Members' Research Report Archive
Antique Portraits in the Dresden Sculpture Collection: Their Use and Reuse in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries
Frank Martin, Berlin-Brandenburgische Akademie der Wissenschaften / Freie Universität Berlin
Scholar in Residence, September 1–November 9, 2012
The collection of antique sculpture now in the Staatliche Kunstsammlungen in Dresden, among the most substantial of its genre in Germany, was probably the most important repository of antiquities north of the Alps when Augustus II (1670–1733), elector of Saxony and king of Poland from 1697, undertook to acquire it. The collection derives from two principal sources: the antiquities that formerly belonged to Flavio Chigi (1631–1693) and those that belonged to Frederick III (1657–1713), elector of Brandenburg and from 1701 king of Prussia.
The largest number of objects came from the estate of Chigi, nephew of Pope Alexander VII, who, upon settling in Rome at the beginning of the 1660s, began collecting antique statues for his palazzo opposite Santi Apostoli. Chigi’s collection gives a good insight into the Roman art market, from which he obtained most of his antiquities. Though primarily interested in statues, especially those resembling famous prototypes in other Roman collections, Chigi also purchased portraits. These were almost always composites, made of antique heads mounted on modern busts. Their hybrid nature in some cases contributed to the legibility of the head, providing evidence for its identity, and in others enhanced its decorative quality. The latter aspect seems to have been the more important to Chigi, whose antique portrait collection does not bespeak a program.
During my residency at CASVA, I focused on ascertaining who, among the sculptors active in Chigi’s circle, could have been responsible for the production of the busts. This research turned out to be difficult, as only in a very few cases did the documents provide relevant detail; the description of most of the objects was too generic to distinguish them within the collection. A closer inspection of the busts themselves, however, especially from the back, in some cases revealed unmistakable common origins that will provide interesting material for future research in collections of the period.
The second group of antique busts in Dresden came from Berlin, where they had been collected by Elector Frederick III in the late seventeenth
Doubts first arose with the recent publication of three lists that seem to be copies of Bellori’s earlier inventories but contain no reference to antique portraits. Moreover, the research I conducted on the Dresden busts at CASVA attested in two hitherto unknown cases to a provenance deriving from the collection of Andrea Vendramin (c. 1565–1629), sold after his death to the Reynst brothers and brought to Amsterdam.