Figure of a Grieving Youth

Bronze, with dark reddish-brown patina 32.2 cm (12.8 in.) Italy - first half of 16th century

Modelled in striking contrapposto, the present figure advances, thrusting his right leg forward whilst simultaneously casting his head backwards. This theatrical gesture is heightened by the movement of his arms, the left one stretched upwards as the right hand clasps the back of his head. His torso turns in the opposite direction of his gaze, further enhancing the impression of movement and capitalising on the three-dimensional potential of sculpture in the round. This aspect gains particular importance when we consider that the starting point for the present composition is the figure of a slain youth lying down on his back – the ancient Roman marble copy after a Hellenistic original known as Dead Niobid in Munich’s Glyptothek – the development of which bears witness to our artist’s remarkable creative ability.

The Dead Niobid, dated by scholars to the Julio-Claudian period, is first described in an incunabulum known as Prospettivo Milanese (printed between 1499 and 1500), where it is recorded in the renowned collection of antiquities of the Maffei family in Rome (P. Bober, R. Rubinstein, Renaissance Artists and Antique Sculpture, p. 140). This text offers an important terminus ante quem for the discovery of the ancient Roman marble, which, with its elaborate pose and heightened expressive quality, must have immediately caught the attention of artistic circles in Rome and beyond. Interpretations of it appear in a circa 1500 Florentine drawing now in the Prado Museum (inv. F.D.149), in the so-called Umbrian Sketchbook of the same date (formerly Calenzano, private collection, f. 9), in two drawings by the Bolognese painter Amico Aspertini (c. 1474-1552; Cod. Wolfegg, ff. 33v-34 and British Museum, I, ff. 18v-19c), who also used it for the figure of a saint in his Burial of Valerian and Tiburtius fresco in the Oratory of Saint Cecilia in Bologna, in the Fire in the Borgo fresco by Raphael (1483-1520) in the Vatican Palace, and in the altarpiece of the Ten Thousand Martyrs by the Venetian painter Carpaccio (1465-1520) now in the Accademia in Venice.

In the last two examples, by Raphael and Carpaccio, the Niobid is converted into an upright figure, his arched back and moving limbs lending dramatic quality to each scene. As Jeremy Warren points out in his recent catalogue of the Italian sculpture in the Wallace Collection (London, 2016, p. 269), the Venetian painter often employed small bronzes as models for figures or as props in his paintings – most famously in Saint Augustine in his Study in the Scuola degli Schiavoni, Venice – which suggests that, when painting the Ten Thousand Martyrs in 1515, Carpaccio drew inspiration from a version of the present standing youth, rather than from the ancient Roman marble directly. This would indicate that statuettes of the Figure of a Grieving Youth existed in Venice by the second decade of the sixteenth century.

The Wallace Youth is attributed by Warren, a renowned scholar of Italian Renaissance sculpture, to the Venetian School, predominantly on the grounds of its stylistic resonances with the work of the sculptor Tullio Lombardo (c. 1455-1532) and of the painter Andrea Mantegna (1431-1506), two artists whose influence was strongly rooted in the Serenissima. Lombardo’s style “developed towards refined, abstract classicism, dependent for its effect on choreographed, stylised gesture and movement” (Warren, p. 268), and, similarly, Mantegna’s compositions draw significantly on classical models, but stand out for their calligraphic definition of facial features and heightened interested in the representation of states of mind, all qualities that find close parallels in both the Wallace and the present casts. Another closely related work, albeit in boxwood, that Warren points to is the Hercules signed by Francesco Pomarano today in the Wallace Collection (Francesco di Giacomo da Sant’Agata, c. 1460/65-1524). The only known sculpture in the round executed by this Paduan goldsmith, it displays the same agile, exquisite anatomy and “balletic grace” as the present Youth, a connection so evident that the famous scholar Wilhelm von Bode (1845-1929) believed Pomarano to have been the author of this model too (see Warren, pp. 267-268).

To conclude, the present bronze constitutes an important testimony of the artistic sensibility of the early sixteenth century Italian Renaissance. Rooted in the humanist approach to the rediscovery of antiquity, our figure compositionally reinvents its ancient model, combining gesture and power of expression to create an arresting portrait of human emotion.


Tomasso Brothers Fine Art

"Ancient Art; European Works of Art and Sculpture; Furniture and Decorative Arts; Nineteenth and Twentieth Century Paintings; Old Master Paintings; Sculpture from 1830"

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