by Michael Riddick
The present sculpture constitutes a potential rare discovery from one of the Renaissance’s most talented and historically important sculptors: Pietro Torrigiani.
Torrigiani’s reception as a talented artist has traditionally been obscured due to a lack of accessibility to his collective work, a deficiency of documentary evidence concerning his life and activity and the general disdain given to his persona by Giorgio Vasari1 and Benvenuto Cellini2 in their accounts of him. Both men recount how Torrigiani famously broke Michelangelo’s nose in a fist-fight as the two artists taunted one another about whose skills were greater in copying works by Masaccio in the Brancacci Chapel at the Church of Santa Maria del Carmine in Florence during their youth.
In spite of his conceits, Torrigiani was recognized as a talented sculptor and Vasari praised his “bold and excellent” skill with works held in “great estimation.”3 Francisco de Holanda, in 1548, also cited Torrigiani as one of the ten most important sculptors of the Renaissance.4 Evidence for this is found in the various commissions Torrigiani received from the wealthiest patrons in Europe to include: Margaret of Austria, Regent of the Netherlands, Kings Henry VII and Henry VIII of England, and possibly also Emperor Charles VI and Empress Isabella of Portugal. Torrigiani’s tomb for King Henry VII and Elizabeth of York in Westminster Abbey was his most grandiose production (Fig. 01), judged by the art historian, John Pope-Hennessy as “the finest Renaissance tomb north of the Alps.”5
Torrigiani’s career as an artist, and for a period, also a soldier, entailed a great deal of travel. He remains one of the few Florentine Renaissance artists to work outside of Italy and is the first documented Italian Renaissance artist active in England. He is historically recognized as one of the first to diffuse Italian Renaissance styles into other parts of Europe.
Torrigiani’s surviving sculptures are comprised of works in bronze, terracotta and marble. Vasari noted Torrigiani’s particular skill in the medium of terracotta and also commented on the small bronzes and marbles he produced for Florentine merchants,6 a clientele whose sponsorship would entail his most significant commissions and whose international networks gained him his work abroad.
Particularly unique is the present sculpture, whose free-standing representation of Saint Anthony the Great, is realized in wood (Fig. 02). By art historical standards, Torrigiani is best known for his hyper-realistic polychrome terracotta portrait busts of merchants, nobles and royalty and is not traditionally perceived as a wood sculptor. However, like other Cinquecento sculptors of Florentine origin, Torrigiani was adept in a variety of mediums inclusive of terracotta, bronze, stone and wood. His youthful instruction under the tutelage of Bertoldo de’ Giovanni in the Medici family’s San Marco Gardens, would have aptly prepared him for such a range of talent, instructed alongside other future notables like Michelangelo, Giovan Francesco Rustici, Lorenzo di Credi, Baccio da Montelupo, Andrea Sansovino, et al.7
While no previously identified works in wood by Torrigiani are known, Vasari does mention Torrigiani made in England “an endless number of works in marble, bronze and wood, competing with some masters of that country, to all of whom he proved superior.”8
Only one surviving document records Torrigiani’s work in the medium of wood. As part of his first documented English commission for the Tomb of Lady Margaret Beaufort in 1511, Torrigiani designed and carved a wooden model of the tomb chest employing Italian decorative motifs in preparation for its realization.9
While his work in the medium of wood is hardly recorded, his skill in free-standing sculpture is emphatic of the period leading up to his involvement with Lady Margaret’s tomb in 1511. A contract of 4 April 1504 cites payment to Clément Delamotte from Orléans, a painter who was tasked with polychroming a life-size terracotta sculptural group of the Crucifixion with the Virgin and St. John Torrigiani sculpted for the sacristy of the Church of the Cordeliers in Avignon, France.10 Avignon was then a papal-state and the commission was sponsored by the Florentine merchants Francesco and Giovanni Baroncelli. Regrettably, the church was destroyed during the French Revolution and no trace of these works by Torrigiani survive. Additionally, Margaret of Austria’s commission for a free-standing sculpture of Hercules in Bruges, completed by April of 1510, is evidence of Torrigiani’s capability with free-standing sculpture before his focus shifted to the design and execution of royal tombs in England.11
The sculpture of St. Anthony descends from an Italian collection and while its provenance is untraced it has theoretically remained in Italy since its creation. The sculpture possibly demonstrates Torrigiani’s adept skill in carving free-standing wood statuary just prior to his departure for England. Torrigiani is presumed to have arrived in England as early as 1506/07 although he is not officially documented there until 1511.12
After his work in Avignon in 1504, Torrigiani is again in Florence where he receives his wife’s dowry that same year.13 In 1505/06 Torrigiani is cited in Rome, having purchased from Jacopo Galli, Michelangelo’s banker, two marble blocks.14 Like Michelangelo and Raphael, Torrigiani appears to have operated between Rome and Florence during the period prior to his departure for England.
Notable is a bronze Head of Christ, attributed to Torrigiani, preserved at the Musée Calvet in Avignon, an alleged vestige of his activity there. The effigy follows several other heads of Christ in marble and terracotta confidently ascribed to Torrigiani’s invention.15 The bust features a beard whose curved descent along Christ’s chin features a similar suave motion also observed on the sculpture of St. Anthony, possibly indicating a stylistic idiosyncrasy datable around 1504 (Fig. 03).
If Torrigiani realized the St. Anthony while in Italy, he is not known to have returned there from England until 1519, arriving in Florence to recruit assistants for further commissions he had received in England for the High Altar of Henry VII’s chapel and the monumental Tomb of Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon at Westminster Abbey, the later never begun by Torrigiani, the former destroyed by Puritanical iconoclasts in 1644.16
Cellini’s record of Torrigiani’s attempt to recruit him for the English commissions confirms his return to Florence in 151917 as well as contracts from September and October which document his employ of two sculptors and a painter he successfully recruited for the effort.18 Scholarship tends to accept Torrigiani returned to England in 1519 with his assistants to complete the High Altar of Henry VII’s tomb, originally commissioned significantly earlier on 5 March 1517.19 However, no documents confirm his reprise in the country. Rather, Cinzia Maria Sicca suggests he never returned to England due to tensions in diplomacy stoked by Torrigiani’s unauthorized departure from London in 1519.20
At the end of 1518 Torrigiani petitioned Cardinal Thomas Wolsey with a request to return to Florence to recruit artists and purchase materials to complete unfinished works (his commission for the High Altar), explaining that his desire to leave England had been delayed due to his enduring wait on the settlement for his work on the elaborate tomb of Henry VII and Elizabeth of York. His wish to leave London was apparently ungranted.21
In January of 1519 he received the important commission for the Tomb of Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon.22 Perhaps impatient and enthusiastic to begin work, Torrigiani left London for Florence without royal permission in June of 1519 and with 1,000 pounds sterling worth of promissory notes for the High Altar.23
However, Torrigiani’s departure without royal sanction jeopardized the reputation of the Florentine merchants, Giovanni Cavalcanti and Pierfrancesco de’ Bardi, responsible for backing the commissions, and hindering potential relations between the English crown and the Florentine Medici Pope Leo X, later resulting in the Pope’s request that Cavalcanti commission a new model for the tomb from Baccio Bandinelli in 1521.24 A disparaging letter from the Florentine Consulate in London to the Signoria of Florence sought to cancel the promissory notes to ensure Torrigiani was not granted payment in Florence.25 The letter from the Consul to the Signoria did not reach Florence until August and it is uncertain if or when Torrigiani’s funds were nullified. Sicca suggests the tension with his sponsors and patrons may have resulted in Torrigiani’s apparently disrupted ambitions with the Tomb for Henry VIII.26
Further, the extent of Torrigiani’s involvement with the High Altar commission of 1517 may be questioned. Darr notes “Torrigiani’s work on the High Altar seems to have proceeded slowly at first, if at all.”26 It is to be wondered if Torrigiani’s concerns over payment expressed in the 1518 letter to Wolsey were reason for his apparent delay in beginning the High Altar. In fact, he doesn’t seem to take action on it until he has funds in-hand and goes straight away to Florence to recruit workers for both the High Altar and the newly contracted Tomb for Henry VIII.
It would seem Torrigiani occupied himself with other commissions while waiting for settlement on the Henry VII tomb. Other works he completed in England could have been realized before or during the period preceding his departure to Florence in June of 1519. These include the marble and terracotta wall tombs of Dr. John Yonge (d. 1516) and Dean John Colet (d. 1519), a marble head of Christ the Redeemer for Abbott Islip’s Chapel in Westminster Abbey and the terracotta bust of Sir Gilbert Talbot (d. 1517). The High Altar was not officially complete until 1526 when Benedetto da Rovezzano, another Florentine sculptor, erected it.27 It remains possible the High Altar could have been completed by other artists working from Torrigiani’s proposed designs, while Bandinelli was subsequently commissioned to complete the never-realized and incredibly ambitious tomb for Henry VIII. A transfer of land in Florence from Torrigiani to his nephew on 17 June 1525 may also suggest his continued presence in Italy rather than England after 1519.28
While it’s possible the St. Anthony could have been conceived in Rome or Florence before his original departure to England, the skill with which the sculptor has wrought the St. Anthony belongs to what Darr defines as the third stage of Torrigiani’s career: a period from 1510-28 in which Torrigiani is active as a mature master and an internationally recognized sculptor.29 The articulation of St. Anthony’s expressive character anticipates Torrigiani’s masterfully realized Penitent Jerome made toward the end of his life (Fig. 04).
The St. Anthony may thus more likely fall into a period of elusive activity between 1520-28. If Torrigiani never returned to England after parting on ill-terms with his merchant-backed financiers to the crown, he may have remained in Italy or elsewhere until later venturing to Spain, or first to Portugal.
Torrigiani is thought to have arrived in Spain sometime between 1522-25. Various theories have been posited concerning his arrival and work there. Francisco de Holanda mentions a portrait bust of Isabel of Portugal Torrigiani made, either in silver or painted terracotta, and presumably as a gift for her marriage to Charles V in March of 1526.30 By October 1526 he produced a terracotta figure of St. Jerome for the Royal Monastery in Guadalupe’s High Altar, still located in the Sacristy of the monastery (Fig. 05, left). Torrigiani’s terracotta masterpiece of another Penitent Jerome (Fig. 04) and of a Virgin and Child, realized for the Jeronymite convent of Buena Vista outside of Seville, exemplify the peak of Torrigiani’s sculptural capacity. The works Torrigiani left in Spain at the end of his career remained a significant influence on subsequent important Spanish artists like Alonso Cano, Juan Martínez Montañés and Francisco de Zurbarán.
It remains plausible the St. Anthony could have been realized in Spain. There is a particular homogeny between the St. Anthony and Torrigiani’s two Jeromes that could suggest the same human model was employed. Vasari records how Torrigiani’s “highly prized” Penitent Jerome was modeled after a house-steward of the Botti family who were Florentine merchants in Spain.31 32 However, the Jerome’s strong countenance contrasts subtly with the fatigued St. Anthony whose essential expression conveys struggle and hope, looking upward to the glory of God rather than ahead as the Jerome, determined for his salvation.
In particular, Torrigiani’s Guadalupe Jerome compares favorably with the St. Anthony. The turn of the head, desperate gaze, similarly agape mouth, carefully carved wrinkles and convincingly self-aware personal characteristics of the face are nearly exact (Fig. 05). The modeling of the brows, deeply set eyes, especially cavernous where the eyes meet the bridge, and the strong delineation of the lacrimal caruncle with a sunken periorbital beneath the eyes, suggest the true-to-life age of the sitter as observed also on his terracotta busts. Additional comparisons can be made between the St. Anthony and Torrigiani’s Jerome for the Jeronymite convent of Buena Vista (Figs. 06, 07).
Other features of the St. Anthony compare with Torrigiani’s confirmed or attributed works. Specifically, the modeling of the hair whose thick striated tufts of serpentine forms terminate in softly blunted tips like those observed on his terracotta portrait bust of King Henry VII (Fig. 08). The carefully carved strands and their rhythmic pattern compare also with the bronze putto situated on the corners of Henry VII’s tomb (Fig. 09) and other works by Torrigiani.
Further characteristic features include the choice manner in which the feet are modeled with knob-like knuckles, an index toe extending beyond the hallux toe and a plump outer toe (Figs. 10, 11). Finally, the thickly modeled drapery of the St. Anthony follows the type observed on Torrigiani’s other life-size or near-life size statuary (Fig. 11). In particular is the distinctive folding of cloth resulting in an indented cavity between the thighs of the subject.
In sum, the sculpture of St. Anthony may help bridge the lack of knowledge concerning Torrigiani’s works in wood and may additionally promote further speculation concerning the activity of his late years. In all, it may improve the overall appreciation of Torrigiani’s skill and talent as one of the finest and most versatile artists of the Renaissance, praised by contemporaries and patronized by some of the most historically potent figures of the era.
The sculpture of St. Anthony appears to have been intended to be observed in-the-round and probably placed upon a base or pedestal. It is near life-size (132 x 81 cm) and the detail given to modeling St. Anthony’s face, gazing upwards, suggests he was to be seen at near eye-level and up-close.
The state of the wood toward the lower extremity of the sculpture appears to show signs of old water damage. It was likely exposed to dampness for an extended period judging by the excessive woodworm it has suffered. There are probably some old damages or modifications that were made prior to this exposure. This includes damage to a section of drapery along the proper right arm which has been truncated and an exposed portion along the proper right leg where we are to assume a sculpture of a pig, an attribute of St. Anthony, may have once been joined against it. The figure may also have once held other possible attributes like a staff, book or bell. Another old loss, less conspicuous, is along the drapery of the proper left leg. There are various splits in the wood commensurate with age, in particular a large split descends behind the head and along the hood of his cloak. There is also a concave portion along the back-of-the-hood where an exposed knot was present in the wood. There is a V-shaped cut along the proper right of the saint’s forehead. It is ether due to worming or possibly from a tool used for an unknown purpose. The legs and upper body appear to have been formed using at least two large blocks of wood, cleverly joined. The arms are separately modeled and attached. The termination of the cuffs are also separately modeled pieces, prepared to allow a deep cavern on the cuffs of the robe from which the separately modeled hands emerge. The hands are later, perhaps 19th or 20th century replacements, eloquently accomplished. Two of the fingers on the proper right hand have been broken at the extremity and reattached. The face of St. Anthony is presumed carved separately. If not, the detail accomplished at such depth of sculpting on the interior of the hood would require an avid, steady-hand. The mouth and nostrils are cut deep into the sculpture, commensurate with Darr’s assessment of Torrigiani’s characteristic approach to sculpting (see Fig. 08, right).33
The polychromy appears original on St. Anthony’s cloak, prepared with a very thin coat of plaster followed by a dark brown or black (probably a carbon black from organic sources). The polychrome of the face, rubbed in areas, might not be original. There is no apparent undercoating suggesting the original paint and plaster were probably removed and a new paint applied, perhaps in conjunction with the addition of the sculpture’s hands. Traces of original polychrome for flesh tones remain present on the upper wrists where the replacement hands have been attached and also along St. Anthony’s toes.
1 Giorgio Vasari (1568): Lives of the Most Eminent Painters, Sculptors and Architects. Translated by Gaston Du C. De Vere. Macmillian, London, 1913, vol. IV, pp. 182-88.
2 Benvenuto Cellini (1558-63): The Life of Benvenuto Cellini written by himself. Trans. By J.A. Symonds, London, 1949, pp. 18-19.
3 G. Vasari (1568): op. cit. (note 1).
4 Francisco de Holanda (1548, published 1563): De la Pintura Antiqua. Madrid, 1921, p. 238.
5 John Pope-Hennessy (1972): The Tombs in Westminster. Westminster Abbey, London and NY, pp. 214-15.
6 G. Vasari (1568): op. cit. (note 1).
7 G. Vasari (1568): op. cit. (note 1). For the most recent discourse concerning Bertoldo di Giovanni’s school in the Medici’s San Marco gardens see Caroline Elam (2019): Custode and Capo: Bertoldo di Giovanni in Lorenzo de’ Medici’s Sculpture Garden. Bertoldo di Giovanni. The Frick Collection, NY, pp. 108-33.
8 G. Vasari (1568): op. cit. (note 1).
9 Alan Phipps Darr (1992): New Documents for Pietro Torrigiani and other early Cinquecento Florentine Sculptors active in Italy and England. Kunst des Cinquecento in der Toskana. Kunsthistorisches Institute in Florence, pp. 108-38.
10 A. Darr (1992): op. cit. (note 9), see Docs. 10A, 10B.
11 See Alan Phipps Darr (1980): Pietro Torrigiano and his Sculpture for Henry VII Chapel, Westminster Abbey (Vols. I-III), New York University, PhD Thesis. See Doc. 11.
12 Although it is reasonable to assume Torrigiani went directly from the Netherlands, where he is documented in 1510, to London, where he is first documented in 1511, scholars have considered he may have arrived in London as early as 1507, involved in the early plans for Henry VII’s tomb or to create the terracotta portrait bust of Henry VII prior to Henry’s death in 1509. However, the portrait of the king could also have been realized using the death mask of Henry VII, still preserved. It is also thought he was in England at this early date to realize a terracotta portrait bust (now lost) of Mary Tudor he repaired for Margaret of Austria in 1510. It is further speculated that he may have accompanied Baldassare Castiglione on a journey to London in 1507 as part of the embassy sent by the Duke of Urbino, Federigo II of Montefeltro, on occasion of his appointment to the Order of the Garter. A medal commemorating the event is thought to be by Torrigiani (National Gallery of Art, Inv. 1957.14.1323). See A. Darr (1980): op. cit. (note 11), see Docs. 11, 13B and Ricardo García Jurado (2016): Pietro Torrigaini, sculptor (1472-1528). Project Image and Identity of Andalusia in the Modern Age. Ministry of Economy, Knowledge, Companies and Universities. Junta de Andalucía. Edited by the University of Almería, Almería.
13 A. Darr (1992): op. cit. (note 9), see Doc 27.
14 A. Darr (1992): op. cit. (note 9), see Docs 9C, 9D.
15 Musée Calvet Inv. 23690. Philippe Malgouyres (1998): Dessins de la donation Marcel Puech au Musée Calvet, Avignon, 2 vols. Paris and Naples, pp. 106-07. The finest of these Heads of Christ by Torrigiani is the marble version for the Abbott Islip’s Chapel, now preserved in the Wallace Collection (Inv. S7). Others include the terracotta Head of Christ for Torrigiani’s Monument to Dr. John Yonge, and a marble Head of Christ in the Burghley House collection. For a discussion of these busts see Jeremy Warren (2016): The Wallace Collection. Catalog of Italian Sculpture. The Trustees of the Wallace Collection, London, no. 14, pp. 68-83 and Francesco Caglioti (2014): Puro semplice e naturale nell’arte a Firenze tra Cinque e Seicento. Ufizzi, Firenze, no. 70, pp. 304-307.
16 A. Darr (1980): op. cit. (note 11), pp. 56-7.
17 B. Cellini (1558-63): op. cit. (note 2).
18 A. Darr (1980): op. cit. (note 11), see Docs. 18- 20. These documents, dated September 23, 28 and October 26 involve the contracting of Antonio di Piergiovanni di Lorenzo (a sculptor from Settignano), Antonio detto Toto del Nunziata (a painter from Florence) and Giovanni Luigi di Bernardo di Maestro Jacopo (a sculptor from Verona, working in Florence) for a period of four-and-a-half years.
19 A. Darr (1980): op. cit. (note 11), see Doc. 13B.
20 Cinzia Maria Sicca (2006): Pawns of international finance and politics: Florentine sculptors at the court of Henry VIII. Renaissance Studies, Vol. 20, No. 1., pp. 1-34.
21 C. Sicca (2006): op. cit. (note 20).
22 Torrigiani’s contract for the Tomb of Henry VIII was signed 5 January 1519. See A. Darr (1980): op. cit. (note 11), see Doc. 14H. Sicca theorizes this commission was in-part, masterminded and prompted by mercantile duties about-to-be-owed to the crown from Giovanni Cavalcanti and Pierfrancesco de’ Bardi, with the tomb’s commission providing a way to continually defer sums due. See C. Sicca (2006): op. cit. (note 20).
23 A. Darr (1980): op. cit. (note 11), see Doc. 17.
24 Documents from September 1522 thru January 1523 are presumed to indicate the arrival of Bandinelli’s terracotta models for Henry VIII’s tomb in London. See Margaret Mitchell (1971): Works of art from Rome for Henry VIII: A study of Anglo-papal relations as reflected in papal gifts to the English King. Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes, 34, pp. 178-203.
25 The letter to the Signoria was written 28 June 1519. The complaint filed in this letter also suggests Torrigiani had not begun work on the High Altar. See A. Darr (1992): op. cit. (note 9), see Doc. 17.
26 C. Sicca (2006): op. cit. (note 20).
27 The presence of Benedetto da Rovezzano is recorded in London as early as 24 June 1523 and Givovanni da Maiano the Younger is present there in 1519. Both artists may have arrived in 1519 to adopt Torrigiani’s High Altar commission. For Rovezzano’s ambition and efforts on the High Altar see Francesco Caglioti (2012): Benedetto da Rovezzano in England: New Light on the Cardinal Wolsey-Henry VIII Tomb. The Anglo-Florentine Renaissance: Art for the Early Tudors. Studies in British Art, 22. The Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art, London, pp. 177-202.
28 A. Darr (1980): op. cit. (note 11), see Doc. 24.
29 A. Darr (1992): op. cit. (note 9).
30 F. Holanda (1548): op. cit. (note 4).
31 G. Vasari (1568): op. cit. (note 1).
32 It is to be wondered if the Florentine Botti family of merchants and bankers may have attracted Torrigiani to Spain or provided him residence there not unlike the Florentine merchant, Pierfrancesco de’ Bardi, whose London home Torrigiani lived in until 1514. See A. Darr (1992): op. cit. (note 9), see Docs. 14H-L. The Botti brothers conducted business between Italy and Spain and had commercial operations in Seville where Torrigiani appears to have been most active. Jacopo Botti, in particular, was a near-permanent resident in Spain during the 1520s, heading their family operations there, and like other prosperous merchants, may have wished to secure popularity through donations to churches in areas in which his business was conducted. For the mercantile efforts of the Botti in Spain see Catia Brilli and Manuel Herrero Sánchez (2019): Italian Merchants in the Early-Modern Spanish Monarchy: Business Relations, Identities and Political Resources. Routledge. If the St. Anthony was realized in Italy, and if it represents the same house-steward featured in his Jerome’s, it could suggest Torrigiani knew this steward in Italy and was close with the Botti family whose mercantile efforts in Spain were initiated in 1519, the year Torrigiani returned from England.
33 A. Darr (1980): op. cit. (note 11), see p. 418.