MARBLE SCULPTURES

A relief for Santa Maria degli Angeli in Florence

Giovanni Caccini (Montopoli in Val d´Arno, 1556 - Florence, 1613)


White marble

 

Riccardo Spinelli in Paragone, Anno LXVII – Terza Serie – Numero 125 (790) Gennaio 2016 pagg. 25/37 figg. 17,18,19,20


A relief for Santa Maria degli Angeli in Florence

In 1862, in compiling a list of the works of art conserved in the Florentine church of Santa Maria degli Angeli in Via degli Alfani and in the related convent, Giuseppe Rondoni, an employee of the Soprintendenza of the time, noted in the second cloister, known as "dell´Ammannato" - or "dei morti" and with direct access from the street - a "large marble coat of arms of the Camaldolese Order", "supported by two life-size sculpted figures of Genii in half-relief, and bearing the date 1580 which suggests that it must be the work of Bart.o Ammannati fior".
The detailed description enables us to identify the work described by Rondoni as a relief that has recently come to my attention, and conserved in a private collection (fig. 1), with at its centre the Camaldolese coat of arms of the church of Santa Maria degli Angeli - two doves drinking from a cup surmounted by a star, visible in the upper part of the escutcheon, and the inscription below, ´SMARIA", particular to the Florentine monastery dedicated to the Virgin (fig. 2) - flanked by two, extremely "physical" winged figures (that have little to do with angels, looking more like putti , figs. 3, 4), identified as profane "Genietti" by Rondoni, and the date 1586 inscribed in the marble, on either side of the escutcheon.
The discrepancy in the date recorded in the nineteenth century - 1580 instead of 1586 as engraved on the slab - compared with the description that closely fits the present work in the characterisation of the winged youths, and in the technique described as "half-relief", is perhaps due to a mistaken reading, particularly as the fourth number, 6, is not completely closed (and can indeed resemble a zero) so as to be easily misread, particularly if we consider that the sculpture was probably situated high up, above a door, and therefore viewed from below, which could well distort a correct reading of the carved date.
This date also allows the relief, notwithstanding the identification of the slab with the one recorded in the 1862 document - of which I am convinced - to be linked to the patronage of Don Silvano Razzi, abbot of the convent between 1584 and 1587 : I thus publish it here, proposing it as a work by Giovanni Caccini.
As we know from the sources and bibliography, the cloister in which the relief was originally situated was built very early - it already appears in the so-called "Codice Rustici", an illustrated manuscript from the mid-Quattrocento, now in the Biblioteca del Seminario Maggiore del Cestello in Florence - at the time the monastery was founded, but it was entirely rebuilt probably to designs by Ammannati (also responsible for the renovation of the other cloister, to the west or "della sagrestia") from the beginning of the 1580s and completed by 1584, when the structure of the cloister, with the two orders in which it is built, is clearly visible in Stefano Buonsignori´s map of Florence, published that year.
So, since the dating of this arcaded space dates to the 1580s, the commissioning of the present relief must be due, as already mentioned, to Don Silvano Razzi and must date to shortly after his appointment as head of the monastery. A prominent figure in Florence at that time, author of many literary and theological texts, Razzi, who became a monk in 1559 at the age of thirty-two, devoted himself to acquiring for Santa Maria degli Angeli the status of abbey, and having achieved this, became its first abbot in 1584 , promoting from the very start of his time in office many works to the ancient fabric.
These included the construction of a new façade for the church facing onto Via degli Alfani, and an oratory known as "delle donne", no longer extant, built between the street and the aula sacra to allow laymen to take part in the monks´ services, corresponding to the present vestibule that leads into the church. Other projects promoted by Razzi during his years in charge of the monastery concerned the complex´s two smaller cloisters - that known as "dei morti" and the other "di ponente", and involved from 1584, and again in 1585, the stonemason Giovanni di Francesco Tortoli who worked on the capitals and, before him, Antonio di Gino Lorenzi da Settignano (who died in 1583), responsible for several stone portals. In 1586, for the execution of windows and other doors of these cloisters, the presence of two other stonemasons is documented: a certain Tommaso and his son Francesco, which confirms Razzi´s deep commitment to the monastic complex he ran, for which, in the published documents, the spending of substantial sums of money is recorded.
Subsequently, relinquishing the role of abbot, Razzi continued to play a prominent role in significant restoration and decoration of the monastery: he was responsible for the arrival of paintings, religious furnishings, small sculptures, works in precious metals and vestments right until the end of the century and also took an interest in the decoration of the cloister "di ponente" which witnessed the monk as the probable author of the learned iconographic programme centred on "episodes from Genesis", pairs of angels, episodes from the life and miracles of Saint Romuald (executed in fresco), completed by a series of ten carved busts of illustrious personalities from the Camaldolese Order and holy figures (God the Father, Christ, the Virgin) created by the chisel of Giovanni Caccini (four are signed) and Pietro Francavilla (two signed), and all due to Don Silvano´s patronage.
An indisputable relationship was thus established over time between the abbot and one of the two sculptors, Caccini, to whom, in the present writer´s opinion, the relief discussed here should be attributed, its patronage contemporary with that of the bust of the Virgin Mary which Razzi commissioned from the artist for the decoration of the new façade of the church on Via degli Alfani, now visible in the cloister "dei morti" but originally placed on the entrance portal to the aula sacra, datable to 1584-1586. This sculpture, one of the artist´s youthful works, is characterised by its expressive fixity and the angular modelling of the mantle typical of the works of this period, evident also in the sombre figure of "Temperance" in the Metropolitan Museum in New York - commissioned by Giovan Battista del Milanese for the garden of his house in Via Larga, datable to 1578-1584 (fig. 5), - in the two portrait busts of Baccio Valori in the Museo Nazionale del Bargello (1584) and of Biagio Curini (fig. 6) visible in the corridor leading to the first cloister of Santissima Annunziata in Florence (1585) , in the bust of Christ the Saviour placed in a niche at the corner between Via Cerretani and Via Zannetti in Florence (1586-1587).
Born in Rome and baptised in the church of San Giovanni dei Fiorentini on 28 September 1556, son of Michelangelo (a native of Montopoli in the Valdarno near Pisa) and brother of the celebrated musician Giulio, , Giovanni soon moved to Florence - perhaps sometime around 1575 - together with Giovanni Antonio Dosio, his first teacher, an architect but also an able sculptor, enrolling in the local Accademia del Disegno three years later and beginning a career both as restorer of works from classical antiquity in the Medici collections (but also in the collection of Niccolò Gaddi), and as the creator of original works such as the "Temperance" in New York, mentioned above, and the two statues of Saint Bartholomew and Saint Zanobi for the Carnesecchi chapel in Santa Maria Maggiore in Florence (1580-1585 ca.), a work close in date to the present relief, dated 1586.
This is evident in the clear reference to the antique seen in the two angels (but they resemble, as Rondoni pointed out, two genii in their nonchalant display of nudity) seated on two plinths decorated with cherubs´ heads, an inspiration taken from Michelangelo, or to be precise, from the fresco on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel where four figures in a similar pose can be found, also intent on holding up - in some cases - a strip of fabric supporting painted medallions, in the same way as the angel-putti in the relief. The pose of the two figures carved here, specular and reproduced in reverse, in fact derives from the "Ignudo", now fragmentary (but known in its entirety through old copies) situated to the left of the medal with "Joab killing Abner" painted by Michelangelo above the Delphic Sybil, while the decisive backwards thrust of the head compared to the frontality of the bust and the extended arm are reminiscent of a second Sistine "ignudo", painted by Michelangelo to the left of the medallion now lacking any decoration situated above the figure of the Prophet Jeremiah.
While reference to Michelangelo was unavoidable for any artist of Caccini´s era, and all the more so for one educated in primis in Rome, the naturalism of the bodies of the two "Genii", defined by modelling markedly sensitive to the fall of light that softens and dilutes the sophisticated physicality of the two youths, nevertheless hints at the awareness, by that date, of the work of Bandinelli, and, above all, of Giambologna, master at infusing with "painterly and chiaroscuro effects" a material such as marble, which Giovanni must have observed carefully, once he had entered Florentine artistic circles.
As this is an early work, the present relief should be compared with other works by Caccini of similar date, in which comparable stylistic elements such as the sophisticated carving of the hair, defined by agitated, intertwined locks, the same that define the tactile, flowing beard and the hair of the so-called ´Charlemagne" (fig. 7), now in Santi Apostoli in Florence (1578-1580) - a re-elaboration of a classical bust portraying the blind Homer -; of the later portrait of Biagio Curini (fig. 6) mentioned above; of the head of Saint Giovanni Gualberto on the funerary monument in the Badia di Passignano, attributed to Caccini by Antonio Natali; of the head of Francesco I de´ Medici and Charles V in the commemorative statues dell´Udienza in the Salone dei Cinquecento in Palazzo Vecchio (1593-1594); of the magnificent "Bust of Christ the Redeemer" published by Keutner (1594-1598).
In the course of his career, the artist was to make a similar formal solution, conferring a balanced classicism on the heads, his own and his principal "trademark": it reappears, for example, also in many of the large figures on the ciborium in the Florentine basilica of Santo Spirito (1600-1608), as well as in the statues of "Flora" (restored 1599), of "Asclepius and Hippolytus " and "Hygieia" in the Boboli Gardens (1608), masterpieces of the sculptor´s late career.
Riccardo Spinelli

A relief for Santa Maria degli Angeli in Florence

 
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