TEFAF Maastricht 2020
Pietro Tacca and workshop
The Crucifixion with the Virgin Mary and Saint John the Evangelist, late 16th–early 17th century
ProvenancePrivate collection, Veneto.
Sold San Marco Casa d’Aste, Venice, Oggetti d’Arte, Bronzi, Sculture. Mobili Italiani dal Rinascimento al Neoclassicismo: Argenti, 8 July 2006, lot 96.
Koelliker Collection, Milan.
Eike D. Schmidt, et al., Forged in Fire. Bronze sculpture in Florence under the last Medici, exh.
cat. Gallerie degli Uffizi, Florence, 2019, p. 175; as “Pietro Tacca e
bottega”, Maria Sframeli.
Aldolfo Venturi, Storia dell’Arte Italiana, X, 3, Milan, 1935, pp. 780–2, fig. 650.
Herbert Keutner, “Die Tabernakelstatuetten der Certosa zu Florenz” Mitteilungen des Kunsthistorischen Institutes in Florenz 8 (1957), pp. 139–44.
Tesori d’Arte nella terra dei Gonzaga, exh. cat. Palazzo Ducale, Mantua, 1974, pp. 65, no. 11. Anthony Radcliffe, “Ferdinando Tacca, The Missing Link in Florentine Baroque Bronzes” in Kunst des Barock in der Toskana, Munich, 1976, pp. 14–23.
Pietro Torriti, Pietro Tacca da Carrara (Genoa, 1975: second revised edition, 1984), pp. 81–82.
Katharine J. Watson, “The Crucifixes of Giambologna” in Charles Avery and Anthony Radcliffe eds., Giambologna, Sculptor to the Medici, exh. cat. Arts Council of Great Britain, London, 1978, pp. 45–47, 137, 148–51, 159, nos. 92, 113–16, 129.
Katharine J. Watson, Pietro Tacca Successor to Giovanni Bologna, New York, 1983.
Charles Avery, Giambologna, the Complete Sculpture, Oxford, 1987, pp. 228–29.
Katharine J. Watson, “Pietro Tacca” in Jane Turner, ed., The Dictionary of Art, London, 1996, vol. 30, pp. 227–29.
Charles Avery, Museo Civico Amedeo Lia: Sculture: Bronzetti, Placchette, Medaglie, Milan, 1998, pp. 127–31, nos. 77–78.
Anthea Brook, “Tacca Family” in Antonia Bostrom, ed., The Encyclopedia of Sculpture, New York and London, 2004, pp. 1633–37.
On loan to Cleveland Museum of Art, Cleveland, Ohio 2011–12.
This beautiful crucifixion group by Pietro Tacca is a reduced version of the famous Pistoia Crucifix in the National Gallery of Art, Washington, one of the most beautiful sculptural articulations of the suffering Christ in Western art. There are only three bronzes of this size ascribed to the master Tacca, who inherited Giambologna’s workshop in 1608 and was court sculptor to the Medici.
exquisitely crafted crucifixes were created for private worship in domestic
chapels. Maria Sframeli assigns three versions of the present composition to
Tacca in the catalogue for the recent bronze exhibition at Palazzo Pitti, Forged
in Fire: Bronze Sculpture in Florence under the Last Medici: the present
version, one in the Museo Nazionale del Bargello Florence, and one in the Museo
degli Argenti of the Palazzo Pitti. The latter is the most similar to the
present group, set on a naturalistic bronze mount evoking Golgotha, complete
with skull and bones, and was presented in the Palazzo Pitti exhibition.
The three bronze figures in the present rendering of the Crucifixion are strongly modelled, expertly cast, and professionally chased in the round. They are set on an ebonized wooden pedestal with a front that breaks forward from two slightly canted corners to form a central aedicule that rises to a voluted pediment supporting the cross. To either side are platforms for the flanking bystanders. The front is richly decorated with vibrantly coloured panels of pietre dure, including precious lapis lazuli, agate, and bloodstone, with gilt trimmings. The cross has gilt bronze finials of late Mannerist design, centred with cherubim. Christ’s head is bowed to the viewer’s left, his expression peaceful yet sombre. His musculature is clearly defined, with his ribcage distended and stomach pulled in, evoking the agony of his waning hours. His perizoma is a single length of cloth, crumpled up and drawn around his loins, tucked over in front and knotted over the hip, with its end hanging loosely down.
On the left stands the Virgin Mary, presented as young and beautiful—as was traditional, despite her actual age at the time of the event—who clasps one hand to her breast in anguish while the other reaches out in a plaintive gesture. The equally youthful Saint John the Evangelist spreads his arms wide in shock and horror. The two mourners’ extended fingers seem to embrace the viewer, drawing their attention inward, while their upturned faces direct attention to the suffering Christ above.
Pietro Tacca was the principal assistant of Giambologna (1529–1608), succeeding him as court sculptor to the Medici Grand Dukes of Florence. The son of a marble merchant in Carrara, he went to Florence in 1592 as an apprentice to Giambologna and, like his master, worked in both marble and bronze. By 1599 he had been elected to the Accademia del Disegno, and in 1601 he was enrolled in the household of the Grand Duke Ferdinando I. Thereafter, he enjoyed a role as a supervisor of the production of a series of great monuments for Ferdinando and for several foreign heads of state, continuing well beyond the death of Giambologna in 1608.
Crucifixes were produced by the workshop in a number of models and sizes. In 1616, Tacca sent King Philip III of Spain a bronze crucifix, the first securely documented as by Tacca, which is now in the monastery of El Escorial, near Madrid. Philip was delighted with the work, which can still be viewed today in the Great Sacristy of the Escorial, in a niche over the altar of Santa Forma. Another similar sculpture—considered to be the most beautiful—is the so-called Pistoia Crucifix from the Piccolomini collection in Siena, now in the National Gallery of Art, Washington. A third slightly smaller work, mounted over the tomb of Archbishop Matteo Rinuccini in Pisa Cathedral, is documented as the work of Pietro Tacca as early as 1643. Of exactly the same size is a fourth example, in the Basilica di Santa Barbara in Mantua. This may be identical to the one sent in 1621 by Tacca to Ferdinando, son of Vincenzo Gonzaga. A fifth is in San Vigilio, Siena, and another was produced for the Cathedral of Prato in 1653 by Pietro’s son, Ferdinando.
Pietro Tacca’s crucifixes are notable for their grace and anatomical naturalism. The Italian expert Pietro Torriti writes eloquently of them as follows:
"The subject of the Crucifix has made Tacca well-known in religious imagery, particularly in Tuscany…The few confirmed crucifixes by Pietro, follow in form the classical style of his early sixteenth-century works, similar to the even more famous crucifixes by Giambologna. This means a complete adherence to the forms of the Tuscan Renaissance and especially, in this field, to those of Michelangelo and his school. Also in these religious works by Tacca we notice the particular plastic momentum that we associate with the best bronze production; a sensitivity of the medium, a care in shaping the surfaces which are made with a tactility and fluency for a greater harmony of the whole. For example, one can observe how the sculptor seems to caress the plastic forms at the hip, and in the development of the shoulders which flow towards the open arms. The expression of power enclosed by the Four Moors pales in the presence of Tacca’s Christ without losing the anatomical study of the perfect nude. His crucifixes turn into a poetic language with vibrating surfaces of extreme delicacy.”
A pair of bystanders alone—without the crucifix or a proper base or altar pedestal—in the Museo Civico Amedeo Lia, La Spezia, while close in general composition to those in the group in the Museo degli Argenti, demonstrates differences which reappear in the present composition. This is most noticeable in the radical change in the figure of Saint John the Evangelist, whose hair is now parted centrally and falls in loose, perhaps even bouffant, curls around his neck. The hand gestures also convey less urgency, with the Virgin’s middle fingers conjoined instead of spread tensely, their joints sharply defined. A similar softening also characterises the handling of the drapery, as compared with the sharper, zig-zag or “V” shaped folds of the Argenti group. All of these features suggest a remodelling to suit a later taste in religious art, that of the full seicento, rather than the initial sharpness and strictness of the Counter-Reformation.
The precious materials used for the base are contemporary with the bronzes. However, the choice of hard stones as well as the strings and ornamental details suggest that Rome rather than Florence was their origin. It could be that the figures were bought in Florence and mounted in Rome, or arrived in Rome as a gift and were then mounted there. Nevertheless, the two cities are not far from one other and artisans, like works of art, travelled forth and back with some frequency. It is equally possible that the mount was created by a Roman artisan working in Florence. Indeed, the gilded bronze ornaments on the cross seem to be more Florentine in style, suggesting that the entire complex might have been brought together in Florence, with the contributions of Roman craftsmen working in that city.
The vivid colours of the pietre dure are a beautiful contrast to the muted softness of the bronze and ebony, a superlative example of the combination of these separate crafts. The exquisite bronze figures, exemplifying Tacca’s naturalism and delicacy, coupled with the rich and finely worked pedestal, would have made this crucifixion group a truly outstanding feature of a private chapel.
 See National Gallery of Art, Sculpture: an Illustrated Catalogue, Washington, 1994, p. 223.
 See Alessandro da Morrona, Compendio di Pisa illustrata, Pisa, 1798, pp. 7–8, and Roberto Papini, Catalogo di Pisa, Rome, 1912, pp. 93–94.
 Tesori, 1974, no. 12.
 All of these works are illustrated in Torriti, 1984.
 Watson, 1975, p. 228.
 Argento senza estimo, no. 81; G.F.S. photos, 437328/9.
 See Avery, 1998.
 Art of the Royal Court, exh.cat., MMA, NY, 2008, cat.no.19, p.139, see also ibid, p.86, fig.92). Also see correspondence with Wolfram Koeppe in 2014.
The artwork described above is subject to changes in availability and price without prior notice.