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Kimbell Art Museum Acquires Two Major Italian Sculptures:
Bernini’s Modello for the Fountain of the Moor
and a Renaissance Bust of Isabella D’Este



 

Staff Report

FORT WORTH, TEXAS, 4 February 2004—The Kimbell Art Museum has announced the acquisition of two major Italian sculptures: Gian Lorenzo Bernini's recently rediscovered presentation model (modello) for the Fountain of the Moor in Piazza Navona, Rome, executed in 1653; and a rare and important portrait bust of a woman, probably Isabella d'Este, c. 1500, attributed to Gian Cristoforo Romano.

Dr. Timothy Potts, director of the Kimbell Art Museum, commented in a statement to the press: "These works dramatically enhance the Kimbell's representation of Italian Renaissance and Baroque sculpture through acknowledged masterpieces that will be among the highlights of the collection, taking their place beside the Museum's very finest paintings. Both are works of rare beauty and outstanding importance that hardly ever become available today. The Moor is probably the finest surviving terracotta by Bernini's hand, and will be a 'destination piece' for anyone with a serious interest in Baroque art. It is no less remarkable that, after many generations of avid collecting Renaissance art in the United States, it should be possible to acquire what will be the finest terracotta female portrait of the period in this country."

Bernini's dramatic terracotta image of a triton (a sea-deity of Greek mythology) grappling with a fish atop a gigantic shell is considered one of the greatest masterpieces of terracotta sculpture of the Baroque period (17th century).

Gian Lorenzo
				
				
				 Bernini: Fountain of the Moor
Gian Lorenzo Bernini, Italian, 1598-1680:
Modello for the Moor, 1653
Terracotta; 31 3/4 in. (80.5 cm) high
Kimbell Art Museum, acquired 2003
Photo courtesy of Kimbell Art Museum

According to the Kimball, the 32-inch high sculpture was almost certainly made as a presentation model for Pope Innocent X Pamphili, who in 1651 commissioned Bernini to design a new centerpiece for the fountain at the south end of Piazza Navona. A few years earlier, in 1648-51, Bernini had designed the Fountain of the Four Rivers, topped by a monumental obelisk, as the focal point of the refurbished piazza. Bernini's first two designs for the south fountain, consisting of a shell and fish, and tritons and dolphins, were rejected by the Pope, who in 1653 gave the instruction instead to "decorate more adequately the old fountain of Piazza Navona … with some other figure which by its height and size will match the surrounding ones with greater nobility." The result was the now famous Fountain of the "Moor" (a nickname it acquired in the 18th century). These fountains, together with the new façade of the Pamphili family palace and the church of Sant'Agnese by Francesco Borromini constructed around the same time, transformed Piazza Navona into one of the grandest sculptural and architectural expressions of the Roman Baroque. It remains today one of the most visited tourist destinations in Italy.

Modeled with the virtuosity and "calculated spontaneity" that characterize the work of the greatest sculptor of 17th-century Europe, the modello of the Moor surpasses other Bernini terracottas both in its size and highly finished quality. "It is the largest and most finished terrocata by Bernini in the world", said Andrew Butterfield, Sr. Vice President at Salander-O'Reilly Galleries in New York which bought the sculpture at auction from Sotheby's London in July 2002 for 3.2 million dollars. The New York dealers sold the sculpture to the Kimbell Art Museum at the end of 2003 for an undisclosed sum.

The nude figure is shown struggling to subdue a large, carp-like fish, whose tail and dorsal fin he grasps as the head emerges between his legs to spout water. The triton's allegorical aspect as an elemental force of nature is emphasized by his strident pose, dramatically wind-swept hair, and willfully brutal expression.

Gian
				
				
				 Lorenzo Bernini: Fountain of the Moor (nude torso)
Gian Lorenzo Bernini, Italian, 1598-1680:
Modello for the Moor, 1653
Terracotta; 31 3/4 in. (80.5 cm) high
Kimbell Art Museum, acquired 2003
Photo courtesy of Kimbell Art Museum

The spirally twisting stance, with its sharp turn of the head over the right shoulder, was clearly conceived to be seen from all angles, and indeed virtually compels the viewer to circle around it. In this, Bernini built upon his earlier fountain of Neptune and Triton (Victoria and Albert Museum, London), which derives in part from the Mannerist tradition exemplified by works like Giambologna's Fountain of the Ocean, in Florence, that presents striking profiles at the cardinal points. However, Giambologna's contrapposto or serpentine poses are never so remarkably resolved as those in Bernini's muscular figures, which are informed and animated by his study of ancient sculpture, including the famous Laocoön, Belvedere Torso, and particularly the Pasquino (today identified as Menelaus or Ajax bearing the corpse of Patroclus), whose turn of the head over the shoulder may have suggested that of the triton, the Kimbell explained. Bernini is said to have admired this weathered, fragmentary marble group, displayed on a street corner near Piazza Navona, above all others.

Bernini's commission for the Fountain of the Moor (together with the rejected earlier versions) is well documented in papal records, the Kimbell said. An account of May 2, 1653, records that the new fountain was to be constructed according to Bernini's model, and shortly thereafter, on July 12, the treasury was authorized to pay Bernini 550 scudi for the full-scale marble version. The carving was carried out under Bernini's supervision by his assistant Gian Antonio Mari, and the sculpture was installed by January 1655. Later that year, on July 18, Bernini submitted a final bill for 300 scudi for "the statue of the triton, fish, and large shell, conforming to the modello made by me." A summary account of February 16, 1656 refers to "the work he [Bernini] undertook in the restoration of the fountain, and for the models, etc., [and] assistance that he gave to Antonio Mari, sculptor, in making the fountain."

Gian
				
				
				 Lorenzo Bernini: Fountain of the  Moor
Gian Lorenzo Bernini, Italian, 1598-1680:
Modello for the Moor, 1653
Terracotta; 31 3/4 in. (80.5 cm) high
Kimbell Art Museum, acquired 2003
Photo courtesy of Kimbell Art Museum

These models (typically made in terracotta or plaster) presumably included the present work. Some other terracotta models for the Fountain of the Moor have been identified, as might be expected from Bernini's practice of developing his compositions in clay "sketches" (bozzetti) and, for important commissions, in more detailed modelli. A Head of the Moor (Museo Nazionale di Palazzo Venezia, Rome) was perhaps broken away from a larger model. A smaller terracotta model of the figure (private collection) stands on the triton shell, but without the rock formation that is such an integral part of the present modello, and testifies to its primacy.

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