained him about the Grand Duke's affection for him: 'l'Altezza Vostra può dire se di qua Le occorra alcuna cosa, et comandarmi sempre. Et tenendo per certo, che egli Le esporrà più a lungo l'animo e l'affetto mio verso l'Altezza Vostra, me ne rimetto a lui' ('Your Highness can let me know if you need anything from here and could always send me his orders. And - certain that [Theti] will explain at length my inclination and my affection towards Your Highness, I delegate this matter to him'); Marx 2000 (as note 3), p. 275, Appendix I, document 1. A similar request to 'richiedermi di qualcosa di queste bande', to 'ask me something for this country',was made by Francesco to Prince Christian; Marx 2000 (as note 3), p. 258.

[17] Dombrowski 2000 (as note 3), p. 73 note 63 (on p. 90).

[18] It is Hagen, in a letter written to the Elector on 6 March 1587 from Mantua, who writes that the Saxon legation stayed in Florence only three weeks Marx 2000 (as note 3), p. 275, Appendix II, document 2.

[19] The letter was first published by Marx 2000 (as note 3), p. 285, Appendix II, document 3. To this letter pertains the Italian list of the gifts also published for the first time by Marx 2000, pp. 286-290, Appendix II, document 4.

[20] Acccording to a letter wriiten by Hagen the Grand Duke wanted to oblige the Elector with 'etliche türckischen Sachen' that were expected by ship from Constantinopel

[21] C. Avery and K. Watson, ‘Medici and Stuart. A grand ducal gift of Giovanni Bologna bronzes for Henry Prince of Wales (1612)’, The Burlington Magazine, 115, 1973, pp. 493-507.

[22] Discovered and published by Marx 2000 (as note 3), p. 279, Appendix I, document 5.

[23] The letter Christian addressed to the rulers of the principalities that would be visited by his envoys does not include such a request nor does the part separately addressed to the Grand Duke where merely the desire to obtain certain tools for sculptors is put forward; Marx 2000 (as note 3), p. 279, Appendix I, document 5.

[24] ‘diser Zeit für den besten Bildhawern in gancz Europae geachtet wird’; B. Gutfleisch and J. Menzhausen, ‘How a Kunstkammer should be formed. Gabriel Kaltemarckt’s advice to Christian I of Saxony on the formation of an art collection’, Journal of the History of Collections, 1, 1989, pp. 3-32: 18.

[25] According to A. Foucques de Vagnonville, the bishop of Edelburg had suggested to the Duke of Tuscany to send to Maximilian ‘in dono alcune cose di belle arti, e massimamente statue di bronzo, ch’egli desiderava assai’; G. Vasari, Le vite(Florence, 1568), ed. by G. Milanesi, Florence 1906, vol. 7, p. 647.

[26] According to Fortuna's above-mentioned 1580 letter.

[27] As we learn from Fortuna's letter, Giambologna did not make bronzes in advance for sale. Another of the Dresden bronzes, that could have been made on the same occasion as the Mars is the Nessus and Deianira, which, as Holzhausen clearly saw, best compares to the Mars; Holzhausen 1933 (as note 2), p. 60.

[28] Giambologna: gli dei, gli eroi. Genesi e fortuna di uno stile europeo nella scultura, exh. cat. Florence, Museo Nazionale del Bargello, 2006, ed. by B. Paolozzi Strozzi and D. Zikos

[29] Giambologna. Triumph des Körpers, exh. cat. Vienna, Kunsthistorisches Musem, 2006, ed. by W. Seipel

[30] D. Zikos, 'Die Dresdner Giambolognas. Apologie ihrer Eigenhändigkeit', Giambologna in Dresden. Die Geschenke der Medici, exh. cat. Dresden, Staatliche Kunstsammlungen, 2006, ed. by D. Syndram, M. Woelk und M. Minning, pp. 89-94.

[31] For Antonio Susini, see D. Zikos, ‘Giambologna and Antonio Susini: an old problem in the light of new research’, Casts, Carvings & Collectors. The Art of Renaissance Sculpture, ed. by P. Motture, E. Jones and D. Zikos, London, second ed. 2013, pp. 194-209.  The following summary is based on this article.

[32] For this series, see now: D. Zikos, ‘“longa amities” Giambolognas Kunst und Bayern’, Bella Figura: europäische Bronzekunst in Süddeutschland um 1600, exh. cat. Munich, Bayerisches Nationalmuseum, 2015, pp. 89-107: 103-105.

[33] D. Zikos, in: Giambologna: gli dei, gli eroi. Genesi e fortuna di uno stile europeo nella scultura, exh. cat. Florence, Museo Nazionale del Bargello, 2006, ed. by B. Paolozzi Strozzi and D. Zikos, pp. 221-222, cat. 30.

[34] For the Wittmann cast, see M. Leithe-Jasper, in: Giambologna: gli dei, gli eroi. Genesi e fortuna di uno stile europeo nella scultura, exh. cat. Florence, Museo Nazionale del Bargello, 2006, ed. by B. Paolozzi Strozzi and D. Zikos, p. 213, cat. 25. For the Zäch cast, see K. Corey Keeble, European Bronzes in the Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto 1982, pp. 48-50, cat. 21.

[35] M. Leithe-Jasper and P. Wengraf, European Bronzes from the Quentin Collection, exh. cat. New York, The Frick Collection, 2004-2005, pp. 120-132.

[36] M. Leithe Jasper, 'Marte', Giambologna: gli dei, gli eroi, exh. cat. Florence, Museo Nazionale del Bargello, 2006, ed. by B. Paolozzi Strozzi and D. Zikos, Florence 2006, pp. 209-211.

[37] For the following observations on the model of the Mars I refer to the essay of M. Leithe-Jasper cited in the previous footnote.

[38] H. Protzmann, ‘Die Hand des Mars’, Dresdener Kunstblätter, 40, 1996, pp. 81-83.

[39] ‘Die Haltung der heroischen Figur verbindet Kraftentfaltung, Aufmerksamkeit und Selbstbeherrschung, Tugenden, die auch jedem Herrscher angemessen sind’; M. Woelk, in: Giambologna in Dresden. Die Geschenke der Medici, exh. cat. Dresden, Staatliche Kunstsammlungen, 2006, ed. by D. Syndram, M. Woelk und M. Minning, pp. 35-41: 35.

[40] A. Radcliffe, in: Giambologna 1529-1608. Ein Wendepunkt der europäischen Plastik, exh. cat. Vienna, Kunsthistorisches Museum, 1978-1979, pp. 132-134, cat. 48.

[41] E. D. Schmidt, ‘Die Signatur und Deutung von Domenico Pogginis ‘Lex antiqua’’, Mitteilungen des Kunsthistorischen Institutes in Florenz, 41, 1997 (1998), pp. 206-211: 211, note 10.

[42] C. Kryza-Gersch, in: Giambologna. Triumph des Körpers, exh. cat. Vienna, Kunsthistorisches Museum, 2006, ed. By W. Seipel, pp. 198-199.

[43] H. Keutner, in Giambologna 1529-1608. Ein Wendepunkt der europäischen Plastik, exh. cat. Vienna, Kunsthistorisches Museum, 1978-1979, p. 129.

Sotheby's. Treasures, London, 04 Jul 2018, 04:00 PM


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