Antico’s statuettes of the Apollo Belvedere are the earliest sculptural reproductions of this famous antiquity. It was discovered in Rome in 1489 and acquired by Cardinal Giuliano Della Rovere, who installed it in the garden of his palace at Santi Apostoli in Rome. It is likely that Antico saw it there. In his stunning re-creation the sculptor took advantage of the tensile strength of bronze and dispensed with the tree stump that was necessary to support the over-life-size marble. He also invented the right forearm and both hands, which were lost in the original.
The exquisite Apollo in Frankfurt is Antico’s only signed statuette. ANT (A has no bar, N is backward and tied to the T) is cast into the quiver strap, a mark of pride by the artist. It may also be an indication that this statuette was intended for a patron outside of Mantua for whom a reminder of Antico’s authorship was particularly important or necessary. X-rays show that this Apollo is somewhat heavily cast, suggesting that the sculptor was still developing his innovative indirect lost-wax casting technique, and therefore an early date of manufacture.
Three Apollo Belvedere statuettes by Antico are extant. Two are seen together for the first time in this exhibition. The comparison reveals a greater degree of variation among them than can be observed between other Antico multiples, for example the Atropos. The forms in the Venice Apollo are notably more robust. A letter of 1498 documents Ludovico Gonzaga’s efforts to recover Antico’s model of the Apollo (presumably in wax), which was stolen from the sculptor’s workshop in the castle of Bozzolo. If the model was not recovered, it is possible that the difference between these two Apollos may result from the fact that Antico had to re-create the model for casts made after 1498. In 1501–1502 Ludovico commissioned an Apollo as a gift for the Venetian patrician Tommaso Mocenigo. Antico also made one for Isabella d’Este, which is recorded in the 1542 inventory of her grotta.
References: Hermann 1909/1910, 236–238, 241–243, fig. 11; Götz-Mohr 1988, 9–12, cat. 1; Allison 1993/1994, 109–114, nos. 13A, 13B; Chambers and Martineau 1981, 137–138, cat. 57 (entry by Anthony Radcliffe); Trevisani and Gasparotto 2008, 208–209, cat. V.5 (entry by Adriana Augusti)
Roman copy of a Greek original
Apollo Belvedere, 2nd century AD
Museo Pio-Clementino, Musei Vaticani, Vatican City
Apollo Belvedere (detail)
model created and cast c. 1490–1496
bronze with gilding and silvering
Liebieghaus Skulpturensammlung, Frankfurt am Main
Indirect Lost-wax Casting
A casting method that produces multiple bronzes from a single model. A wax model was prepared in the form of the desired bronze figure (A). A plaster piece mold would be prepared around the model, then disassembled and the model removed (B). The mold was reassembled, tightly bound, and used to cast a wax copy in several parts. For solid parts, the mold was filled with hot wax (C). For hollow parts, the wax was swirled inside the mold and the excess poured out (D). The remaining wax shell was filled with a mixture of plaster and sand, forming a core, and the wax with its core was then removed from the mold (E). The wax parts were joined and finished, and fine iron wires were inserted to secure the core (F). Channels were added to the wax model to allow the molten bronze to be poured in and gases to escape (G). This assembly was then encased in a plaster mixture (H). The plaster mold was heated and dried. The wax was melted out, leaving a void in the shape of the model, and the plaster core suspended inside by the iron wires (I). Molten bronze was poured in, surrounding the core and filling every part of the mold (J). The channels and core pins were removed from the cast and the surface was cleaned, chased, and polished (K).
model created by 1496, cast possibly by 1496
bronze with gilding and silvering
The Frick Collection, New York, Gift of Miss Helen Clay Frick
model created c. 1500, cast c. 1500–1511
Victoria and Albert Museum, London
model created c. 1500–1511, cast probably after 1519
bronze with silvering
Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna, Kunstkammer
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
A small private space, sumptuously decorated, built by Renaissance princes in their castles to house their collections of ancient coins and antiquities, gems, natural curiosities, musical instruments, illuminated manuscripts, and other precious works of art.
An inner room, part of Isabella d’Este’s studiolo was named grotta for the low barrel-vaulted ceiling (similar to a grotto) of its first location in the Castello di San Giorgio in Mantua. After 1519 Isabella moved her studiolo and grotta to a new location in the ducal palace, illustrated here.
Photo Credit: Erich Lessing / Art Resource, NY, Palazzo Ducale, Mantua, Italy