Antico created several bronze busts based on ancient Roman imperial portraits in marble, including Antonius Pius, which reproduces a common portrait type of the second century AD. Series of similar busts were popular in 16th-century Renaissance palaces as symbols of power and nobility. The Gonzaga looked to Antico to provide them with restored ancient marble busts as well as bronze reproductions.
Antico created Antoninus Pius and his other bronze busts using a variation of direct lost-wax casting. A core of clay or plaster was prepared in the general form of the head and neck, and bound with reinforcing iron wires. Wax was applied over the core and sculpted into the finished features. Freely modeled wax elements, such as the elaborate curls of hair, were also added. The head was set onto a prepared core for the shoulders and the drapery rendered in wax. Substantial iron core-pins were inserted into the head and finer wires may have been used in the shoulders. The completed model was then encased in clay (or plaster), the wax melted out, and molten bronze poured in. Antoninus Pius is the only bust by Antico known in a second version, now at the Museé du Louvre, Paris. Although superficially similar, the head and shoulders are cast separately on that bronze, indicating that it is an independent copy of the same ancient model.
In 1524, Antico received iron files and chisels from the munitions stores of Federico Gonzaga to clean and chase a bust of Antoninus Pius that is generally identified with the New York bronze. After this finishing process, Antico chemically patinated the surface of Antoninus Pius, excluding the areas to be gilded. The sculptor used oil-gilding for his busts rather than fire-gilding, perhaps to avoid heating the large bronzes. Like many of Antico’s sculptures, the eyes are enlivened with silver, evoking the appearance of ancient bronzes. On most of his busts, the eyes are completely silvered. However, only the whites of the eyes are decorated on Antoninus Pius, creating a striking contrast with the dark iris.
References: Allison 1993/1994, 251–254, cat. 37.
Direct lost-wax casting (bust)
A casting method that produces a single bronze cast from a single wax model. A generalized core of clay or plaster (A) was prepared for the head and reinforced with iron wire (B). Wax (C) was applied and sculpted into the finished face and hair. The head was then placed on a temporary core of clay (D) for the chest, possibly prepared over a wooden form (E). The drapery and shoulders were modeled in wax (F), which slightly overlapped the wax edge of the head (G). Square iron pins (H) were inserted into the head to support the heavy core. Fine iron wires may have also been inserted into the chest (I) as core supports. The exterior was invested in clay or plaster (J), inverted to remove the temporary core in the chest (K), and the interior invested (L). After the model was prepared, the remaining steps to produce the bronze were similar to those described for indirect lost-wax casting.
bronze with gilding
Musée du Louvre, Paris
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
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
A technique by which thin sheets of gold foil are adhered to the metal using a drying oil or resin. After application, the gold is carefully burnished to create a compact, highly reflective surface.
Antoninus Pius (detail), probably 1524, bronze with gilding and silvering, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Gift of Edward Fowles, 1965
A technique using gold combined with mercury to form a paste, or amalgam, that is selectively applied to the bronze surface. The entire object is heated to vaporize the mercury and deposit a thin layer of gold. The gold is carefully burnished to create a compact, highly reflective surface.
Seated Nymph (detail), probably 1503, bronze with gilding and silvering, Robert H. and Clarice Smith