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Frick is the Exclusive Venue for First Monographic Riccio Exhibition
Andrea Riccio (1470–1532), The Shouting Horseman, c. 1510–15, bronze, 33.0 cm high, Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

NEW YORK, NY.- This autumn, The Frick Collection presents the first monographic exhibition dedicated to Andrea Riccio (1470–1532), one of the greatest—and least-known—bronze masters of the Renaissance. Though the artist was celebrated in the sixteenth century as a “sovereign master of bronze” and is acknowledged today as one of the most sublimely creative sculptors of the Italian Renaissance, Riccio’s achievement is still not widely recognized or generally understood. His oeuvre remains the province of specialists, and the majority of his works are scattered across museum collections, where they are viewed in isolation. Even Riccio’s greatest and largest commission, the extraordinary Paschal Candelabrum, stands alone, distantly shrouded in the shadowed choir of the Basilica of Saint Anthony in Padua. The long-overdue exhibition and publication aim to introduce Riccio’s dramatically beautiful work to the general and scholarly public by presenting for fresh examination a significant portion of his known production. Andrea Riccio: Renaissance Master of Bronze includes all the objects attributed to him that reside in public and private collections in the United States and features important examples from institutions across Europe, such as the Victoria and Albert Museum, London; the Musée du Louvre, Paris; the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna; and the Museo Nazionale del Bargello, Florence. The exhibition brings together thirty of the sculptor’s rare autograph bronzes, two of his fragmentary, life-size terracottas, and a selection of statuettes associated with his workshop. The sculptures span every phase of Riccio’s career and are representative of the genres in which he worked: figurative statuettes, functional bronzes, and narrative reliefs. The exhibition is presented exclusively at The Frick Collection, along with a range of educational programs and a richly illustrated and scholarly catalogue. The exhibition is organized by the Frick’s Curator and sculpture and Renaissance specialist Denise Allen, with Peta Motture, Senior Curator of Sculpture and Project Chief Curator of the Medieval and Renaissance Galleries, the Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

Comments lead curator Denise Allen, “Andrea Riccio is one of the last remaining great Renaissance artists whose oeuvre heretofore has awaited comprehensive modern study. It has been a rare privilege and something of an adventure to organize the first monographic exhibition dedicated to this magnificent sculptor. The generous international collaboration among museum institutions, curators, and scholars, that was intrinsic to the development of the exhibition and its catalogue, allows us to present a truly fresh view of Riccio as a dynamic contributor to Italian Renaissance culture–today more readily associated with the achievements of his contemporaries: Leonardo, Michelangelo, and Raphael. The exhibition catalogue is intended to provide an introduction to Riccio’s life and work and to function as a platform for future scholarship.”

Riccio was born Andrea Briosco but gained his nickname on account of his curly hair (riccio means curly in Italian). He worked in Padua at a time when the city was renowned throughout Europe; its Basilica of Saint Anthony was a site of pilgrimage, and its university was the most important center of Aristotelian studies on the Continent. In Padua, bronze sculptors enjoyed high status because they practiced an art that was considered equivalent to scholarly pursuits. Riccio thus became closely acquainted with Padua’s religious and intellectual leaders. He studied ancient and contemporary works of art in their private collections and probably learned much about antiquity in discussions with them. His scholarly patrons and friends, in turn, esteemed Riccio for his ability to realize their ideas about the classical past in bronze.

In 1504, when Riccio was beginning his career, the humanist Pomponius Gauricus published De Sculptura, a landmark Renaissance treatise that focuses primarily on bronze. Gauricus’s text, written while he was studying at the University of Padua, presented sculpture from a scholar’s perspective. In it, he discussed the proud tradition of bronze statuary from antiquity to his own day, described its classical subject matter, its process of design by means of modeling, and its complex casting techniques. He also proposed the radical idea that modeling demands as much of a person’s inventive powers as did writing and singled out Riccio from contemporary Paduan artists, praising his gifts as a modeler and naming him as a friend. Gauricus believed that he and Riccio shared similar goals, and to him, Riccio was a scholar, poet, and rhetorician—not of words, but of bronze. Gauricus’s De Sculptura reflects the attitude of Riccio’s erudite patrons in the Veneto: their enthusiastic engagement with bronze sculpture, their sophisticated understanding of its techniques, and their willingness to equate their literary skills with the artistic ones of a sculptor.

The work that inspired this exhibition is small, ornate, mysterious, and beautiful: it is the Frick’s Oil Lamp, a masterpiece in a collection famous for its Renaissance bronzes. The Oil Lamp exemplifies the high standards of Henry Clay Frick, who demanded “first pick” of the small bronzes that dealer Joseph Duveen offered him from J. Pierpont Morgan’s estate. Morgan’s bronze collection—which included this lamp—had become famous after being on view at both the Victoria and Albert Museum and The Metropolitan Museum of Art, and was commemorated in 1910 with a sumptuously illustrated catalogue by Wilhelm von Bode, an eminent scholar of Italian Renaissance sculpture. In the catalogue, Bode attributed the magnificent lamp to Andrea Riccio.

The Oil Lamp is one of only five such objects largely accepted as by Riccio, and it encapsulates Riccio’s ability to fulfill his patrons’ ideals regarding bronze sculpture. Although the original owner of the Oil Lamp is unknown, the work’s provenance and its Aristotelian symbolism suggest that he was Paduan. Riccio modeled the lamp to stand independently, balancing its long, heavy body on a delicate base that is improbably poised on four tiny, upturned scrolls. The composition elegantly tests the limits of bronze’s ability to support itself. When the lamp was lit, its flickering flame would have seemed to animate the long tendrils curling out around it. Each vine emerges from a relief of a winged harpy or male mask, fantastic hybrid creatures that were Renaissance emblems of imagination and creativity. The Frick Oil Lamp thus allies the notion of ingenio (creative genius) with Aristotle’s concept of the pneuma, the animating spark that engenders life. As a work of art, it celebrates Riccio’s inventive genius and mastery over bronze. The Oil Lamp was also a physical embodiment of the past. In material form and function it evoked Roman antiquity, thereby linking the Paduan scholar who commissioned it to the great Roman thinkers and orators of the Republic and Empire. Set on a desk in a private study, the Oil Lamp would have symbolized its owner’s literary genius, illuminating and inspiring him as he read, pondered works of art, and wrote.

Riccio’s figurative bronzes are much simpler in form than his fantastic oil lamps, but they are no less rich in meaning. Riccio often based his compositions on classical literary themes. This practice underscores how Riccio responded to his erudite contemporaries’ desire “to see what we read about,” as one of them memorably stated. The Shepherd with Syrinx has no exact precedent in ancient marble sculpture or relief. The figure’s idealized proportions and unselfconscious nudity capture the ethos of classical art without directly quoting it. The syrinx (panpipes) held in the lowered right hand suggests that the figure is a shepherd. Riccio’s pensive nude recalls Virgil’s pastoral poems in which shepherds tend their flocks and play their pipes in the mythic land of Arcadia. Their youthful beauty and innocence symbolized mankind’s purity of body and mind before being corrupted by civilization. The Shepherd with Syrinx captures not only the subject, but also the hushed elegiac mood of Virgil’s poetic world: he has set aside his pipes and looks up expectantly, as if listening for the sylvan music of Arcadia. It also demonstrates Riccio’s gift for portraying a figure’s actions and emotional state in orchestrated unity. An even more dramatic example of this talent is The Shouting Horseman. Here, Riccio explores the classical theme of the partnership between rider and horse. The startled warrior turns and shouts, while his alert horse readies itself for the next command. Riccio’s reversal of the normal relationship between horse and rider sets his work apart from large-scale equestrian statuary in which man is always portrayed in perfect control. The precedents for the theme of the The Shouting Horseman are found both in the art of Leonardo da Vinci and in classical literature. In the Aeneid, for example, Virgil vividly described the camaraderie between warriors and their horses. In his treatise on horsemanship, the Greek author Xenophon praised the ability of a horse to maintain its spirited self-possession and protect its rider during the furor of battle.

In the intimate confines of the scholar’s study, small bronzes such as Riccio’s Shepherd with Syrinx and The Shouting Horseman were handled and enjoyed over long, repeated viewings. Most were intended to evoke a variety of poetic, religious, and historical meanings for owners who were fully conversant with a broad range of ancient literature. Some statuettes, however, were designed to delight by recalling specific classical sources. One such masterpiece, the Boy with a Goose, is a bronze reduction of a large-scale ancient marble statue, probably known to Riccio through drawings. Though it is Riccio’s only known work based on a surviving antique, it is no mere reproduction. Riccio imaginatively completed the famous antique sculpture by fashioning the boy’s head, which was missing from the ancient marble. The boy happily clutches the goose, unaware that he grasps the squawking bird too tightly. Riccio’s perceptive portrayal of the mischievous child adds engaging emotional resonance to a composition that features the figures’ dramatic pinwheeling movement in the round. Riccio may have turned to this subject because the Boy with a Goose was one of the few surviving ancient sculptures that his patrons would have known from reading classical texts such as Pliny’s Natural History. Identifying a surviving ancient statue with its description in a classical text generated tremendous excitement during the Renaissance. Scholars and collectors were also curious about what the lost classical masterpieces discussed by Pliny may have looked like. Riccio satisfied this curiosity by creating the Strigil Bearer, a statuette of an athlete grooming himself with oil after exercise, also featured in the exhibition. In his hand he holds a strigil, a curved instrument used in ancient Rome and Greece to scrape the skin after bathing. The idealized male nude is Riccio’s re-creation in miniature of a famous lost antique statue described by Pliny, which had been made by the foremost ancient master of bronze, Lysippus. Riccio was celebrated as a modern Lysippus for statuettes such as this, which expressed his imaginative ability to endow with sculpted form the fragmentary heritage of the classical past.

Riccio was as interested in investigating bronze techniques as he was in exploring new subjects. Until recently, it was generally assumed that Riccio used the traditional direct-casting method, which produced only one bronze cast of his original wax model. However, technical research undertaken for the Frick exhibition suggests that Riccio experimented with diverse casting methods. Sometimes he directly cast his wax models to produce unique bronzes. At other times, he used an indirect casting method to create multiple bronze versions. The Strigil Bearer, for example, exists in another version known as the Warrior, a figure that originally held a shield in his upraised arm and a sword in his lowered hand. Although both bronzes derive from the same wax model, their different subjects and handling indicate that Riccio made each to accommodate the taste of an individual patron. The Warrior’s features and musculature are more broadly modeled than those of the Strigil Bearer, and the surface of the statuette is rougher. The differences between the two works are the result of Riccio’s ability to model in wax on a diminutive scale and then preserve the nuances of the wax in bronze. The statuettes’ modeling is consonant with their theme and mood. In the Warrior, Riccio depicts the aggressive power of the male nude engaged in combative action, while in the Strigil Bearer he emphasizes the graceful elegance of the nude’s pose. Riccio’s mastery of a range of casting techniques afforded him great freedom to model his wax compositions, for he knew that he could make molten bronze follow the path of his imagination. In his Saint Martin and the Beggar, the sculptor daringly exploits the tensile strength of bronze to execute a dramatic composition that could not have been realized so freely in marble or terracotta. In this relief, created as the principal image for an altar in the Church of Santa Maria dei Servi, Venice, Riccio depicts Martin performing his first saintly act of cutting his cloak to clothe a beggar. Riccio renders the figures in extraordinarily high relief to generate a dynamic composition in three dimensions. Martin sharply twists to meet the beggar’s upturned gaze. He extends his cloak straight out over his sword, past the limits of the relief’s frame. This startling spacial transgression would have added emotional drama to devotional contemplation of Martin’s pious act. Every detail is crisply captured in this tour de force of bronze casting, from the extravagant pagan decoration on Martin’s saddle and scabbard to the nuanced expressions on the men’s faces. This, perhaps the most beautiful of Riccio’s reliefs, reminds us that the sculptor and his patrons’ celebration of the classical past embraced their own Christian heritage. Riccio depicts Martin with historical accuracy as the Roman imperial officer that he was before his conversion, endowing him with a refined, classical beauty to reflect the spiritual grace that impelled him to sainthood. The ability to grant the classical past vivid relevance was one of Riccio’s greatest contributions to Renaissance bronze sculpture. For a few short months, the range of Riccio’s achievement will be on view at The Frick Collection for visitors to study, appreciate, and enjoy.

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