Documents for Antico’s Life and Work
No portrait of Antico survives, and other than the bronzes, the most direct evidence for his presence are his letters, four of which are reproduced here. Penned in a beautiful humanist hand and spanning a twenty-five-year period, they are signed with his nickname, an indication of the importance and ubiquity of the sculptor’s identification with the classical past. What we know of Antico’s life comes from a close reading of the 119 documents relating to him (mostly letters and a few legal papers) that have been discovered in Italian archives (see Rossi 1888 and Allison 1993/1994). The twelve seen here are a selection from the Archivio di Stato in Mantua; most are illustrated and translated for the first time. They cover the sculptor’s entire career, from the first recorded mention by Antonia del Balzo in 1487 to the announcement of his death, in 1528, to the Duke of Mantua, Federico Gonzaga, by one of his courtiers. The latter, Ippolito Calandra, points to the future, taking the opportunity to recommend to the duke Antico’s son Federico for employment in an official position held by his father.
Among the documents is a fascinating page from the extensive postmortem inventory of the possessions of Antico’s patron Gianfrancesco Gonzaga. The long list of precious items includes what must be statuettes by Antico, though the maker is not recorded. The tenor of Antico’s interaction with his patrons, Antonia del Balzo, Ludovico Gonzaga, Isabella d’Este, and Federico Gonzaga, is touchingly recorded in the letters. They also give an idea of the complexity of the commissions and the difficulty of interpreting with precision five-hundred-year-old correspondence for which much of the context is lost. It is clear from the letters that some communication was carried out orally by messengers who were charged with delivering the letters and explaining them to the recipients. Antico was close to his patrons and well beloved by them (see Isabella d’Este’s letter of 1501). No detail was too small for his attention—he even prepared an eye ointment for Federico Gonzaga with detailed instructions for its application letter of 1521.
The translations are as faithful as possible to the originals, attempting to convey a sense of each writer’s style and to preserve nuances of the meaning, repetitive as it may be. It is evident, for example, that Antico had difficulty with composition and syntax, in spite of his accomplished handwriting, while Isabella d’Este wrote very elegantly.
Prepared in Collaboration with the Archivio di Stato, Mantua
Authorization to reproduce number 37-2011.
Antonia del Balzo (c. 1460–1538)
was the wife of Gianfrancesco Gonzaga. The daughter of a Neapolitan prince, she married Gianfrancesco in 1479, soon after he came into his inheritance. The first documentary reference for Antico is a 1487 letter from Antonia to the Marchese Francesco Gonzaga. After Gianfrancesco’s death Antonia moved to the newly built Gonzaga castle in Gazzuolo near Bozzolo, as did Antico.
Antonia del Balzo, c. 1487, bronze, Widener Collection
Federico Gonzaga (1500–1540)
became Marchese of Mantua after his father’s death in 1519, though his mother Isabella d’Este was regent for the first few years. Through skilled negotiations, in 1530 Federico was granted the title of duke of Mantua. Like Isabella, he fostered Antico’s career, rewarding him with grants of land and privileges.
Letter of Antico to Federico Gonzaga (salutation), June 1521, Archivio di Stato, Mantua
Gianfrancesco Gonzaga (1446–1496)
was Antico’s first patron. A younger son of the Marchese of Mantua, Ludovico Gonzaga, he inherited lands to the west and south of Mantua on his father’s death in 1478 and set up a small but elegant court at Bozzolo. The 1496 inventory produced at Gianfrancesco’s death is a key documentary source for Antico’s life and art.
Gianfrancesco Gonzaga di Ròdigo, c. 1486-1490, bronze, National Gallery of Art, Washington, Widener Collection
Ludovico Gonzaga (1460–1511)
became Antico’s second patron after Ludovico’s brother Gianfrancesco died in 1496. Ludovico became bishop-elect of Mantua in 1484 but was never consecrated to that office. He lived instead in his territories outside Mantua, later moving to Antonia del Balzo’s castle at Gazzuolo. His correspondence provides much information on Antico’s work.
Letter of Ludovico Gonzaga (signature), 8 September 1503, Archivio di Stato, Mantua
Isabella d’Este (1474–1539)
became Antico’s principal patron after the death of her husband’s uncle, the bishop Ludovico Gonzaga, in 1511. The daughter of the Duke of Ferrara, Ercole d’Este, Isabella married the Marchese of Mantua, Francesco Gonzaga, in 1490. She became famous in her own time for her dynamic personality and cultural sophistication and was one of the few women to create a studiolo. Antico made bronzes that were preserved on cornices in her studiolo. After her husband’s death in 1519 Isabella became regent of Mantua for her son Federico Gonzaga.
Giancristoforo Romano, Isabella d'Este, after 1498, bronze, National Gallery of Art, Samuel H. Kress Collection