Alexander Noelle: “Bertoldo di Giovanni: Ingenious Sculptor of Renaissance Florence”

Alexander Noelle: “Bertoldo di Giovanni: Ingenious Sculptor of Renaissance Florence”


(people mumbling) – Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. I’m Xavier Solomon, Peter
Jay Sharp Chief Curator here at The Frick. Welcome to the first
of a series of lectures on our exhibition, Bertoldo di Giovanni, which is downstairs in our galleries. This is our first exhibition
that reunites all the movable, known oeuvre of a Renaissance sculptor. We have 25 objects by
Bertoldo for the first time, and as far as we know, right
now, the only time together here at The Frick, and
it’s a very exciting and wonderful opportunity to
see these objects together. It’s my great pleasure to
introduce Alexander Noelle, tonight’s speaker. One of the programs that I’m
proudest of here at The Frick is what is now called the Anne
Poulet Curatorial Fellowship, which used to be called the Andrew W. Mellon
Curatorial Fellowship. We’re now at our 17th
or 18th fellow, I think. I’ve lost track, and this
is a fellowship designed over two years, where a
person, in the final years of their PhD research and
work, comes here at The Frick and is integrated in the curatorial staff, and works on a number of projects relating to life here at the museum. So sometimes, fellows curate
their small exhibition, the most recent one being
Charterhouse of Bruges, about van Eyck and Petrus
Christus, which was last year in the Cabinet Gallery,
and on other occasions, as in this case, they work
on broader exhibitions in collaboration with other
curators here at The Frick, so this exhibition is
co-curated by Alexander together with Aimee Ng,
a curator, and myself. Now, Alexander is the
2017-2019 Poulet fellow, and he is currently working on his PhD at The Courtauld Institute
of Art in London, where he’s working on a dissertation entitled Mythologizing the
Individual, the Life, Death, and Afterlife of Giuliano de’
Medici in Art and Literature, Circa 1450 to 1600, and Giuliano
de’ Medici comes very much into the story of Bertoldo, especially through the
Pazzi Conspiracy medal that you can see downstairs. Before that, Alexander received his BA in Art History and Italian at Vassar, and an MA also from the Courtauld working on the arts of
Renaissance Florence. He has had research posts
and curatorial posts at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, at the New Britain Museum of American Art, at the Courtauld Gallery, and
at the Medici Archive Project. One of the things he’s
been working on recently, which is forthcoming, is
a very important article entitled The Portraits
of Giuliano de’ Medici by Sandro Botticelli,
which will be published in the volume, Facture:
Conservation, Science, Art History, published by the National
Gallery of Art in Washington, and it’s supposed to come out next month. Together with Aimee and myself, Alexander worked on the Bertoldo show and he has written very
impressively the lion’s share of the catalog, the very
large introductory essay, and also, revealing and
very thought-provoking essay on our own wild man, shield bearer figure, and he obviously has handpicked
a lot about the iconography and the history of that
object and its companion from the Liechtenstein collection, which is currently downstairs
together with our guy, but tonight’s lecture is
entitled Bertoldo di Giovanni, Ingenious Sculptor of
Renaissance Florence. Please join me in
welcoming Alexander Noelle. (audience applauding) – Thank you, Xavier, for
the generous introduction, and I would also like to
acknowledge the co-curators of the Bertoldo exhibition,
chief curator Xavier Solomon and curator Aimee Ng, as well
as conservator Julia Day, who assisted by providing
crucial technical analysis. It has been an immense
pleasure and privilege to work with each of you. I also thank my talented
and inspiring colleagues both here at The Frick and
beyond for their enthusiasm for my research on an overshadowed artist. I’m especially grateful for the support from Ian Wardropper,
director of The Frick, as well as the board of trustees. In Irving Stone’s best-selling
biographical narrative of Michelangelo, The
Agony and the Ecstasy, published in 1961, the
Florentine sculptor, Bertoldo di Giovanni, meets the young Michelangelo
upon his arrival to Lorenzo de’ Medici’s
garden of antiquities that served as an art academy
for the next generation of painters and sculptors. Stone’s Bertoldo, the garden’s
curator and instructor, self-deprecatingly introduces
himself to Michelangelo by stating that, “Not all
skill is communicable. “Donatello made me his heir, “but he could never make me his peer. “He poured his experience
and craftsmanship into me “the way molten bronze
is poured into a cast. “No man can do more. “After more than half a century with him, “I remained only a miniaturist. “Try as he would, he couldn’t
put his finger on my fist, “nor his passion in my bowels. “We are all as God made us. “I will show you everything
Ghiberti taught Donatello, “and Donatello taught me.” The film version, should be
noted, starring Charlton Heston, (people laughing) did not include Bertoldo at all, opening with Michelangelo already at work for the papacy in Rome. Stone’s characterization of Bertoldo reiterates a contrived
narrative dating back to the Cinquecento. Giorgio Vasari, the
founding art historian, included Bertoldo in his
tomes on Renaissance artists, yet minimized his role. The lives of the artists,
the frontispiece of which you see here, paired with Donatello and Michelangelo’s portraits at the start of their biographies, narrates the rebirth of Italian sculpture through
the creativity of Donatello and traces a direct artistic genealogy to the genius of Michelangelo,
fashioning the two sculptors as book-ending titans of the Renaissance in his compendium of artist biographies. However, Vasari had to
account for the fact that Donatello and Michelangelo did not overlap in their lifetimes, thus, Bertoldo became the missing link. The sculptor, not given
a biography of his own, appears only a handful of
times, and solely to act as the vessel through which
Donatello’s brilliance was transferred to Michelangelo. And here we see three masterpieces
by these three sculptors, Donatello’s David de Bargello at the left, Bertoldo’s Shield Bearer,
here at The Frick, and on the right, Michelangelo’s David in the Accademia in Florence. Vasari’s conception of Bertoldo
necessitated a suppression of Bertoldo’s artistic identity in order to provide a
more pure inheritance from Donatello to Michelangelo. As a result, his contribution to the art of his time was marginalized. For nearly half a millennium,
Bertoldo has been overlooked, his subsequent scholarly
consideration severely impacted by the subordinate role given to him by his posthumous chroniclers. Bertoldo exists today
in relative obscurity, an ancillary figure to
three of the great names of the Italian Renaissance. He’s generally identified
as a disciple of Donatello, as the personal sculptor
and close companion of Lorenzo de’ Medici, the de facto ruler of
the Florentine Republic, and as an early teacher of Michelangelo. While there is ample
consideration of these figures, in modern literature, Bertoldo
has only been considered in depth in one book,
published 25 years ago by James David Draper. Eclipsed by his more highly
regarded contemporaries, Bertoldo is mentioned frequently,
but neglected consistently as an artist worthy of extended study. Contrary to Vasari and
Stone’s characterizations, the corpus of sculpture
attributed to Bertoldo, as well as the archival
documents from his lifetime, reveal a striking discrepancy between these negative
conceptions of the artist and the crucial role he played in the development of
Florentine sculpture. Upon his death in 1491, for
example, Bertoldo was praised by a Florentine official
as a most worthy sculptor and an excellent maker of medals, who always made fine things
with Lorenzo il Magnifico, who is now very troubled,
for there is no other artist in Tuscany or perhaps even Italy of such grand ingenuity and artistry. Furthermore, the oeuvre of Bertoldo, assembled for the first
time on the occasion of the exhibition at The Frick Collection, demonstrates the sculptor’s
shrewd creativity across medium, iconography, and scale. An artist certainly deserving
serious consideration in his own right, Bertoldo
occupied a unique position at the heart of the political
and artistic landscape in Florence. In sum, by shedding the
500 years of scholarship that follows Vasari’s pejorative narrative and myth of Bertoldo, this lecture reconsiders the sculptor’s life and work through the period documentation and the extant sculptural production, allowing Bertoldo to
step out of the shadows of Donatello, Lorenzo, and Michelangelo. Bertoldo is, instead, celebrated once more for his innovative sculptural process and iconographic ingenuity, as he was in Quattrocento Florence. Before Bertoldo’s contribution
to the art of his time can be considered, it
is necessary to review how his oeuvre is defined today. The only securely attributed
objects are the two that are signed, the Bellerophon
Taming Pegasus statuette from the Kunsthistorisches
Museum in Vienna, and the Mehmed II model. These specimens, from the
state collections in Berlin and the Galleria Estense Modena. On the basis of period documentation, the Orpheus statuette,
Crucifixion and Battle reliefs, all from the Museo Nazionale
del Bargello in Florence, and the Pazzi Conspiracy
medal, this specimen from the Scher Collection,
can be attributed to Bertoldo as well. These six works, diverse in
size, type, and iconography, form the cardinal points against
which further attributions to Bertoldo can be assessed, revealing the identifying
characteristics of his style. Bertoldo revels in the articulation
of nude muscular forms, especially in twisting poses. His male figures, in relief
or cast in the round, are heroic in stature, with
broad faces, large almond eyes, distinctive curls of
hair, and brawny builds, seen here in details from the Bellerophon and the Battle relief. Bertoldo’s female figures
also have a hallmark depiction of hair, their flowing locks
swirl around their bodies, often defying gravity to express emotion. The women’s bodies are
draped in loose fabric that, like their hair,
occasionally floats. And here, we see the two
Marys at the base of the cross in the Crucifixion relief,
and flanking female figure with a victory figure, also
female, from the Battle relief. While they are less muscular
than Bertoldo’s male figures, the women share a certain broadness. In his medals, Bertoldo
scales down his bold figures but retains their robust
presence, as demonstrated here in the Pazzi and Mehmed medals. His compelling and complex
medallic scenes are filled with diminutive characters
in compressed spaces. Overall, Bertoldo’s
sculptures are characterized by all’antica inspiration, modernized with an
intriguing degree of lyrical, almost poetic, stylization of figures. More than a century of
scholarship has resulted in the addition to Bertoldo’s
oeuvre of 14 works, predominantly in bronze,
based on their similarities to these primary six. Beyond bronze, objects in
wood, terracotta, and stucco are also now given to Bertoldo, and I will return to them later. The facture and materials
may differ, but the motifs, physiognomy, and style
across media are consistent, including two gilded wooden angels, as well as a bronze centaur,
known through documentation, but now lost, Bertoldo’s oeuvre
is comprised of 24 objects. Little is known of Bertoldo’s early life. He was born to German
immigrants about 1440, working class wool weavers who lived in Florence’s Oltrarno neighborhood, seen here, in this map,
printed circa 1490. He likely completed his artistic
training with Donatello, although there is no indication
of how or when they met. The only clues to Bertoldo’s early work as an independent artist
come from archival sources that identify him simply as
intagliatore, a carver, in 1465. Three months later, however,
he is described as someone who lavoro di bronzo, or works in bronze, in a legal document resolving his default on rental payments. And this came to be a
theme of Bertoldo’s life. He was continuously evicted
for not paying his rent, but more on that in a bit. The resolution was handled by a guarantor who detailed the transfer
of financial responsibility from himself to Donatello. It has been presumed that Bertoldo was a disciple of Donatello. As Vasari states, while narrating how, having begun the passion
and resurrection pulpits of San Lorenzo, seen
here, the master, quote, could not finish them due to old age, and so Bertoldo, his pupil, finished them to the utmost perfection, end quote. It is therefore assumed that
Bertoldo trained with Donatello in his youth, and the master
subsequently hired him to assist in the completion of
the pulpits before his death. Now, it is impossible to
discuss Bertoldo’s origins without considering his primary patron, Lorenzo the Magnificent, who’s seen here, reviewing the work of young artists studying in his sculpture garden, in a late 16th century tapestry, at the Museo di Palazzo Reale in Pisa. Bertoldo has been deemed
the republican court artist of Lorenzo. However, while some of
Bertoldo’s artwork was produced for Lorenzo, their relationship
as patron and artist was not straightforward. In fact, his earliest ties to the Medici suggest that his first patron may not have been Lorenzo at all. The small Triumph of Silenus
relief from the Bargello features a group of putti and panisks who dance and play music while
torturing the drunken god of wine, prodding him and
force-feeding him grapes. Piero’s impresa, the
eagle, ostrich feather, and diamond ring you can see here, just a detail of this here on the cart, possibly indicate that the
bronze was commissioned by Lorenzo’s father
before he died in 1469. About 1470, Bertoldo also designed a medal for Filippo de’ Medici, a
distant cousin of Cosimo, Piero’s father, and Lorenzo’s grandfather, the first of the Medici
dynasty of de facto rulers. The medal celebrates Bertoldo, excuse me, the medal celebrates
Filippo’s prestigious position as Archbishop of Pisa,
as well as his piety. The other face, filled with the depiction of the Last Judgement. It is likely that the
Archbishop commissioned it to promote his ambition
of becoming a cardinal. The closely related portrait medal of Emperor Frederick
III, also by Bertoldo, was likely commissioned by
Filippo as a gift for the emperor upon his visit to Rome in
1469, which Filippo attended as a Florentine Ambassador. The medal depicts the likeness
of the emperor himself on the obverse, or front,
paired with an illustration of an event that took
place during his time in the Eternal City, on
the reverse, or back. Here, he is seen with the
Pope on Ponte Sant’Angelo while knighting more than 100 men. And you can make out the
Pope just here on the left. This gift betrays Filippo’s cruel designs. At the time of Frederick’s
visit, the Florentine delegation was petitioning the Pope to
nominate the Medici archbishop to the College of Cardinals. The two Filippo medals
pictured here at the top are from the collection of
Frances Beatty and Allen Adler, as well as the Bargello,
obverse and reverse, and the Frederick medals come
from the Metropolitan Museum and the Staatliche Museum, Berlin. How Bertoldo entered the
orbit of the Medici family, Lorenzo’s in particular, is
unknown, but it was likely through his work with Donatello
on the San Lorenzo pulpits, presumably commissioned by
Cosimo de’ Medici about 1460, for the beautification of
his family’s parish church, just a stone’s throw from
their newly constructed palace. You can see here, the back of San Lorenzo, leading to Palazzo Medici,
just a few feet away, really. When Piero died, Lorenzo
inherited his powerful position in the Florentine Republic,
and may have taken an interest in Bertoldo because of
the sculptor’s production for his family. The resulting medals
demonstrated Bertoldo’s talent for designing artwork that was useful in political maneuvering. Early in his career, Bertoldo
earned Lorenzo’s favor. He was not, however, a
typical member of his circle. The de facto ruler granted him
a uniquely privileged place in his network of artists,
eventually giving him residence in the Medici home after
bailing him out of rental, being sued for rental money many times. The documents and objects
resulting from the relationship reveal Bertoldo’s inimitable position at the heart of Laurentian
art and politics, where he produced sculpture that ranged from devotional to propagandistic. In July of 1479, Bertoldo sent
this letter to his patron, the only extant missive
written by the sculptor, and now kept at the state
archives in Florence. The letter is a satirical invective against a certain Luca Calvanese. The text is hyperbolic,
narrating how Bertoldo has thrown away his
sculpting tools in protest against the bestowing
of the esteemed title, cavaliere, or knight, upon
Calvanese by Count Girolamo for his talents as a chef. Calvanese, Bertoldo claims,
is without natural talent, and has only succeeded by
following Bertoldo’s own recipes. Bertoldo, proclaiming his status
as a disciple of Donatello, states his disgust at the
injustice, insinuating that he, the cook with the natural
talent and artistic lineage, is the one deserving of an elevated title, and it’s important to
note here that a cook was likely a metaphor for
artist, someone who creates. The letter was surely
intended to entertain Lorenzo. The summer of 1479 was a
dark period for Florence, reeling from the aftermath
of the Pazzi Conspiracy of April 1478, a coup in
which Lorenzo’s brother had been murdered, and Lorenzo was nearly
assassinated himself, resulting in a war with
the Pope in Naples. Bertoldo, whose most famous medal depicts the Pazzi Conspiracy,
as we will explore shortly, refers to the rebellion in his letter. Count Girolamo is Girolamo
Riario, nephew of Pope Sixtus IV. Bertoldo, however, makes
light of the situation, while invoking God to
punish the Count, the Pope, and Calvanese for their betrayals. This sole example of Bertoldo’s
voice reveals his proximity to Lorenzo, a bond that went beyond the typical
artist-patron relationship. Neither a patrician at Lorenzo’s
level, nor a hired hand, Bertoldo was a combination of artisan, entertainer, and confidant. On December 28th or 29th
of 1491, Bertoldo succumbed to (speaks in a foreign
language), a term now interpreted as either a cardiac episode
or severe throat infection. He died at Lorenzo’s country
villa of Poggio a Caiano, 20 miles west of Florence,
presumably while completing work on the frieze he designed
to adorn its facade, the largest glazed terracotta frieze of the Italian Renaissance,
which you can see here. Well, a reproduction of which is here. The real one is downstairs, and the central section I’ve
reproduced for you here. Bertoldo’s death was
reported in the letter from the Chancellor of the
Florentine Opera del Duomo who said, quote, Bertoldo the sculptor, who lived with Lorenzo in his home, died at Poggio, much to
the regret of Lorenzo who loved him as his familiare, end quote. The following week,
Lorenzo paid for the masses commemorating the death of Bertoldo, sung in the Medici church of San Lorenzo. This was an honor and not typical practice for deceased artists. The funeral at this site, and
sponsored by Lorenzo himself, reflected the sculptor’s elevated status and celebrated his close
connection with the Medici family. The Chancellor’s use of the word familiare clarifies Bertoldo’s
position in the Medici home and Florence itself. The term denotes a privileged
status in which individuals were shielded from prosecution and made part of their protector’s family. As Lorenzo’s familiare,
Bertoldo enjoyed the protection of the de facto ruler, worked
for him without contracts, traveled with the Medici
family and their retinue, and eventually moved into Medici homes, creating artwork to decorate their palaces and promote their political aspirations. The rapport between Bertoldo
and Lorenzo was unique. Other painters and sculptors
produced work for Lorenzo over decades, yet none
enjoyed the intimacy that Bertoldo shared with his patron, nor were any part of the Medici household. Florence was not a
kingdom, but a republic, and Lorenzo was, therefore,
not a duke or a prince. He was not even official ruler,
manipulating the democracy from behind the scenes. However, Lorenzo did create
an air of courtly culture imitating the great regencies of Europe, especially through his artistic patronage. Bertoldo, as his
familiare, evoked the role of the court artist,
manifesting Lorenzo’s ambition to create a gilded Laurentian court at the heart of Republican Florence. This privileged position
provided Bertoldo with a degree of creative freedom, as
well as the opportunity to produce artwork without the
constraints of most artists. He did not live solely on the
proceeds earned from the sale of his sculptures, and he
did not have a workshop that produced artwork to be sold en masse to the patrician elite. With the support of the Medici,
Bertoldo operated instead as a designer, modeler, and collaborator, enlisting the city’s leading artists to realize his designs across media. The next section of this lecture explores what Bertoldo’s
privileged position allowed him to achieve in his sculptural production, especially in partnership with others working in the circle of the Medici. From the earliest records,
Bertoldo’s career is marked by collaborations with other artists. The most significant
artistic connection Bertoldo forged in his early life was,
of course, with Donatello. Following his presumed
training with the master, Bertoldo was responsible for completing the San Lorenzo pulpits, however, the extent of his
contribution remains unknown. And here, I’m showing you two
details, the one on the left from the scene from the life
of Christ before Pilate, and at the right, from the
passion, the entombment. While different hands can be observed across the many reliefs on both pulpits, there is no agreement on which
sections were either entirely or partially designed,
cast, or chased by Bertoldo, either before or after Donatello’s death. Bertoldo, it seems, was successful in replicating the master’s style. The polychrome sculpture
of Saint Jerome in Faenza, which dates to the same period
around Donatello’s death, may also be the result of collaboration between Donatello and Bertoldo. The sculpture has clear parallels
in both facture and style with Donatello’s oeuvre,
especially his portrayals of hermit scenes, such as
a Mary Magdalene shown here at the Museo dell’Opera del Duomo, which has just been renamed
Il Grande Museo del Duomo in Florence. Yet it is also distinct,
suggesting an attribution to a sculptor familiar
with Donatello’s practice, but not the master himself. It has recently been argued
that the sculptor was Bertoldo, and that he executed it in
whole or in part under the aegis of Donatello, who was
awarded the commission and may have passed the
product onto Bertoldo or perhaps died before he
could complete it himself. While the gaunt figure is not typical of Bertoldo’s brawny
males, other elements, such as the attenuated
pose, have correspondences with Bertoldo’s secure
artworks, such as the Orpheus, and this is a attributional
debate we consider very heavily in the exhibition downstairs. If Bertoldo did indeed
sculpt the Saint Jerome, he once again demonstrated his ability to effectively mimic his master’s style. Over the following decades, Bertoldo collaborated with other artists while developing his
own identifiable style. A prime example is the
Pazzi Conspiracy medal. In September 1478, just a few
months after the Pazzi family attempted to wrest control of the republic from Medici hands, the
medalist Andrea Guacialotti sent Lorenzo a letter
that describes how he, and not Bertoldo, had cast
four examples of the medal, quote, with his own hands,
following the first impression, end quote, made by Bertoldo in
a material other than bronze. Guacialotti clarifies his
role, stating that, quote, he made it happily, because it is the most
honorable invention, and it is an immortal
thing, and it is good, and Bertoldo should be praised, end quote. Unlike any other Renaissance example, this medal collapses the
traditional obverse and reverse of a portrait medal, fusing the portraits, allegorical figures, and
historical narratives. Each side shows one brother’s bust hovering above a bird’s eye
view of the attack in Florence and in the cathedral, depicted
in a continuous narrative that unfolds as the viewer
turns the medal back and forth in their hands. On Lorenzo’s side, you can
see him attacked here and here before he flees to safety,
and as the medal turns, the fate of Giuliano is revealed. On the left, you see
Giuliano attacked once, standing, and then he falls to the ground and is stabbed 23 times
until he bleeds to death on the floor of the Florentine Cathedral. As the designer and modeler of the medal, Bertoldo was credited with
its innovative composition, although Guacialotti cast the
subsequent bronze specimens. There’s a clear correspondence among Botticelli’s medallic
portrait of Giuliano and the painted portraits
of the fallen Medici brother by Botticelli, the largest
of which I show you here in the National Gallery in Washington. Both likenesses and their
commemorative function are closely related to the text produced by a Laurentian humanist,
especially Angelo Poliziano in the wake of the Pazzi Conspiracy. Many provide literary
portraits of Giuliano that correspond to both
medallic and painted portraits, suggesting that the artists and writers were working collectively
from a common prototype and a common conception of Giuliano. Lorenzo’s circle, it seems,
shared ideas, motifs, and sources of inspiration. The Bellerophon Taming
Pegasus, cast a few years after the Pazzi Conspiracy medal, is Bertoldo’s only signed statuette. The bronze depicts the
mythical hero Bellerophon struggling to tame the
winged horse Pegasus in order to defeat the
Chimera, a horrific monster he sought to conquer with the
help of the goddess Athena. The Latin inscription along
the bottom of the base, translating to Bertoldo
modeled me, Adriano cast me, identifies Adriano
Fiorentino as the founder. Bertoldo followed the same
practice for both the medal and the statuette, designing
and modeling the objects, then employing another
artisan to cast them. Far from hiding his use of a second hand to produce his works in
bronze, Bertoldo asserted it on the Bellerophon’s
base, indicating pride in the product of his collaboration. Bertoldo’s role in the fabrication of his own bronzes has long been debated. Given his known collaborations,
some scholars question whether he cast anything himself, while others cite the flawed
facture of the Orpheus with long fissures along each
leg, which you can see here, and just make out here on
the right edge, as evidence of the ruinous results of his attempts to forge his own medals,
reliefs, or statuettes, the majority of which
other artisans produced. There is, however, an
undeniable consistency in the appearance of Bertoldo’s bronzes, one incompatible with the idea of his hand never touching the metal himself. In the Quattrocento,
bronze casting of this type was a relatively new process. This resulted in imprecise techniques that produced roughcasts
requiring extensive chasing, and the Orpheus is a prime example. Unworked areas, such as
the stringed instrument, and partially chased
passages, such as the face, demonstrate the laborious process required to transform the roughcast
into a refined statuette using chisels, hammers, punches, files. Orpheus, while cited by some as evidence of Bertoldo’s lack of technical ability, actually demonstrates the Herculean effort and skill required to reveal
the sculptor’s graceful forms below the coarse surfaces. As evidenced by the Bellerophon group and the Pazzi Conspiracy medal, Bertoldo engaged different
founders to cast his models. However, the consistency of the dazzlingly
intricate finished surfaces indicates that he likely
chased his own cast. Founders of this time made
a wide variety of objects, including guns, bells, and tools, so it is perhaps logical that the artist would undertake the
surface treatments himself, ensuring a uniformity
in the final appearance of his sculptural output, notwithstanding the various founders. The partially completed Orpheus
substantiates this theory of Bertoldo chasing his own bronzes. Bertoldo thereby ensured
that his underlying designs came to fruition, irrespective
of the intermediary founder who cast the models. Bertoldo himself, however,
had an intimate knowledge of the casting process. The design of his artworks
demonstrates a keen understanding of what was achievable
in the transformation from model to metal. Moreover, he pushed the
boundaries of the material in his daringly complex compositions, expanding the conception
of what was possible in bronze sculpture. Bertoldo employed this
method of collaboration in other media as well. Recent examination has revealed that at least five different hands, perhaps from the workshops of
Luca and Andrea della Robbia, or Benedetto Buglioni, formed
the figures of the frieze above the entrance to Lorenzo’s
villa at Poggio a Caiano, across 15 meters, following
a design by Bertoldo. Comparisons of certain
figures reveal differences in physiognomy from section
to section, and sometimes, even from figure to figure, although the overall design
of the frieze is consistent, and here, I’m showing you two details from the final two sections. You can see variations in
the physical articulation. For example, if you look
at the end figure here, versus the term figure here, this very muscular seated figure here, and the much more live and supple figure of Apollo in the chariot here. Another documented collaboration reveals that Bertoldo also
produced artwork in stone. The stonecutter, Giovanni
Michi, listed on his tax return that he’d completed, quote,
work for Lorenzo de’ Medici with Bertoldo the sculptor, end quote, in the year of Bertoldo’s death. It is tantalizing to think of Bertoldo designing a marble statue, given
that today, none are known. He likely followed the practice that had already served him very well in both bronze and
terracotta, employing Michi to produce a sculpture worthy
of Lorenzo’s collection. This relief of a centaur battling a lapith at the Ashmolean Museum in
Oxford, is given to an artist in Bertoldo’s circle
and may provide an idea of what a marble designed by Bertoldo could have looked like. Michelangelo’s Young Archer,
just up the road at the Met, was once attributed to Bertoldo, and it takes its dynamic serpentine pose from Bertoldo’s Orpheus,
providing yet another example. From his earliest production
under the supervision of Donatello, to his final relief for Lorenzo’s country villa,
seen here in its entirety, Bertoldo collaborated with
other artists across media. The documented objects
created after Bertoldo established himself as
an independent master revealed that he was often
designer and modeler, envisioning the motifs that
he then employed others to render in bronze,
terracotta, stucco, or stone, yet he often provided the
finishing touches himself, ensuring a uniformity across
media and collaborator. In stark contrast to the modern conception of the singular artist
working alone in their studio, the creation of sculpture
in the Quattrocento was a collaborative process,
involving numerous hands and even the participation of humanists who could have provided
the literary foundations of the artist’s design, and
a contemporary comparison could be drawn with perhaps the workshops of Jeff Koons and Sol LeWitt, whose hands certainly
don’t generate everything that they produce. Bertoldo, in his privileged
position at the center of artistic production under Lorenzo, collaborated with the leading artists and writers of his time. Regardless of who physically
produced the objects in whole or in part, Bertoldo was
recognized as their inventor. As described by Guacialotti,
who cast the Pazzi medal, Bertoldo was responsible for, quote, the most honorable
invention of his sculptures. Now, as mentioned at the
start of this lecture, Bertoldo was heralded upon his death for his unparalleled
ingenuity and artistry. Lorenzo, it was reported, was
anxious that no other artist across the entire Italian Peninsula would be able to match Bertoldo’s designs. Why was Bertoldo celebrated in such a way? The reunions of Bertoldo’s
two shield bearers for the first time in modern
history provides an opportunity for us to explore the
iconographic innovation for which Bertoldo was, in
his time, highly esteemed. The bronze on the right has
been in The Frick Collection since 1916, and his companion on the left comes from the collections of
the princes of Liechtenstein in Vienna, and it was actually
the idea of their reunion for the first time that was the catalyst for this exhibition, which has, in turn, brought together all the possible works by Bertoldo to travel here at The Frick. For more than a century,
Bertoldo’s Hercules on Horseback in the Galleria Estense
in Modena, seen here between the two shield
bearers, has been described as the centerpiece of a
three-part sculptural group, originally flanked by
the two shield bearers. The three statuettes have
been traditionally viewed as a miniature equestrian monument, with the figure on horseback
understood as the key to interpreting the group’s iconography. This virtually unquestioned
theory, first posited by Wilhelm Von Bode in 1905,
has prevailed ever since, resulting in the nuances
of the two shield bearers being overlooked within
the larger discussion of the equestrian figure. In Bode’s theory, the
two flanking statuettes were heraldic wild men,
mythical humanoid beasts of the medieval forest
who often bore shields with family emblems,
and thus, these figures were purely subordinate to Hercules whom they flanked and accompanied. Explored at length in the
catalog, for our purposes today, it is sufficient to say
that iconographic, archival, and technical evidence has
revealed that the shield bearers and Hercules on Horseback
were not the result of a single commission. Divorced from the Hercules on Horseback, the shield bearers can be
considered independently for the first time. Their individual characteristics, as well as their
relationship to each other, demonstrate Bertoldo’s ingenious design and his inventive interlacing
of diverse iconography that, as a result, engage the viewer in an interactive game of
sorts of identification. At first glance, the Frick and
Liechtenstein shield bearers seem quite similar in
appearance, almost mirror images. Measuring the same height, both bronzes have extensive remnants
of their original gilding. Each statuette depicts a nude figure standing in dynamic
contrapposto, with a large club resting on his shoulder and a blank shield supported by the opposite hand. Originally, these shields would have displayed coats
of arms, perhaps on enamel or precious metal inserts,
which are now lost. Ivy or grape vines encircle their waists while garlands of
tongue-like leaves are woven through their twisting
locks of unkempt hair. There are, however, notable
differences between the two. The Frick figure has a
youthful face with a hint of facial hair delicately
chased below his ears. His physique is slender, the muscles beneath his
smooth skin subtly indicated. The Liechtenstein figure,
on the other hand, is somewhat older, with a full
beard and more brawny build, accentuated by the rippling musculature of his chest and abdomen. Closer inspection reveals
further distinguishing elements. The Frick shield bearer, for example, has two minuscule horns
curling into the locks of hair above his forehead, which
you can see here, and here. His companion does not share these horns. And, when the Frick statuette is rotated, the viewer is presented with
the surprising discovery of a set of panpipes at his left hip, as well as a swishing tail
at the base of his spine. The Liechtenstein bronze, however, has neither the instrument nor the tail. The figures are thus quite distinct, one is a man, and the
other, part man, part beast. Since their rediscovery,
the specific identities of the shield bearers have
been debated among scholars. The frustration with
the unclear iconography of the figures is reflected most obviously in the title given to the Frick statuette when it was sold to John
Pierpont Morgan in 1905. Described as, quote, a faun disguised as Hercules, end quote. The iconography of the
statuette, and of its pair, does not match any ancient
or contemporary depiction. As a result, scholars have
variously identified the figures as wild men, fauns, or
Hercules, yet neither figure conforms to any of these types. Instead, the imagery of the shield bearers engage with these visual
traditions more dynamically, resulting in multivalent identifications. Further, the historic
interpretation of the two statuettes as identical flanking support
for the Hercules on Horseback led scholars to conflate them,
collapsing their identities, or even attributing
unique characteristics, like The Frick’s horns
or tail to both bronzes. In the reassessment of their iconography, the overlooked dissimilarities
between the figures are revealed as shrewdly calculated keys to understanding the
iconography of the statuettes. The most prevalent interpretation
of the shield bearers is that they depict wild men, originating with Bode’s theory
first published in 1905, and I’m showing you here, a contemporary Northern Italian drawing of a wild man by Giovannino
de’ Grassi kept in Bergamo. While the statuettes, at first
glance, may or may not fit within the general
iconography of the wild man, their features deviate
in important aspects. A dynamic approach was
taken in their design, referencing specific attributes while also denying a simple identification of Bertoldo’s figures as wild men. The concept of the wild men
emerged in Northern Europe in the Middle Ages, derived
from ancient notions of supernatural woodland deities
and contemporaneous reports of monsters being discovered
in the newly explored lands beyond the Mediterranean. The mythical wild man was
consistently described as human in shape but covered in a
thick layer of shaggy hair from head to toe, often with leafy vines wrapped around his waist and garlands woven through
his hair, and usually, wielding a large club, as we can see here. The wild man was the antithesis
of civilization and society. In essence, he personified man’s primal and bestial instincts. The image of the wild man
proved to be a popular subject, and patrons commissioned precious objects featuring the creature, such
as embroidered tapestries, the example at the top, by a Swiss artist and kept in the Victoria
and Albert Museum, as well as silver gilt ewers, this version by a German artist here in
New York at The Cloisters. While the medium and function
of the objects varied, the depiction of the wild man
was more or less consistent. Starting in the 15th century, the wild man became a popular, heraldic figure and was often seen
supporting coats of arms. This heraldic wild man
became so sought after that printmakers began to
produce standardized images of the figure bearing a
blank shield to be filled in with patrons’ devices, as
illustrated in this print by Martin Schongauer up at the Met. While imagery of wild man,
especially as a shield bearer, became ubiquitous
throughout Northern Europe, there’s little visual
evidence of the tradition on the Italian Peninsula. The only known image of a wild man from Quattrocento Florence is an engraving attributed to Baccio Baldini, and kept in the Bibliotheque
Nationale in Paris. The now damaged print shows
a wild man, a wild woman, I know it’s a bit difficult to make out, but you can see them here. Then they are absconding with a human baby that they have exchanged
for their own wild child who is here with the, here
with the patrician elite who are chasing them. In a hunting party, the
family of the stolen baby carrying the child left
in the place of their own, pursues and attacks the
pair of fleeing wild folk. The wild man in this engraving ascribes to the traditional northern aesthetics of the mythical creature. The concept of the wild man
was certainly present in Italy, yet the majority of the visual
depictions of the figure originated north of
the Alps, in this case, inspiring a local Florentine printmaker. While the print is contemporary with the bronze shield bearers, Bertoldo’s so-called wild
men are markedly different. First and foremost, neither the Frick nor the Liechtenstein shield bearer has the hallmark
characteristic of a wild man, a thick layer of hair
covering the entire body. This alone is enough to
disqualify their identification as wild men. Further, the tail and
horns of The Frick bronze led Bode to reclassify both
statuettes as wild men, yet not a single known
depiction of a wild man includes horns, a tail, or pan pipes, which indicate instead
a closer association with the woodland deities
of ancient mythology, such as fauns. The club that each figure
wields is, however, the standard weapon of the wild man. While clubs could indicate
another association, perhaps with Hercules,
their depiction in tandem with the leafy vines that wrap around the shield bearers’ bodies is indeed reminiscent of wild men. Finally, the two figures
act as shield bearers, the most widespread image of the wild man. Bertoldo’s bronzes have
an undeniable affinity with this established iconography, however, his free adaptation denies a straightforward identification. The image of the wild
man as shield bearers may have been the first association the Renaissance viewer made upon seeing the two bronze statuettes, yet it was certainly not
a complete iconography. The beholder would have been forced to consider every detail, engaging closely with the two sculptures to
assess whether or not the figures were indeed wild men. The discordance between
the two highlights the need to consider them carefully together, as well as separately. In this interrogation, the
idea that they may, in fact, represent something other than wild men also comes into consideration. The description of the Frick
shield bearer as a faun disguised as Hercules has
occasionally been repeated, the tail, horns, and pan
pipes leading some scholars to believe he is indeed a faun. Depicted as humans with
the legs of a goat, pointed animal ears, and a bushy tail, as well as curving horns, these beasts are common in Florentine art. Botticelli depicted them
as if they were small putti in his panel of Venus and Mars, the National Gallery of
London, while Piero di Cosimo brought them up to human scale,
and armed them with clubs in his violent scene,
A Primitive Man Hunting Along Prehistoric Beasts at the Met. In The Frick statuette, Bertoldo alluded to the mythical creature, yet deviated from its prescribed attributes. First and foremost, the Frick
bronze lacks the goat legs that denote a faun in
contemporary artwork. And upon closer inspection,
it is revealed that his ears are human, not pointed, yet
the horns, tail, and pan pipes on the Frick statuette are
attributes that tie the figure to the imagery of fauns,
perhaps even the faun known as Pan, god of the
woodlands of fabled Arcadia. In art, Pan is often
distinguished from fauns only by his panpipes. The inclusion of the instrument
in The Frick statuette could indicate that the bronze
depicts this woodland god. The lack of goat legs,
however, as mentioned, seem to preclude this identification. However, ancient illustrations
of these creatures often included human legs, as
in The Dancing Faun of Pompeii from the Museo Archeologico in Naples. The faun appears as a human
endowed with a tail, horns, and pointed ears below
the garland in his hair. Typologically, then, Bertoldo’s statuette is closer to antique depictions, but expressly without pointed ears, a feature common to both ancient and Renaissance images of fauns. Thus, there is no simple identification of the bronze as a faun. While The Frick shield bearer includes some of the key
attributes of a faun, perhaps even Pan, the
statuette’s companion cannot be interpreted in the same way, the lack of these attributes precluding such an identification. In fact, it seems that Bertoldo intentionally obscured the interpretation of Liechtenstein shield bearer, at once revealing his lack of a tail, yet covering the top of
his ears with his hair, and perhaps his tears
were pointed underneath. As it is clear that the two
shield bearers were conceived as a pair, who could the
Liechtenstein statuette depict if The Frick figure were
indeed interpreted as a faun? The shield bearer from
Vienna could be a wild man in the company of a faun,
as the two did coexist in certain contexts. The wild man, for example,
was frequently portrayed alongside fauns at wedding banquets and theatrical festivities
in the 15th century. However, neither statuette
is a perfect wild man. If The Frick bronze is indeed a faun, his counterpart might be Bacchus, the god of wine and fertility, and the possible father of Pan. The vines wrapped around his body bring what may be grape
leaves, as well as the garland in his hair could substantiate
such an identification. Depictions of Bacchus with
a faun or Pan were common in Antiquity and the Renaissance. The most well-known example was sculpted by Bertoldo’s own pupil, Michelangelo, is at the Museo Nazionale
del Bargello, but of course, the two figures are
drastically different in scale. Of course, the identification
of The Frick statuette as a faun is imperfect,
and thus cannot be used to concretely establish the
identity of his counterpart. Fauns, for example, were not
depicted as shield bearers, and there are no known illustrations of the god of wine brandishing a club. Once more, as in the
interpretation of the figures as wild men, a close examination
of both shield bearers leads to a conceptual
questioning of their identities that is rewarding as well as challenging. The statuettes are clear yet opaque, presenting easily identifiable attributes while mixing identities,
myths, and iconography, thereby denying any
straightforward interpretation. The multivalence of the statuettes allows for one final
additional identification that corresponds to the earliest titles given to both bronzes. When Stefano Bardini sold the
Liechtenstein shield bearer to Prince Johann II in 1880, and when Bode first published it in 1895, they both identified
the figure as Hercules. The Frick statuette, as noted previously, was also affiliated with
the mythological hero just after it was rediscovered. Once Bode decided that they were a pair, and that this pair accompanied
the Hercules on Horseback, his theory precluded the titling of either flanking figure as
Hercules because, of course, Hercules would not flank Hercules. With this hypothesis disproven,
it is possible once more to consider the
identification of the Frick or even Liechtenstein shield
bearer as Hercules himself. In Quattrocento Florence, Hercules had a long-established
local tradition in iconography. Since at least 1281, he
was used as the image on the seal of a Florentine commune seen here in a 17th century print after the original 13th century seal, which was paired with the Latin hexameter that translates to, quote,
Florence subdues depravity with a Herculean club, end quote. The mythological figure
was employed as a symbol of the city’s government,
demonstrating Florence’s might, signifying its pursuit of justice, and embodying the qualities
desirable in a city-state that was free from tyranny. Throughout the Medieval
period and the Renaissance, both the government and its
citizens commissioned images that linked labors of
the mythological hero to the virtues of the Florentine state. From the inventory of Palazzo Medici taken upon Lorenzo’s
death in 1492, it is known that three large canvases
by Antonio del Pollaiuolo, depicting the labors of
Hercules, were displayed in a reception hall that
Lorenzo had designed to echo the decoration
of Piazza della Signoria, the Florentine center of government, and championed republican liberty. The original canvases are
lost, but two of the three are echoed in smaller,
contemporaneous versions by the artist, showing at the
top, Hercules and the Hydra, and below, Hercules Wrestling Antaeus, and these two paintings are now
in the collection of Uffizi. The paintings demonstrate the Medici family’s shrewd
practice of appropriating symbols of Florentine liberty
to tie their own family closer to the government. On the surface, the Medici
advocated republican freedom from tyranny, however, in
their unofficial position of power, they actively
undermined the state’s agency. Hercules featured
prominently in this practice. In addition to the canvases, the Medici also commissioned
bronze statuettes of the mythological hero, including one of his defeat of Antaeus, similar to Pollaiuolo’s bronze statuette of the same subject, seen here and this comes from the Bargello as well. And Hercules also served
as a Medici shield bearer, brandishing their coat of
arms, including, as seen here, on Lorenzo’s own copy of the
sermons of Saint Augustine, which was dedicated to,
and transcribed for, Magnifico himself, and this copy is at the Biblioteca Medicea
Laurenziana, Florence. Lorenzo came to be
associated with Hercules amongst his circles of
artists and writers, one of whom, of course, was
Bertoldo, who was at the center. The sculptor was certainly familiar with Pollaiuolo’s depictions of Hercules, as well as the numerous
Florentine illustrations of the hero, yet he did
not emulate any directly in his shield bearers. Furthermore, just as the
Liechtenstein statuette is precluded from
identification as a faun, due to its lack of key
attributes, the Frick statuette is similarly denied a
straightforward identification as Hercules. The figure assumes the victorious
pose of the ancient hero and wields his weapon, but
his horns, tail, and panpipes suggest instead a faun. The Liechtenstein bronze can
be more closely associated with the mythological hero. First and foremost, upon
detailed inspection, it is revealed that he is truly a man without any beastly appendages. His muscular form also suggests
the virility of Hercules, as does his full beard, and he carries a hero’s ubiquitous club. The vines on his body
and wreath in his hair may seem out of place, but
an ancient Roman statuette of the demigod Hercules shows Hercules with a pronounced wreath of
leaves that correspond precisely to the vegetation depicted
on Bertoldo’s figure. The statuette, now in the
Museo Archeologico, Florence, may have actually provided the inspiration for Bertoldo’s own. This ancient bronze, originally
gilded, can be traced back to Palazzo Medici at the
time of Lorenzo’s death. Identified in the inventory
as, quote, the nude in bronze that has a broken arm located
in the room of Bertoldo. Later, its damaged right arm was replaced, along with a club that may
have featured in the original, strengthening its
identification as Hercules. The antique figure was
presented to Lorenzo in 1474, after its discovery during the excavation of the ancient city of
Luni on the Ligurian coast. Lorenzo, it seems, passed
the statuette onto Bertoldo, who may have used it as a
model for his shield bearers. The bronze is less than
one centimeter taller than both shield bearers, and
has clear visual parallels with Bertoldo’s statuettes,
including the muscular form, attenuated contrapposto pose, turned head, and leafy headdress. It is likely that this ancient statuette played a pivotal role in
the conception and design of the two shield bearers,
which seem to evoke and play with the iconography
of the antique example. Its fragmentary state may
have also inspired Bertoldo to experiment with
incomplete iconographies in his own bronzes. For example, the lion skin
present in the ancient Hercules is notably absent in the
Liechtenstein figure, preventing a clear interpretation of the Liechtenstein bronze as Hercules. If the Liechtenstein bronze
does invoke Hercules, then who could the Frick bronze
represent as its pendant? The horns, tail, and pipes
indicate a woodland creature, but another association
may also be possible. Depictions of Hercules wrestling
Antaeus, the half giant son of Poseidon and Gaia, the
female personification of the earth, were quite
common at the time, featuring in both paintings
and bronzes in the Medici home. In one of his labors, Hercules
lifts the god from the ground and disconnects him from the
earth, the source of his power, while crushing him to death. In Pollaiuolo’s depictions,
Hercules and his foe are virtually identical, differentiated only by the
lion skin at the hero’s waist. If the Liechtenstein bronze
were recognized as Hercules, then a Renaissance viewer might have interpreted the
Frick companion as Antaeus. As in the Pollaiuolo depiction,
the two shield bearers are the same size and are distinguishable only upon closer inspection. The horns, tail, and pipes
on the Frick bronze are, of course, more appropriate for a faun, but they do associate the creature with a fantastical and natural world of which Antaeus was a son. The Florentine tradition
of Herculean imagery must be considered as well. The demigod was venerated
as the embodiment of Florentine virtue, and
Lorenzo cleverly cultivated his association with the figure, while also owning an ancient bronze that seems to have informed the design of the shield bearers. It is not known if Lorenzo
commissioned the two statuettes, yet it is clear that the
bronzes would have fit in well with other Medici depictions of the hero in the home that Lorenzo invited
Bertoldo to share with him as his favorite artist and his familiare. While Bertoldo’s shield bearers engage with the established iconography
and imagery of wild men, fauns, and Hercules, they
also depart from them, denying a clear identification
for either figure. Their ingenious design
includes attributes of each, resulting in a multivalent interpretation that is intentionally indefinite. At every opportunity,
Bertoldo clouds interpretation by incorporating or
excluding key elements. However, despite the
divergences in imagery, there is a common thread running through all three
possible identifications. At the heart of each iconography lies the eternal question of man’s nature. In Quattrocento Florence, the
contemplation of wild men, fauns, and even Hercules,
inherently invoke the debate surrounding man’s primal instincts and connection to the natural world, both benevolent and malevolent,
as well as his possession of creative versus destructive power. All three beings embody the dangers of unleashed impulses
and bestial mentality, while also symbolizing the
Arcadian dream of proximity to unblemished nature, innocent
of societal corruption. Statuettes embody this paradox,
prompting contemplation of man’s nature, moral
imperatives, and primal instincts, and thereby inspiring the viewers to confront their own
conceptions of virtue and vice. Through his shrewd design, Bertoldo created a pair of statuettes that, from intentionally
disjointed iconography, achieve conceptual unity. In conclusion, it is clear
that Bertoldo was a master of producing multivalent artwork by presenting an unfixed
narrative mixed with elements from diverse sources, of
which the shield bearers are just one example. His iconographic inconsistencies
were certainly intentional, as such artworks were
prized for their ability to inspire conversation and
debate, offering layered imagery designed to intrigue the
learned Renaissance mind. Through close examination
and extended contemplation of Bertoldo’s sculptures,
unexpected and beguiling details are revealed, engaging
with the viewer’s knowledge of the literature and
artwork, both contemporaneous and classical, from which
Bertoldo drew as well as departed. The viewer questions himself
as the details are revealed upon closer examination, making
connections between myths from different traditions
that do not belong together, yet appear conflated in
Bertoldo’s sculptures. The reunion of Bertoldo’s extant oeuvre at The Frick Collection
allows, for the first time, the sculptor’s clever design
and inventive iconography to be examined across scale and medium. These sculptures, activated
by pensive engagement, remain as enchanting and as enigmatic as they were half a century ago. Visitors to The Frick’s
exhibition have the opportunity to encounter the same objects
as Lorenzo and his circle, drawn into Bertoldo’s ingenious artistry that was celebrated as,
and remains, immortal. Thank you. (audience applauding) (people mumbling)

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