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Statuette - Morgante Blowing a Cornetto

Morgante Blowing a Cornetto

  • Object:

    Statuette

  • Place of origin:

    Florence (made)

  • Date:

    1580-1590 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Susini, Antonio (sculptor)
    Giambologna (designer)

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Bronze

  • Museum number:

    65-1865

  • Gallery location:

    Medieval & Renaissance, Room 62, case 16

This bronze portrays Braccio di Bartolo, known as Il Morgante (about 1535-after 1594), who was the court dwarf of Cosimo I de' Medici (1519-74), Grand-Duke of Tuscany. He was ironically named after the mythological giant, Morgante Maggiore, of Luigi' Pulci's poem published in 1482 and was essentially a court jestor. Dwarves featured prominently in the Medici court as they were the subject of fascination, ridicule and patronising affection. The statuette shows Morgante blowing a cornetto held in his right hand while he supports himself with a stick in his left. It is one of only two complete surviving examples of this kind (the other is in the Musé Calvet, Avignon) and although it is designed by Giambologna, it is possible that it was executed by an assistant in his workshop.

Physical description

Bronze statuette depicting Morgante, dwarf of Cosimo I of Tuscany, blowing a cornetto.

The red-brown lacquer is now much rubbed and darkened, and the shaft of the cornetto (perhaps originally cast separately) has been broken above the hand and repaired.

Place of Origin

Florence (made)

Date

1580-1590 (made)

Artist/maker

Susini, Antonio (sculptor)
Giambologna (designer)

Materials and Techniques

Bronze

Dimensions

Height: 13 cm object only, Height: 19.5 cm including base, Width: 8.8 cm object only, Width: 9 cm including base, Depth: 4 cm object only, Depth: 6.1 cm including base, Weight: 0.58 kg with base

Object history note

This object was purchased in 1865 from a sale at the Pourtalès Collection in Paris. Many Italian works of art were being sold following the Napoleon's occupancy of Italy, when many works were taken to France. The bronze shows the famous court dwarf of the Medici Grand-duke Cosimo I, Morgante (about 1535-after 1594), who was portrayed on a number of occasions in painting and sculpture, including a large bronze in the Bobili Gardens in Florence, attributed to Valerio Cioli, where he appears naked on the back of a turtle.

This statuette is known in two basic variants. The first, as here, shows the corpulant Morgante blowing a cornetto held in his right hand while he supports himself with a stick in his left. The second, shows him personified as Bacchus with a wine cup in his right hand and a bunch of grapes in his left.

This statuette is one of only two known complete examples of the first variant (the other is in the Musée Calvet, Avignon). In other versions the cornetto is either wholly missing (as is the case with one owned by the Royal Museum of Copenhagen) or is lacking the bell (like those at the Beit and formerly Martin le Roy Collections). In addition, this model (like all the best variants of this version) possesses an integrally-cast oval base with a central fixing pin, whereas those of the second variety lack the integral base and are generally of a coarser quality.

In addition to Cioli’s version in the Boboli gardens, it is thought that Giambologna’s inspiration for this particular statuette may have come from a double-sided painting of the naked Morgante by Bronzino, that shows him front and back. The painting was in the Medici collection by 1553 and would have still been considered a novelty when Giambologna reached Florence. The model for this statuette was designed by Giambologna, but the handling and surface finish (patination) suggest that it might have been executed by Susini while he was still an assistant in Giambologna's workshop.

Historical context note

Among Giambologna’s many portraits, his various versions of Morgante are easily overlooked. Morgante, (ironically named after a mythological giant Morgante Maggiore of Luigi Pulci’s epic poem first published in Florence in 1482) was the rotund dwarf who was court jester to the Medici and one of the best-known characters of 16th-century Italy. Dwarves featured prominently in the Medici court as they were the subject of fascination and disgust, endless ridicule, and patronising affection. In fact, in Giambologna’s bronze narrative relief of the Corination of Cosimo I as Grand Duke the diminutive figure of Morgante, appears in animated conversation with a courtier among subsidiary groups of bystanders.

In the sixteenth century, Braccio di Bartolo ("il Morgante") was the most celebrated dwarf at the Medici Court and one of Cosimo I’s favourite. He was famously said to have fought and wrestled with a monkey to the amusement of Duke Cosimo I. The Grand Duke’s pleasure was presumably rooted in the traditional belief that dwarves were wildly lascivious by nature and subject to unbridled sexual passions. In fact in some bronzes of Morgante from Giambologna's workshop, he is likened to Bacchus, the Roman god of wine and intoxication, and likewise to the lustful satyr Silenus. The public humiliation of an adulterous dwarf was considered the best possible joke, at once comic and grotesque, and serving to reinforce the common perception of the fundamentally bestial nature of these creatures.

Descriptive line

Statuette, bronze, depicting Morgante blowing a cornetto, by Antonio Susini after a model by Giambologna, Italy (Florence), ca. 1580-1590

Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)

Avignon, Philippe Malgouyres, and Philippe Sénéchal eds. Paintings and Sculptures of Italy: Collections of the Fifteenth and Sixteenth Centuries of the Calvet Museum, Avignon Avignon: Musée Calvet, 1998, pp. 114-5, Cat 5
Inventory of Art Objects acquired in the Year 1865. Inventory of the Objects in the Art Division of the Museum at South Kensington, arranged According to the Dates of their Acquisition. Vol. 1. London : Printed by George E. Eyre and William Spottiswoode for H.M.S.O., 1868, p. 57
Avery, Charles; Laing, Alastair; Katz, Lois eds.Fingerprints of the Artist: European Terracotta Sculpture from the Arthur Sackler Collections Washington: Harvard University Press, 1981, ISBN:0674302028
Avery, Charles, Giambologna. The Complete Sculpture Oxford: Phaidon, 1987, pp 173, cat. 144
Avery, Charles, Anthony Radcliffe, Joanna Drew, Giambologna 1529-1608: Sculptor to the Medici, London: Art Council, 1978.

Labels and date

This bronze, which portrays Morgante (about 1535-after 1594) the court dwarf of Cosimo I de' Medici (1519-74), Grand-Duke of Tuscany, is the only known complete version of this model . The model is by Giambologna, but the handling and surface finish (patination) suggest that it was made by Susini while he was still an assistant in the workshop. [15/12/1995]

Production Note

after Giambologna

Materials

Bronze

Techniques

Cast

Subjects depicted

Cornett

Categories

Sculpture; Caricatures & Cartoons

Production Type

Unique

Collection

Sculpture Collection

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