MARBLE SCULPTURES

Balthasar

GANO DI FAZIO (Documented in Siena from 1302 to 1317)


white marble, 50 x 37 x 17 cm

 

A half-figure in marble representing Balthasar by Gano di Fazio

The marble half-figure of a bearded man (h. 50 x w. 37 x d. 17 cm) is wearing a long-sleeved robe, covered by a mantle draped over his shoulders as though it were a toga which then falls from the left, in front of the chest, beneath the right arm to wrap round the hip. Both arms are held to the body and bent at the elbow, leaving the hands free to hold a covered cup or chalice in front of his chest. This vessel consists of a wide base and a cup with a lid, the two pieces together forming a sphere. A small damaged area at the top of the lid suggests that a handle might have broken off at this point. As for the rest, only the index finger of the left hand is slightly damaged, in other words: the half-figure is in good condition. Mention should also be made of the three drill holes in the head, indicating that a metal object must originally have been fixed there.

Who does the half-figure of the bearded man represent? Only the attribute of the covered cup and the three drill holes in the head might provide the answer. The former excludes an identification with Saint John the Evangelist, as he holds an open cup in his hands, a poisoned chalice, from which a serpent or dragon emerges. The bearded man in his classical clothing, often worn in the Trecento by apostles and saints, holds the covered cup with both hands, the base in the left hand, while the right, with the fingers outstretched, is delicately resting on the cup and lid, in the act of carefully protecting the vessel against the chest. In the meantime, he is addressing someone, mouth open and ready to speak. No saints with this attrubute have been identified. The three Magi, however, on their way to visit the newborn Christ in the manger in Bethlehem, often hold covered chalices containing gifts for the Child – gold, incense and myrrh. In the Nativity scene the first bearded king, Melchior, the oldest of the three, offers his gift kneeling, while the second, Balthasar, also bearded, stands holding his cup tightly. The third king, Caspar, is represented as a clean-shaven young man, sometimes even as a moor. The half-figure of a bearded man holding a covered cup might therefore be identified as the second king, Balthasar. The three drill holes in the head indicate that it bore a metal crown.
The bust of Balthasar should not be considered a fragment of a statue that was once complete, as the image was clearly conceived as a half-length figure. Certain features confirm this hypothesis: the sharp horizontal cut at the base of the sculpture and the configuration of the drapery that wraps around the body on both sides. The back of the sculpture has only been roughed out, with the knowledge that it would be hidden from view. The material, dimensions and workmanship suggest that it was originally destined for an architectural setting. In the figurative cycles that adorned Gothic portals, the three Magi could appear individually in the splayed arches, facing the Virgin placed on the door jamb. In the Duomo in Siena beneath the windows of the matroneum in the central aisle is a cycle of half-figures which are, however, considerably larger than the half-figure examined here.
As far as measurements are concerned, those of Balthasar correspond to the half-figure of the blessing Christ (h. 51.5 x w. 32.5 x d. 14 cm) held in the Salini Collection in Castello Gallico. There are also similarities in the artistic concept, the style of the drapery, the facial features and the configuration of the hair. The half-figure has been attributed to “Agnolo di Ventura (?)” by Bartalini, suggesting a stylistic affinity with the Christ executed for the tympanum of the Porta Petroni in San Francesco in Siena, datable to1336. The head of this Christ sculpted by Agnolo di Ventura – as in the case of the heads of all his figures – is decidedly round in shape (rather than elongated like the head of the half-figure Christ) and the facial features are modelled in a marked and harsh manner unlike the softened features of the half-figure Christ which cannot be considered the work of Agnolo di Ventura.
From an artistic perspective, the half-figures correspond with several works by the Sienese sculptor Gano di Fazio (1290 ca. – 1317/18), active not only in Siena, but throughout Tuscany and beyond: Arezzo, Perugia, Casole d’Elsa, Cortina and Massa Marittima. Similarities in the shape of the head and in the features emerge particularly in the comparison with the figure of a beardless Apostle in Massa Marittima, whose right hand is concealed beneath his robe. Despite the variations in the physiognomies of different generations, Balthasar’s facial features and those of the Apostle just mentioned display a similar modelling of the mouth, the accentuated cheekbones, the narrow nose, and the eyes with the same lids and eyebrows. The Apostle Paul in Massa Marittima also resembles the half-figure of Balthasar in the shape of the head. The treatment of the hair and the beard prove to be similar, and reveal not only the use of the chisel but also the drill. The workmanship of the hands is the same and it can be noted that the slender fingers are separated by grooves traced by the drill in a single curve towards the tip, a particular feature that can be observed in a comparison with the left hand of Paul. In his late works in Massa Marittima, however, Gano di Fazio distanced himself from his rather crude manner and detached the arms, as in the case of Balthasar, from the bust through the use of grooves with rounded heads created by the drill. In the first works from the 1290s, this formal characteristic is found repeatedly in the figures on the tomb of Pope Gregory X in the Duomo in Arezzo. For this reason the half-figure of Balthasar was probably produced before the statues in Massa Marittima, that is to say shortly after 1300 and chronologically close to the funerary monument for Bishop Tommaso d’Andrea in the Collegiate church in Casole d’Elsa.
Considering, probably, that the two half-figures representing Christ and Balthasar reveal the hand of the same sculptor and correspond in size, it seems clear that the the two sculptures were originally intended for the same setting, still unfortunately unknown.

Gert Kreytenberg

 
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