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Mercury

  • Object:

    Statuette

  • Place of origin:

    Padua (made)

  • Date:

    14/02/1527-15/06/1527 (carved)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Minello, Antonio (sculptor)

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Carved marble inlaid with bronze

  • Credit Line:

    Given by Dr W. L. Hildburgh FSA

  • Museum number:

    A.44-1951

  • Gallery location:

    Medieval & Renaissance, Room 64, The Wolfson Gallery, case FS

The inscription states that this figure was commissioned by the Venetian scholar Marcantonio Michiel and begun on 14 February 1527. His horoscope for 15 June appears on the bronze disc. With Mercury, the god of eloquence, in the ascendant, it was probably intended as a favourable omen for Michieli, who was hoping to gain a seat in the Venetian Senate.

Physical description

Statuette of the Roman God Mercury, marble inlaid with bronze. Mercury is represented in full-length, and is naked save for a cloak clasped at the right shoulder, winged sandals, and a winged helmet.

Place of Origin

Padua (made)

Date

14/02/1527-15/06/1527 (carved)

Artist/maker

Minello, Antonio (sculptor)

Materials and Techniques

Carved marble inlaid with bronze

Marks and inscriptions

MERC. SIMULAC. / M. ANT. MICHAEL P.V. / ANN. VRB. VENET. / MC.VI.F.C. / CONSECRAVITQ. / ANT. MINELL. SCVLPT. / PATAVINVS. XVI.KAL.MARTI. COEPTVM. / XVII.KAL. QVINT. / PERFECIT. / ANN. SAL. / M.D.XXVII.'
The inscription records that the statuette was commissioned by the Venetian patrician and humanist Marcantonio Michiel; it was begun by Antonio Minello on 14 February 1527, and completed by him on 15 June of the same year
Textual information; Latin; on the left side of the figure on a small altar; carved; marble

Dimensions

Height: 77.5 cm, Width: 26.5 cm, Depth: 44 cm

Object history note

Acquired in London by Dr W.L. Hildburgh and presented by him to the Victoria and Albert Museum in 1951.

Historical context note

The bronze plaque is engraved with a diagram of the planets, showing the motions of Mercury, placed at the top, the relative positions of the planets on 15 June 1527, the date of the completion of the figure. It has been interpreted as a horoscope by Hartner and Pope-Hennessy, with some differences as to the precise time, which Hartner places at 8.04 a.m. and Pope-Hennessy at 11.46 a.m. Pope-Hennessy argues that this shows Mercury in a particularly favourable position as Lord of the Ascendant and of the Midheaven, also in conjunction with the Sun and Jupiter, and that the moment was therefore clearly chosen with great care and must have some special significance for the career of Marcantonio Michiel. He explains this in terms of Michiel's repeated attempts to secure public office, with a particular desire to serve as ambassador, which were dashed in September 1525 as a result of a disgraceful confluct with a relative that caused him to be debarred from public office for a year. By 1527, when the statuette was commissioned, Michiel was free once again to try for office. In that month he married Maffea Soranzo, and began to scheme for election to the senate, in which he was finally successful on 28 September 1527. The peculiarly favourable conjunction of Mercury on 15th June 1527 would therefore have been a good omen for him. This interpretation has since been questioned by Fletcher, and more recently by Eade, who has brought into question the astrological status of the plaque. Observing that the earlier astrological calculations were wrong and that on 15 June 1527 Mercury was unfavourably positioned, Eade interprets the plaque not as a horoscope, but as a simple astronomical diagram showing the position of Mercury on 15 June 1527 in relation to other planets. The Mercury appears in the earliest inventory of Michiel's collection, probably compiled soon after his death in 1552, and in 1576 was in the possession of Michiel's grandson. as noted by Fletcher, who published the early inventory, the collection was housed in Michiel's palace at Santa Marina in Venice, where the Mercury appears to have been paired with a marble Apollo of similar scale and valued at the same amount. There is no indication whether the Apollo was a classical or a modern work. It was conjectured by Pope-Hennessy that the pose of the Mercury was based on a classical statue of Hypnos of a type represented in the Prado Museum of which a number of examples survive. The Madrid Hypnos was at one time thought to represent Mercury.

Descriptive line

Statuette, marble inlaid with bronze, Mercury, by Antonio Minelli, Italy (Padua), dated 1527

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

Pope-Hennessy J. catalogue of Italian sculpture in the Victoria and Albert Museum (London, 1964) Cat No. 539
Eade, J. Marcantonio Michiel's Mercury statue: Astronomical or astrological ? (Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes, xliv 1981) pp. 207-209
Fletcher, J. Marcantonio Michiel's Collection (Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes, xxxvi, 1973) pp.328-85
Fletcher, J. Marcantonio Michiel : his friends and is collection (The Burlington Magazine, cxxiii, 1981) pp.453-67
Hartner, W. The Mercury horoscope of Marcantonio Michiel of Venice (Vistas in Astronomy, London and New York, 1955) pp.83-138
Schulz, Anne Markham. , Cambridge, 1991, pp. 27, 211, fig. 82

Labels and date

MERCURY
Marble
By Antonio Minelli (active adfter 1500; died after 1525)
PADUAN; dated 1527
Given by Dr W.L. Hildburgh, F.S.A.
A.44-1951

According to the inscription of the small altar, the figure was commissioned by the Venetian patrician and humanist Marcantonio Michiel (b.1484). It was begun in February 1527 and completed by 15th June, the date of the horoscope on the dial. Marcantonio Michiel married in February 1527 and the particularly favourable conjunction of Mercury on 15th June occurred at a point when his fortunes were low, but he was intriguing for election to the senate of venice. []
Mercury
Dated 1527
Antonio Minelli (active after 1500 – about 1529)
Italy, Padua
Marble with circular bronze disc
Inscribed in Latin with the name of the patron, the date of commencement (14 February 1527) and completion (15 June 1527)
Given by Dr W.L. Hildburgh FSA

This statue was made for the Venetian diplomat and collector Marcantonio Michiel. It derives from a classical prototype, but the insertion of a plaque showing the motions of the planet Mercury on 15 June 1527 is unusual. The plaque suggests Michiel’s identification with the god of eloquence and commerce.The significance of the date is obscure. [2009]

Materials

Marble; Bronze

Techniques

Inlay; Carving

Subjects depicted

Ibis; Cock (bird); Crane (bird); Gods, Roman; Lyre; Classicism

Categories

Sculpture; Myths & Legends

Collection

Sculpture Collection

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