TEFAF Maastricht 2020
Pietro Tacca and workshop
The Crucifixion with the Virgin Mary and Saint John the Evangelist, second quarter of the 1600s
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.
On loan to Cleveland Museum of Art, Cleveland, Ohio 2011–12.
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.
Eike D. Schmidt, et al., Plasmato Dal Fuoco: La Scultura in Bronzo Nella Firenze Degli Ultimi Medici, exh. cat. Gallerie degli Uffizi, Florence, 2019, p. 175; as “Pietro Tacca e bottega”, Maria Sframeli.
This beautiful Crucifixion group by Pietro Tacca is a small-scale version of the famous Pistoia Crucifix (National Gallery of Art, Washington), which is one of the most beautiful three-dimensional articulations of the suffering Christ in Western art. Only three bronzes of this size are ascribed to the master Tacca, who inherited Giambologna’s workshop in 1608 and who was court sculptor to the Medici.
The three bronze figures involved in this exquisite 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 panels of pietre dure, including lapis lazuli, agate, and bloodstone, with gilt trimmings. The cross has ormolu finials of late Mannerist design, centered with cherubim. The musculature of the dead Christ is clearly defined, with his ribcage distended and stomach drawn in, a reaction to the agony of his waning hours. His head is bowed to the viewers left. His perizonium 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), 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 (1525/29–1608), 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.
As Watson writes (1975, p. 228):
Crucifixes were produced by the workshop in a number of models and sizes;
In 1616, Tacca sent to King Philip III of Spain a bronze Crucifix, now in the monastery of El Escorial, near Madrid. It is the first securely documented as by Pietro Tacca. Philip III was delighted with the work, which may today still to be viewed in the Great Sacristy of the Escorial in a niche over the altar of Santa Forma. Another similar sculpture—which is considered to be the most beautiful—is the so-called Pistoia Crucifix from the Piccolomini collection in Siena is now in the National Gallery of Art, Washington. A third, slightly smaller work, which is 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 with the one sent in 1621 by Tacca to Ferdinando, son of Vincenzo Gonzaga. A fifth is in San Vigilio, Siena. Another was produced for the Cathedral of Prato in 1653 by Pietro’s son, Ferdinando.
Pietro Tacca’s crucifixes are notable for their 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 turns into a poetic language with vibrating surfaces of extreme delicacy.”
As for smaller crucifixes for domestic chapels, three are given to him by Maria Sframeli in the catalogue for the recent bronze exhibition at Palazzo Pitti: the present version, one in the Museo Nazionale del Bargello Florence, and one in the Museo degli Argenti of the Palazzo Pitti. The later is the most similar to the present group. It is set on a naturalistic bronze mount evoking Golgotha, complete with skull and bones and was presented in the recent exhibition Forged in Fire: Bronze Sculpture in Florence under the Last Medici (2019–20, Palazzo Pitti, Florence, see fig. 1).
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 coiffure 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 convey less urgency too, with the Virgin’s middle fingers being conjoined, instead of being spread tensely, with their joints sharply defined. A similar softening also characterizes 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 remodeling 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 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 as 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. So 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, though with the contributions of Roman craftsmen working in that city.
 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.
Fig. 1. Pietro Tacca and assistants, Crucifixion, Museo degli Argenti, Palazzo Pitti, Florence.
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