Renaissance bronze sculpture often served practical functions. This doorknocker is one of the finest examples of a specialty of the city of Venice, where Jacopo Sansovino dominated sculptural and architectural projects for some forty years. Gifted, prolific, and well-connected, Sansovino introduced the dynamic and heroically proportioned human types of central Italian High Renaissance art to Venetian sculpture.
Typical of its kind, this doorknocker has a broad base of lush acanthus leaves, from which horns curve upward and converge toward the top in a form suggesting a lyre. A nereid and triton, half-human sea creatures whose lower bodies are understood to disappear into fish-tails hidden in the foliage, gaze delightedly at each other. The male's outstretched left arm unites them, and each figure's outer arm winds up under and around the horns that rise out of the leaves. Above them, robust little putti twist about beneath their burden of dense fruit garlands, splaying their legs and planting their feet impudently on the adults' heads and chests. The whole, brilliantly interwoven antiquarian invention alludes in a direct and playful way to love and fertility, appropriate to the door of a home. The smooth, worn lower leaves indicate that the knocker received many years of use.
Private collection, England; (sale, Christie, Manson & Woods, London, 19 December 1977, no. 133); (Philip Anthony Roth, London); purchased 5 February 1979 by NGA.
- Boucher, Bruce. The Sculpture of Jacopo Sansovino. 2 vols. New Haven and London, 1991: 2:373, no. 121, fig. 397.
- National Gallery of Art, Washington. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1992 (revised editions 1995, 2005): 294, repro.
- Sculpture: An Illustrated Catalogue. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1994: 214, repro.
- Wyshak, Robin Marie. "What Knockers! Bronze Doorknockers of the Italian Renaissance." Ph.D. dissertation, University of California, Santa Barbara, 2000: 159-160, no. 144, 273 pl. 53, fig. 86.
- Luchs, Alison. The Mermaids of Venice: Fantastic Sea Creatures in Venetian Renaissance Art. Turnhout, Belgium, 2010: fig. 43, 177-180, 178 fig. 231, 225 n. 56.