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Dallas Museum of Art discovers a new attribution in its Reves Collection: Giovanni Bonazza's Reclining Nymph
Giovanni Bonazza, Reclining Woman, c. 1700, white marble, Dallas Museum of Art, The Wendy and Emery Reves Collection.

DALLAS, TX.- The Dallas Museum of Art announced the reattribution of a Baroque sculpture to the artist Giovanni Bonazza, a prominent Italian sculptor active in Padua in the 17th and 18th centuries. The work of art has been in the Museum’s collection for nearly thirty years, entering in 1985 as part of the Wendy and Emery Reves Collection.

When the DMA acquired the Reclining Nymph, it was considered to be by the hand of Alessandro Algardi (1598–1654), an Italian sculptor who was the main rival of the great Gian Lorenzo Bernini. Leo Planiscig, a historian of Italian Renaissance sculpture, made the attribution, but the Museum was doubtful and consulted experts, who confirmed that Algardi did not carve the nymph. The attribution changed to an anonymous artist, and remained that way for over twenty years.

Recently, Olivier Meslay, Associate Director of Curatorial Affairs at the DMA, saw an impressive marble pedestal sculpted by Giovanni Bonazza (1654–1736) at a European art fair. Immediately, he believed the authorship of the DMA’s unsigned marble was by Bonazza based upon visual and stylistic evidence.

According to Meslay, Bonazza's remarkable marble pedestal determined conclusively the authorship of the nymph. Meslay found that the pedestal's allegorical figures of Fides and Decorum related perfectly to the Reclining Nymph. The figures share plump, asymmetrical cheeks and the same slender hands. The most convincing similarity is between the facial shape and structure of Decorum and the nymph's own face, though the former is a male figure.

“The discovery that the Reclining Nymph is by the Italian Baroque sculptor Giovanni Bonnaza, and not, as one art historian described it, ‘a pretty piece of decorative sculpture’ displayed atop a chest of drawers in the Wendy and Emery Reves Collection, highlights the Museum’s commitment to curatorial research that advances scholarship in the museum field and also enriches the visitor experience,” said Maxwell L. Anderson, The Eugene McDermott Director of the Dallas Museum of Art.

Proof for the reattribution of the Reclining Nymph added up quickly once Meslay researched Bonazza's other sculptures. “Visual and stylistic parallels exist between the nymph and three known statuettes by Bonazza: the signed Saint Jerome Penitent and The Penitent Magdalen in Padua, and another Saint Jerome,” said Meslay. “All four share the same composition of a reclining male or female nude on a bed of rocks. The figures’ delicately carved hands and twisting torsos are also the same. Stylistically, the obsessive approach to drilling with a trepan, a tool for boring deep holes, on the base and the polishing of the marble are analogous in each statuette.”

“From these comparisons, the nymph—with her finely polished marble, graceful pose, and expressive face—is without a doubt a marble carved by the hands of Bonazza,” declared Meslay. “This new attribution for the Reclining Nymph means that she is no longer a work lying anonymously on a chest of drawers.”

Reclining Nymph is on view in the DMA’s Wendy and Emery Reves Collection galleries on Level 3.

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