New Acquisition: Baratta’s Wealth and Prudence

December 1, 2011

On view now in our European galleries are two life-size allegorical figure statues, Wealth and Prudence, by the late Florentine Baroque master, Giovanni Baratta (1640–1747)—just acquired through the largess of The Ahmanson Foundation. The rediscovery of these sculptures has been recognized as a major contribution to the study of early eighteenth-century Florentine art.

Giovanni Baratta, Wealth (left) and Prudence (right), 1709, gift of the Ahmanson Foundation

Originally part of one of Baratta’s most illustrious commissions, the works are noted for their refined elegance. The sculptures were commissioned by Niccolò Maria Giugni (1672-1717) for the gallery in his Palazzo on the Via degli Alfani in Florence. Facing one another at either end of the gallery, they were part of an elaborate iconographic scheme intended to glorify the Medici family and celebrate the Giugni family’s allegiance to the Medici. The choice of Wealth and Prudence was particularly appropriate to illustrate the joint virtues of the families, as some members of the Giugni family had advised the Medici in various aspects of their governance.

The two allegories closely match the iconology of the subjects: Wealth is a woman bedecked with jewels and holding a crown in one hand, a scepter in the other (the scepter may either have disappeared or never have been intended by the sculptor); Prudence is identified by the mirror she’s holding as well as an arrow and eel, all of which appear distinctly in Baratta’s sculpture.

In addition to their size, the extraordinary quality of carving in the sculptures is noted. Of particular beauty are the hands whose fingers delicately press the fabrics, and folds that are thinly and sharply executed in a way that carries into the eighteenth-century tradition of Bernini, in whose studio Baratta’s uncle had worked. The sculptures were executed shortly before 1709, at the height of Baratta’s fame. Shortly after, with well-established international recognition, he received commissions globally, including those from the Duke of Marlborough (“Princely Glory”, Cambridge, Fitzwilliam Museum), the King of Denmark (Peace, Fedensborg Castle), and the Royal House of Savoy in Turin (Decoration of the Church of St. Hubert in the Venaria Reale).

As the first marble examples of Baroque Florentine sculptures to enter the collection, Wealth and Prudence are an important addition to LACMA’s extensive grouping of late seventeenth- and early eighteenth-century Florentine sculpture. The Baratta works join a bronze by Antonio Montauti, as well as a gilded terra-cotta, a wax relief, and medals by Massimilliano Soldani-Benzi, amongst other notable works currently on view in the museum’s European galleries.

J. Patrice Marandel, the Robert H. Ahmanson Chief Curator of European Art

Medieval Mourners

May 10, 2011

The Mourners: Tomb Sculptures from the Court of Burgundy just opened last weekend. The installation is beautiful, with spotlit alabaster figures set on a platform in a dramatic darkened gallery. The figures are not commonly seen in such a minimalist setting; they come from the lower register of the elaborate tomb of John the Fearless, one of the powerful 15th century dukes of Burgundy. The tomb is now a centerpiece of the Musee des Beaux-Arts de Dijon. The gallery that houses it is being renovated, so the figures have been on the road for over a year. Isolated as discrete works of art, the sculptures (each about sixteen inches high) stand out like miniature portraits of distinct personalities who retain their individuality despite the passage of more than five and a half centuries.

Each figure is captured in an apparently spontaneous posture of grief. Some wipe their tears, while others bow their heads, sing, or wring their hands.

Jean de la Huerta and Antoine le Moiturier, Mourner with Head Uncovered, Wiping His Tears on His Cloak with His Right Hand, no. 55, 1443-56/57, alabaster. Musee des Beaux-Arts, Dijon. Image FRAME 2010. Photography by Jared Bendis and Francois Jay.

They are so detailed that even those who appear to hide under their cloaks have finely carved facial features if you bend down and peek under their hoods.

Mourner with Cowl Pulled Down, Right Hand Raised, Left Hand Holding a Book in a Flap of His Cloak, no. 78, 1443-56/57, alabaster, Musee des Beaux-Arts, Dijon. Image FRAME 2010. Photography by Jared Bendis and Francois Jay.

The French Regional American Museum Exchange (FRAME) has produced an extraordinary online collection of photographs of the mourners. Before the figures were transported to the US for exhibition, they were documented in more than 14,000 high res and stereo 3D photographs. Mourner no. 64 is my favorite, caught in a very personal gesture, pinching his nose as if to stop his tears. You can view the images full screen, zoom, rotate them, and select various angles.

Curator J. Patrice Marandel talks about the poignant humor of the mourners, the artists who carved them, and the installation at LACMA:

Amy Heibel

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