Ganymede and the Eagle, c. 1714
(Possibly) Theophilus Butler, 1st Baron Newtown-Butler (1669 – 1723), subsequently Viscount Lanesborough, County of Fermanagh; and (probably) by descent to his son
Humphrey Butler, 1st Earl of Lanesborough (c. 1700 – 1768); and by descent at
Swithland Hall, Leicestershire.
The Collection of the Late Countess of Lanesborough sale; Lyon & Turnbull, Edinburgh, 22 April 2015, lot 460.
We are grateful to Charles Avery, Ph.D. for the following catalogue note.
This masterful bronze depicts the famed tale from classical mythology of Ganymede and the Eagle. It is a wonderful example of the dramatic and pictorial style of Soldani’s compositions, the suave modelling of his sculpted forms and the sumptuous finish of his bronzes. This particular model is also very rare, with the only other known version held by the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge. Soldani composed his ‘Ganymede and the Eagle’ as a right-angled triangle, with Ganymede’s head at the apex and Jupiter in one of his seductive guises, filling the vertical side. Meanwhile the attendant Cupid spreads his wings, enlivening the silhouette, adding interest and complexity to the fundamental geometry of the arrangement. The rocky bases are characterised by a series of more or less parallel grooves, like stratification, running at slightly divergent angles: their suggestion of diagonal movement is complemented by the sinuous folds of the swirling drapery. All these accompaniments serve as a foil against which is set the voluptuously smooth bare flesh of Ganymede and the putto. Like most of Soldani’s groups this is designed to be seen from the front and from the diagonal viewpoints, therefore appearing almost as ‘pictorial’ as his reliefs.
Born to an aristocratic cavalry captain from Tuscany, Soldani became the finest bronze caster in late 17th and early 18th century Europe and along with Giovanni Battista Foggini he is considered the most significant proponent of the Florentine late Baroque style in sculpture. He studied at the Medici Academy in Rome for four years under Pietro Travani, Ciro Ferri and Ercole Ferrata and excelled in the field of medal and coin making, and received commissions from Pope Innocent XI, Queen Christina of Sweden and several prominent members of the papal court. Whilst perfecting his art in Paris, Soldani refused overtures from Louis XIV at the behest of Grand Duke Cosimo III de’Medici and returned to Florence in 1682, becoming Director of the Grand-Ducal Mint. His workshop sometimes employed over ten assistants and was located in the heart of Florence, on the ground floor of the Galleria degli Uffizi. By the end of his career, his patrons had included the Medici Grand Dukes, Prince Johann Adam Andreas I of Liechtenstein, the Elector Palatine, the 1st Duke of Marlborough and many other prestigious foreign clients. He effectively under took the role of court sculptor to the Prince of Liechtenstein between 1694 and 1706, casting a number of full-size ancient and renaissance statues in bronze, with his typically precise and exquisite finishes. By November 1702, Soldani had composed two mythological subjects of his own: the Judgment of Paris and Diana and Callisto and cast them in bronze.
It was probably his reputation for producing exquisitely refined statuary after the Antique and splendid portrait medallions that initially attracted the British ‘Milordi’ to Soldani’s Florentine studio. Indeed, it is in a letter concerning Soldani’s dealings with the 20 year old British aristocrat and ‘Grand Tourist’, the Earl of Burlington (1694 – 1753), that the present model is first mentioned. In the letter, dated 15th October 1716, Soldani writes to his agent in London, Giovanni Giacomo Zamboni, and details four casts which the flighty Lord Burlington had ordered two years before after seeing terracotta versions in Soldani’s studio, but had still not paid for. They included a Venus and Adonis, of which there is an example in the J. Paul Getty Museum, California; a splendid, Bernini-esque, group of Apollo and Daphne and a matching pair of groups depicting Leda and the Swan and Ganymede and the Eagle. In this list the Ganymede is described as: ‘A companion group representing Ganymede grouped with the Eagle and Cupid who is helping him get on to the back of the Eagle, and the group is enriched with the bow and the torch, and is worth 35 Louis d’Or’. Despite this, a Ganymede and the Eagle was sent to England, and the present statuette, with its interesting Anglo-Irish provenance, could be that very work.
The Earl of Lanesborough was a title in the Peerage of Ireland, created in 1756 for Humphrey Butler, 2nd Viscount Lanesborough. The Butler family descended from Theophilus Butler, who represented County Cavan and Belturbet in the Irish House of Commons and was raised to the Peerage of Ireland as Baron Newtown-Butler, of the County of Fermanagh, in 1715. The present work was possibly acquired by him from Soldani’s representative G.G. Zamboni, in London, and was likely inherited by descent to the 1st Earl of Lanesborough, until the Late Countess of Lanesborough, of Swithland Hall, Leicestershire.