On January 29, 1503, Isabella d’Este wrote to bishop-elect Ludovico Gonzaga asking if Antico could produce a companion for the Spinario she had received from the artist in 1501. Isabella left the choice of figure to the artist, indicating it would be “put on a cornice above a door opposite the one where the boy is located, to give symmetry....” On September 9, 1503, the figure was delivered from Ludovico, who wrote: “I send it all the more willingly so that Your Excellency may know that I still have some women about the house.” This mysterious comment might be a playful reference to his celibacy and suggests that the bronze depicted a female subject.
Seated on a rock with her left leg and foot raised, the pose of the Seated Nymph is an elegant response to the Spinario. The design was derived from a large-scale Roman marble that an 18th-century engraving identified as “Venus removing a thorn from her foot,” thus performing the same act as the Spinario. The ancient sculpture was displayed in Rome during Antico’s time, although its state of preservation required the artist to invent the head (which was missing) and many details. The elegant head resembles those of female figures by Andrea Mantegna that Antico might have known from engravings such as Four Women Dancing.
The original velvety black patina of the Nymph’s skin, now preserved only in traces, was created chemically using acids and heat. Antico was the only Renaissance artist to use chemical patinations consistently—his contemporaries achieved similar effects with more conventional pigmented coatings. To the Renaissance eye, these dark surfaces must have endowed the bronze with an aura of antiquity, perfected and unadulterated by the ravages of time.
References: Hermann 1909/1910, 257–262; Allison 1993/1994, 181–185, cat. 23A; Radcliffe and Penny 2004, 84–89, cat. 13 (entry by Nicholas Penny)
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
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
Spinario, model probably by 1496
cast c. 1499
bronze with silvering
Seated Nymph (Sandalbinder)
1st–2nd Century AD
Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence
Workshop of Andrea Mantegna or Attributed to Zoan Andrea
Four Women Dancing, c. 1497
Rosenwald Collection, 1943.3.5769
A technique for altering the surface color of a bronze through the application of acids, salts, and heat to produce colored copper compounds.
Pan (detail), model by 1499, cast probably after 1519, bronze, Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna, Kunstkammer