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Saint Louis Art Museum acquires major bust by Joseph Claus from Tomasso Brothers
Joseph Claus (1718-1788), Bust of the Emperor Caracalla (r. 198-217 AD). Signed and dated 1757, white marble. Height: 71.5 cm.
LONDON.- Dino and Raffaello Tomasso announced the recent sale of a remarkable white marble bust of the Emperor Caracalla by the German sculptor Joseph Claus (1718-1788) to the Saint Louis Art Museum, USA. The bust is a milestone in the development of early Neoclassicism in Rome, a signature work by one of the most innovative 18th century German sculptors, and a highly original interpretation of one of the most venerated and influential ancient portraits, the Farnese Caracalla.

The ancient bust of the emperor (r. 198-217 AD) was on view at the Dukes of Farnese’s palace in Rome until 1787 when it was shipped with the rest of the collection to Naples where it is now on display in the National Archaeological Museum . Ever since Michelangelo adopted the unusual stance of the Farnese Caracalla’s head turning to the left for his bust of Brutus, the ancient bust has served as the ideal model for portraiture from the Renaissance to Neoclassicism.

Claus not only successfully copied the ancient model, but actually surpassed it, carving from a single block of marble as per the original. The sculpture is an extraordinary balance of contrasts, from the expressive power of the sitter to the crisp texture of the hair and the smooth surfaces of his cloak. Claus was born in Bonn and, although at the forefront of the earliest generation of Neoclassical sculptors, has not received the scholarly attention nor the recognition he deserves. He settled in Rome in 1755 and stayed there until his death – his workshop being taken over in 1783 by Antonio Canova, the most influential sculptor of the Neoclassical movement.

This bust of Caracalla was formerly in the collection of The Hon Stephen Tennant, Wilsford Manor, Wiltshire, a prominent member of the ‘Bright Young People’ in the 1920s, and one of the inspirations for Lord Sebastian Flyte in Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited. Further sculptures by Claus can be found in the UK at Lady Lever Art Gallery in Port Sunlight, the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, Madresfield Court, Worcestershire (which served as the model for Brideshead Revisited), and Brocklesby Park, Lincolnshire.

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