Pierino Da Vinci
The Resurrection of Christ, c. 1553
(Possibly) Grand Duke Ferdinando I de’Medici (1549 – 1609), Tuscany, together with a Flagellation, by 1587-91.
Private Collection, France, by 1910-15, said to have been acquired in France or Italy; thence by descent in the family of the present owner.
J.D. Summers, The Sculpture of Vincenzo Danti: A study in the Influence of Michelangelo and the Ideals of the Maniera, New York, 1969 (republished 1979) pp. 68, 436-37, no. xxx (as a lost work by Vincenzo Danti).
Santi, Vincenzo Danti Scultore (1530 – 1576), Bologna, 1989, p. 43, under no. 7 (as ‘la perduta Resurrezione’ by Vincenzo Danti).
Avery, ‘Pierino da Vinci’s “Lost” bronze relief of “The death by starvation of Count Ugolino della Gherardesca and his sons” rediscovered at Chatsworth”, in M. Cianchi (ed.), Pierino da Vinci, Atti della giornata di studio (Biblioteca Leonardiana Vinci, 26 May 1990), Florence, 1995, pp. 57-61 (as Pierino da Vinci).
Avery, ‘The Flagellation of Christ: A clarification of the identity of the reliefs by Pierino da Vinci and Vincenzo Danti’, in M. Cianchi (ed.), Pierino da Vinci, Atti della giornata di studio (Biblioteca Leonardiana Vinci, 26 May 1990), Florence, 1995, pp. 63-65.
G.B. Fidanza, Vincenzo Danti 1530 – 1576, Florence, 1996, p. 103 (as lost).
Cianchi, ‘Pierino da Vinci’, The Dictionary of Art, 24, London, 1996, pp. 755-57.
Davis, in The Medici, Michelangelo and the Art of Late Renaissance Florence, exh. cat., Palazzo Strozzi, Florence, 2002, under no. 61 (as Vincenzo Danti).
Barocchi & G. Gaeta Bertelà, Collezionismo Mediceo e Storia Artistica, vol. I, Da Cosimo a Cosimo II (1540 – 1621), Florence, 2002, pp. 217, 455.
Kusch-Arnhold, Pierino da Vinci, Münster, 2008, p. 262, footnote 737.
Davis and B. Paolozzi Strozzi (eds.), I Grandi Bronzi del Battistero, L’arte di Vincenzo Danti, Discepolo di Michelangelo, exh. cat., Museo Nazionale del Bargello, Florence, 2008, pp. 119-20 (illus. fig. 35); and p. 356, under no. 21 (as Vincenzo Danti).
The attribution of this important marble low relief, rediscovered in the 21st century, has provoked considerable scholarly debate. A number of stylistic and iconographic similarities associate it with a Flagellation of Christ in the Nelson-Atkins Museum, and the two are likely to have been executed by the same hand.
As Charles Avery observed (op. cit., 1995), the Kansas City relief was first associated with Pierino in a 1928 article by Professor Ulrich Middeldorf (‘Additions to the work of Pierino da Vinci’, in The Burlington Magazine, LIII, 1928, pp. 299-306). In this piece, Middeldorf ‘very tentatively established a relationship’ between the relief in Kansas City, which he knew only from a photograph, and Pierino’s oeuvre. Middeldorf also noted that ‘the modelling of the body [in the Flagellation] is reminiscent of Pierino, but it is plumper than usual: the heads could also be compared with the Milanese Madonna, but one is estranged by the petty treatment of details, particularly of the hair and eyes. The architecture in the background and drapery nevertheless exhibit a close relationship…We may possibly be here dealing with an “abozzo” (sketch) of Pierino’s finished by some other hand, or it may be a school copy of one of his works’. Middeldorf returned to the question of attribution in a letter to the museum (then the Rockhill Nelson Gallery) dated 21 October 1966, in which he referred to the Kansas City relief as ‘close also to Vincenzo Danti whose work is not always quite so easy to separate from that of Pierino’ (see C. Davis and P. Strozzi, op. cit. 2008, p. 356).
Middeldorf also suggested the Flagellation could have been cut down to oval format, but Avery argues against this theory, which has persisted in the later scholarship of John Summers and others, pointing out that the carving becomes naturally thinner at the edges of the oval. He also shows that there is a slightly recessed rim around the edge of the oval where it would have been set into a frame. Perhaps, he suggests, the original sketch for the design was rectangular, even if the work itself never was.
Avery, who examined our relief first-hand in 2000, attributed it to Pierino da Vinci. He wrote: ‘the panel is a very skilful and subtle exercise in carving in shallow relief (relievo schiacciato), a Florentine speciality. As in the case with reliefs by the pioneer of this method, Donatello, the narrative is virtually drawn on the surface of the stone with a sharp chisel. Some of the minute faces in the background seem to have been created by a process of “stunning” the marble, i.e. by placing a pointed chisel perpendicular to the surface and tapping it straight downwards, thus making a tiny indentation with soft edges, as the crystals of the marble are disarranged by the blow. The outer edges are defined by sharp lines – scored with a chisel – which run through several of the swirling draperies of some figures, ruthlessly shearing their hair and even several fingers of the occasional hand. Evidently the bulk of the carving was performed before this “framing” rebate was incised. The craftsmanship is of the highest order and bespeaks a very gifted and thoroughly practised sculptor’. Avery added: ‘There is no reason to associate this item with Vincenzo Danti and the stylistic traits of the relief in Kansas City ineluctably point to Pierino da Vinci as its author. Vincenzo Danti’s Flagellation is known from a terracotta model in the Musée Jacquemart-André, Paris, and is quite different in style, though it is almost equally indebted to Michelangelo, but in other ways. The present relief is certainly not by the same hand, but instead resembles the oval Flagellation in NAMA. Accordingly it may be attributed to Pierino da Vinci.’ (written communication, 4 May 2000).
Avery suggests that the markings on the reverse of our relief might relate to inventory records. The Resurrection is inscribed ‘2142’ in black and ‘270’ in red, while the Kansas City Flagellation has on its verso the numbers ‘2141’ in black and ‘272’ in red. These numbers clearly demonstrate that they were in the same collection and might be a further indication that the reliefs were executed by the same hand. The sequencing suggests that in the earlier inventory the objects were seen together, while in the second inventory they were separated by one other piece. Neither work has a firmly established provenance before 1910, but Avery believes they were likely in the same collection in the 18th or 19th century. Earlier still, Medici inventories suggest that the Flagellation was in the collection of the Medici Grand Dukes of Tuscany circa 1574, and Avery suggests that our relief may share this provenance.
The marble resurrection relief, in a walnut frame, appears to be that listed in the Medici Guardaroba between 1560 and 1570, as Danti (Barocchi & Bertelà, p. 217), and again in the inventory of Grand Duke Ferdinando de’ Medici, 1595-97 (op. cit., p. 455). They may both have been sold by the House of Lorraine, successors to the Medici, who staged a series of sales beginning in 1740. They were not, according to Avery, a pair or part of a series, given their differing measurements and shapes. To complicate matters, Avery cites a note written by Timoteo Bottonio on 15 November 1559 referring to a pair of low reliefs of similar description by Vincenzo Danti: ‘…e nel medesimo tempo…due marmi di basso rilievo, nell’uno…la Resurezione…nell’altro la Flagellazione…’ (‘and around the same time.. two marble bas reliefs, in one… the Resurrection… in the other, the Flagellation’). This lost work, and not our version, says Avery, is the Resurrection cited in the earlier Medici inventories, because in the 1570 inventory its authorship was specified. However an oval marble relief of the Flagellation, of correct measurements but unspecified authorship, was also cited in a Medici inventory of between 1587 and 1591; there was no mention of a Resurrection, but it would not be unreasonable to allow the possibility that the Grand Ducal collection included multiple treatments of that theme as well.
This relief represents the Resurrection of Christ, following closely the text of St. Matthew’s Gospel, but with an additional mystical element deriving from the writings of Hildegard von Bingen. Michelangelo shared with Cardinal Reginald Pole and Vittoria Colonna many of the same proto-Protestant and spiritual ideas of these contemporaries, which are manifest in this sculpture’s extraordinary visionary imagery. The figure of Christ himself rises from the tomb into the space of the viewer, who would presumably have been kneeling before the work. In his left hand he holds the banner of the resurrection, with his right arm outstretched he makes a blessing, and he gazes upwards. In front of the empty sarcophagus, there are two sleeping figures, and behind them two Roman soldiers who had been ordered to guard Christ’s tomb. The one on the left gesticulates in alarm towards the group of people behind him, while the one on the right shrinks back from the figure of Christ, recoiling against his shield in terror. Avery acknowledges one figure, an elderly bearded man in a cap depicted below Christ’s right elbow, who seems to resemble the elderly Michelangelo, Pierino’s master in sculpture. He finds this identification ‘probable’. Avery compares the slumbering man in the right foreground to Michelangelo’s Josias in the Sistine Chapel, and we can also compare the pair of mirror-image foreground figures together to Michelangelo’s monumental figures of Night and Day adorning the tomb of Giuliano de’Medici in the Medici Chapel, New Sacristy, Basilica of San Lorenzo, Florence. Avery suggests that the elderly Michelangelo may well have supplied drawings to Pierino, the nephew of his former rival, Leonardo da Vinci.
Sir Timothy Clifford, formerly Director of the National Galleries of Scotland, has further suggested that the sculptor worked directly from a late drawing by Michelangelo, in much the same way as the painter Sebastiano del Piombo worked to his designs. Here the sculptor must have followed a late tentative chalk drawing by Michelangelo, and employed relievo schiacciato – a very old-fashioned technique, but one that perfectly interpreted Michelangelo’s technique of drawing in soft black chalk in his old age.
Avery goes on to associate the figure of the guard in the left foreground with the figure of the river god Arno in Pierino’s own The death by Starvation of Count Ugolino della Gherardesca and his sons, the original bronze cast of which was rediscovered at Chatsworth in Derbyshire (Avery, op. cit., 1995). This is yet another example of a recumbent figure by Pierino relying on the original conception by Michelangelo in both sculpture and painting, as seen in the Medici Chapel and in Michelangelo’s depictions of Adam in the Creation, and Noah, in the Sistine chapel ceiling frescoes. These further links with Michelangelo helps to corroborate the attribution of the Resurrection relief to Pierino Da Vinci. However, Clifford suggests that that bronze relief has much more to do with the ideas of Bronzino and Vasari, and only indirectly depends on Michelangelo. Michelangelo had turned away from shallow relief, which he practised in his extreme youth with the Madonna of the Stairs, believing that drawing or painting provided a better means of conveying narrative. Nevertheless, as Avery asserts: ‘it is perfectly possible that he in old age recommended Pierino to practise this rather difficult type of relief carving and given him instruction, physical assistance and designs to enable him to do so’.
The attribution is complex: the relief was attributed to Pierino Da Vinci in a letter to the former owner by W.R. Valentiner (letter dated 29 Sept. 1949), an attribution repeated by L. Planiscig (letter dated 15 Aug. 1950), and by Prof. Werner Gramberg (letter dated 24 Sept. 1967). However, there is a very fine line between these sculptors’ work and scholars argue, for example, about the attribution of the bronze relief of Moses and the Brazen Serpent, which some believe to be by Danti and others by Pierino. On the basis of photographs, Eike Schmidt, Director of Uffizi Gallery, Florence, and Charles Davis, of the Kunsthistorisches Institut, Florence, have also both supported an alternative attribution to Vincenzo Danti, but attributions seem relatively immaterial when faced with such a Michelangelesque object, of haunting and sublime beauty.