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Andrea Briosco, called Riccio

Paduan, 1470 - 1532

Riccio; Briosco, Andrea

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Riccio, a master of bronze statuettes and reliefs, ranks among the most gifted sculptors of the Italian Renaissance in northern Italy. A friend of humanist scholars in Padua, the university town where he lived and worked, he absorbed from them the antiquarian learning that infuses his statuettes, reliefs, and marvelously decorated functional objects. Working in bronze and sometimes terracotta, he brought the imagery of ancient mythology, poetry, history, and philosophy into monumental sculpture for churches in the Veneto region. Private collectors also welcomed his arcane antiquarian iconography and the moving expression he gave to the conflict between the divine and the bestial in human nature.

Riccio's statuettes of satyrs, often contrived as bearers of ink or light for scholars' desks, embody pagan sensual drives yet also seem troubled by spiritual longings. Fine examples are in the Bargello, Florence; the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna; the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; and the Victoria and Albert Museum, London (a satyr couple). Other important bronzes portray Moses (Musée Jacquemart-André, Paris), Orpheus (Musée du Louvre, Paris), and a mysterious shouting warrior on horseback (Victoria and Albert Museum). With rare exceptions his statuettes were created as single works, expertly cast with fine afterwork characterized by profuse, delicate hammering that gives life to the flesh surfaces. The wiry builds and reserved or anxious expressions of his classicizing figures bespeak admiration for the celebrated painter Andrea Mantegna, who had produced a major fresco cycle in the mid-fifteenth century at the Eremitani church in Padua.

Nicknamed Riccio for his curly hair, the sculptor was probably born in Padua and initially trained by his father Ambrogio Briosco, a goldsmith from a Milanese family that had previously settled in Trent. Pomponius Gauricus in De Sculptura (1504) declares Riccio began as a goldsmith but, afflicted with podagra (gout or arthritis), turned to sculpture. This explanation is puzzling given the fine, small-scale metalwork in many of his bronzes. He studied with Donatello's erstwhile assistant Bartolomeo Bellano, reportedly completing Bellano's bronzes on the monument of Pietro Roccabonella (Padua, church of San Francesco, c. 1492/1498). By 1500 Riccio was regarded highly enough to be employed to create models for sculptural decoration in the chapel of Saint Anthony in the Basilica del Santo (the commission ultimately went to marble sculptors led by the Lombardo family of Venice) and to make a series of bronze reliefs for the church of Santa Maria de' Servi (c. 1492/1500) in the dominant nearby city of Venice. Now in the Cà d'Oro, Venice, these reliefs include the doors for a shrine to the relics of the True Cross, four panels of the legend of the Cross (both gifts of the humanist diplomat Girolamo Donato), and a beautiful relief of Saint Martin as a Roman cavalryman.

Riccio completed Bellano's series of ten bronze Old Testament reliefs for the choir of the Basilica del Santo; two panels represent Judith and David with the ark (1506/1507). The masterpiece in which his gifts for reliefs and statuettes inspired by ancient learning converge is the paschal candlestick some 3.92 meters high executed for the same church from 1507 to 1515. Described as a pyramid in a now-lost inscription, it honors Easter in a syncretic visual language that conflates ancient Greek, Roman, and Egyptian imagery with Christian scenes above the base, classical allegorical figures, putti, and mythic hybrids. These sphinxes, tritons, satyrs, centaurs, and griffins must have stimulated demand for Riccio's bronze statuettes and implements decorated with similar creatures. It is possible, however, that he had made independent bronzes with such creatures for private patrons earlier and that they had helped him to win the candlestick commission. The final payment documents praised the candlestick "in which this city of Padua may glory, and thank God and Saint Anthony that such a work should have been made and finished only by Master Andrea, the most excellent Paduan sculptor, amid the tumult of war [of the League of Cambrai]." The program, still not fully understood, was probably conceived by the philosophy professor Giambattista De Leone, a frequent backer of Riccio. Similar learned advice must lie behind Riccio's plaquettes and the elaborately modeled relief surfaces of his oil lamps (at the Frick Collection, New York; Victoria and Albert Museum; The Ashmolean Museum, Oxford), in which the actions of lively figures may serve a symbolic or even hieroglyphic expression of philosophical ideas.

Probably between 1516 and 1521 Riccio produced the tomb of two physician-professors, Girolamo della Torre (d. 1506) and his son Marcantonio (d. 1511) at San Fermo Maggiore, Verona. The altarlike structure supported by sphinxes and topped by bronze death-mask portraits encompassed eight extraordinary bronze reliefs (originals now in the Louvre). In audaciously pagan imagery, these works portray the career, death, posthumous journey, and immortal fame of an ancient professor as a surrogate (but not portrait) of the Della Torre. For Abbot Antonio Trombetta, who had accepted the daring creation of the paschal candlestick, Riccio went on to make a bronze bust for his tomb (also in the Basilica del Santo, c. 1521/1524). Among the powerful terracotta sculptures he modeled are a standing Madonna and child for the Scuola del Santo, 1520; a Madonna and child surviving as a half-length fragment at the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles; and a Lamentation group for the church of San Canziano in Padua (1530) that survives in fragments. But it was his bronze figures and the functional objects they inhabit that had a vast impact on subsequent sculpture in the Veneto.

Plaquettes and reliefs attributed to Riccio or marked with his initial "R" vary considerably in style, raising questions concerning his relationship to a workshop and to Ulocrino, a pseudonym that is a Greek formulation of Riccio. The National Gallery of Art's collection includes many such plaquettes; lamps and inkstands reflecting Riccio's style; and one of his masterpieces, the great Entombment relief. Mourners, each in the drapery of a classical dignitary, citizen, or matron, form a dense procession. Their expressions of sorrow range from stoic reserve to wild lamentation. One figure holds an urn inscribed with AERDNA ("Andrea" spelled backward). This personal reference corresponds to the artist's fondness for inserting self-portraits into his crowd compositions, as seen in his Judith and David reliefs in the Santo and in the Battle of the Milvian Bridge in the True Cross cycle. Small self-portrait busts survive in the Louvre and the Kunsthistorisches Museum; a portrait medal of Riccio is probably posthumous.

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