Collections and restoration of antiquities

During the early Renaissance, antique fragments of works of art began to be collected for purposes of study. Petrarch had a collection of medals and was considered a connoisseur. Mantegna displayed his statues in his garden. Important Florentine families, mostly bankers such as the Medici, became interested in patronizing the arts and architecture. Following the example of humanists and artists, they established collections of antique works of art, displaying them in their palaces and villas largely as status symbols. The Florentine example was followed by the Gonzagas in Mantua, the d'Estes in Ferrara, the Sforzas in Milan. In Rome, the largest early collection of antiquities together with early Christian objects was made by Cardinal Pietro Barbo, then Pope Paul II (1464-71), who built the Palazzo Venezia as a gallery in which to display it.1 Sixtus IV (1471-84) sold a part of this collection to the Medici; the other part he donated to the Palazzo dei Conservatori on the Capi-toline Hill, opening there the first public museum of the Renaissance in 1471. This collection included, e.g., the Spinario, the Camillus, the Wolf, and a huge bronze Hercules found in the excavations of the period. By the end of the fifteenth century, there were some forty collections in Rome, but during the next century they greatly increased due to building activities and excavations, including those of the Della Valle, Medici, and Farnese families. Julius II (1503-13) commissioned Bramante to form a terraced garden at the Villa Belvedere in the Vatican for the display of selected antique statues.2 During the seventeenth

Figure 2.1 Renaissance collection displayed on the garden wall of Villa Medici in Rome. Some pieces are remains of Ara Pacis from the time of Emperor Augustus

century fewer major works were discovered, and prices became too high for small collectors. This meant that collections were concentrated in fewer hands (Giustiniani, Barberini, Ludovisi, Borghese), and were gradually sold abroad.

In the early collections, mutilated antique statues and architectural fragments were usually left as found and displayed in palace courtyards or interiors. Already in the fifteenth century, however, the Medici commissioned Donatello to restore and complete antique fragments for the decoration of their palace in Florence:

In the first court of the Casa Medici there are eight marble medallions containing representations of antique cameos, the reverse of medals, and some scenes very beautifully executed by him, built into the frieze between the windows and the architrave above the arches of the loggia. He also restored a Marsyas in antique white marble, placed at the exit from the garden, and a large number of antique heads placed over the doors and arranged by him with ornaments of wings and diamonds, the device of Cosimo, finely worked in stucco.3

In Rome, Cardinal Andrea Della Valle (1463-1534) displayed his collection of antique marbles in a similar manner in his palace near St Eustachio. He commissioned Lorenzetto (Lorenzo di Ludovico), then working with

Raphael in the Chigi Chapel in Santa Maria del Popolo, to design the stables and garden introducing antique columns and other elements as a decoration and completing statues that lacked heads, arms or legs. This arrangement was well received generally and started a fashion for restoration of sculpture in Rome. Similar decorations were designed for the Casina Pia in the Vatican Garden by Pirro Ligorio, and for the courtyard elevation of the Villa Medici by Annibale Lippi, who used some relief fragments that had been part of the Ara Pacis of Augustus. Maderno designed stucco frames for some of the finest pieces of the Mattei collection in the court of their palace in Via dei Funari in Rome, and Alessandro Algardi decorated the elevations of the Villa Doria Pamphili in Via Aurelia with antique pieces. Giorgio Vasari (1511-74), who published his Lives of the Painters, Sculptors and Architects in 1550, was much impressed by the idea of restoration and contributed to the fashion with the statement: 'Antiquities thus restored certainly possess more grace than those mutilated trunks, members without heads, or figures in any other way maimed and defec-tive.'4

Restoration became part of a sculptor's normal activity, and could be used as a test to prove the skill of a young artist, as Bramante did with Iacopo Sansovino (1486-1570), when presenting him to the pope. Already at this time, a debate started about how to restore.

Figure 2.2 The statue of Laocoon, Roman version of the Greek original, was restored several times following its discovery in Rome in the sixteenth century

Most people wanted to complete the fragmented works of art in order to make them more pleasing; but there were others who admired the quality of the original masterpiece too much to put their hands on it. There were thus two lines of approach to the treatment of mutilated ancient sculpture; one was its preservation in the broken state, the other was its restoration to the form that it might have had originally. Here, the question was not of 'modern restoration', but rather of aesthetic reintegration on the basis of a probable idea of the original form. While fashion favoured this second approach, there were also examples of simple preservation. The best known of these is perhaps the Belvedere Torso of Hercules, by many considered the most perfect work of its kind. It was also known as 'Michelangelo's Back', as he much admired it, and his figures in the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel certainly reflect its muscular strength. In the Analysis of Beauty, William Hogarth mentions that almost every maker of plaster figures provided casts of a small copy of the Torso.

An example of the debate stimulated by restoration was provided by the much-admired group of Laocoon and his two sons being attacked by snakes, which was discovered on 14 January 1506. This statue has a long history of treatments with different solutions, and is an example of the impact of contemporary taste on the results. Giuliano da Sangallo and Michelangelo were amongst the first to see the statue and propose a hypothesis for the original form of the missing arms, noting from the remaining traces that the missing right arms of the father and one son were raised and that the snake seemed to have been around the father's right arm and its tail around the son's arm. The statue was soon brought to the collection of the Vatican Belvedere, and Bramante organized a competition, inviting four artists to model it in wax. Raphael was one of the judges and he esteemed the young Jacopo Tatti Sansovino to have surpassed the others; it was decided to cast his work in bronze. He also restored the original, reintegrating the missing parts in gypsum, and probably bending Laocoon's arm towards the head. Some years later Baccio Bandinelli repaired the arm that had broken off, stretching it much more upwards, claiming that he had surpassed the antiques with the replica, but Michelangelo commented: 'Who follows others, will never pass in front of them, and who is not able to do well himself, cannot make good use of the works of others.'5 In 1532, Michelangelo recommended Fra Giovanni Angiolo Montor-soli to restore some broken statues in the Belvedere including the right arm of Laocoon. It was made in terracotta, and now pointed straight; this gave a strong diagonal movement to the statue respecting the dynamic spirit of the time, differing greatly from the original closed expression with a bent arm - as was later discovered.6

Several monumental statues were restored for public spaces in Rome, such as the Capitoline Hill, where Michelangelo was commissioned to rearrange the square around the statue of Marcus Aurelius, brought there from the Lateran by Paul III in 1537. This statue was one of the most important that had survived from antiquity due to its association with the 'father' of Christianity, Constantine, and it had already been repaired and restored in the fifteenth century. Amongst the other antiquities displayed on the square, there were particularly the two Dioscuri, restored for Gregory XIII and used to close the square toward the east. The large group on the Quirinal Hill, Alexander and Buchephalus, the 'Horse Tamers', that had been simply supported by brick buttresses in the previous century, was restored by Domenico Fontana for Sixtus V between 1589 and 1591.

While restoration of statues for collections continued as routine work for sculptors, it also became a subject of debate, particularly in the eighteenth century. From the beginning, however, the two attitudes, preservation or

Figure 2.3 Detail of a horse statue (Dioscuri) at the entrance to the Capitol Hill, Rome, rediscovered in the theatre of Pompeo, and restored under the direction of D. Fontana in 1583. The objective was aesthetic reintegration on the basis of a probable idea of the original form

restoration, were apparent and were reflected also in the treatment of ancient architecture. The revival of Classicism was based on the study of classical monuments, and was advanced in the architectural treatises of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. These treatises referred to principles of solid durable construction and maintenance, and also drew attention to the documentation and protection of the resources of the Renaissance, the ancient monuments themselves. At the same time, voices were sometimes heard beyond the style or the manner of building, and some writers recalled the values of even the rejected mediaeval structures.

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