One of Antico’s most opulent statuettes, Meleager is a rendition of a fragmentary ancient marble that was in Rome in Antico’s time. The marble was lost in a fire in 1763, but it is known from an engraving published in 1734 and from a drawing in the Kunstmuseum, Basel. For this statuette Antico had to invent the head, both forearms, the hands, part of the legs, and the feet. Meleager’s features, including the long sideburns and downcast gaze, bear a close resemblance to those of Hercules in the roundel of Hercules and the Nemean Lion, suggesting perhaps a common source. In the statuette Antico has added the fashionable beard and mustache, and the extraordinary gilded teeth that set off Meleager’s face so impressively. The magnificent gilded garment, complete with tiny weights so that it drapes properly, is also reminiscent of Hercules’ fluttering cloak. Like the Hercules roundel, Meleager is connected to the 1496 inventory of Gianfrancesco Gonzaga. Because the Roman marble was described as a villanello in a 16th-century inventory, it is possible that this statuette may be “A metal figure called the young rustic (villanello)” in the inventory.
In the second half of the 16th century the lost Roman statue was associated with a head of a boar, leading to the possible identification of Antico’s statuette as Meleager, heir to the city of Calydon. As told in ancient myth, the countryside around the city was threatened by a terrifying boar, which was killed by the dashing young Meleager. While this identification fits the Gonzaga’s interest in classical themes, it is difficult to know if in Antico’s time the statuette was believed to depict the young Calydonian hero rather than an unnamed soldier (Miles), as the Roman marble was described in the 1734 engraving.
References: Chambers and Martineau 1981, 134–135, cat. 54 (entry by Anthony Radcliffe); Allison 1993/1994, 168–171, cat. 21; Trevisani and Gasparotto 2008, 192–193, cat. IV.3 (entry by Melissa Hamnett and Peta Motture)
Antonio Francesco Gori
Statuae antiquae deorum et virorum illustrium centum aereis tabulis incisae quae exstant in thesauro Mediceo.
National Gallery of Art Library
Hercules and the Nemean Lion (detail),
bronze with gilding and silvering
Museo Nazionale del Bargello, Florence
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