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Statuette - Meleager
  • Meleager
    Antico Pier Jacopo di Antonio Alari Bonacolsi
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  • Object:


  • Place of origin:

    Mantua (made)

  • Date:

    ca. 1484 - ca. 1490 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Antico Pier Jacopo di Antonio Alari Bonacolsi (sculptor)

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Bronze, parcel-gilt with silver inlay

  • Credit Line:

    Purchased with funds from the Horn and Bryan Bequests and Art Fund support

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    Medieval & Renaissance, Room 64, The Wolfson Gallery, case 22

The statuette represents the mythical character Meleager, the heir to the throne of Calydon, a city in Greece. His father had offended the goddess Artemis, who sent a great boar to attack his homeland. Here Meleager is poised to kill the boar. The design is based on a classical marble statue. At one time this marble was in the Belvedere in Rome, but we know that it was in the Uffizi in Florence by 1638. There it was popularly known as the Contadino or Villano (peasant). A fire in 1762 destroyed it.

This bronze statuette is probably the ‘figure of metal called the little peasant’ listed in an inventory of 1496. This was made after the death of Gianfrancesco Gonzaga of Bozzolo, the third son of Marchese Ludovico Gonzaga of Mantua. It is one of a number of bronze figures based on classical models that appear in the same list.

Antico was one of the finest masters of bronze sculpture of the late 1400s and early 1500s. He trained as a goldsmith and was court artist to three generations of the Gonzaga dynasty. He primarily worked in Mantua, but was also at Gianfrancesco’s castle at Bozzolo in the late 1480s. The Gonzaga court cultivated humanist ideals and attracted renowned artists to Mantua. Notable among them was the painter Andrea Mantegna, who maintained a particularly high status. Mantegna’s style and interest in ancient Roman art influenced many other artists, and he provided designs for them to follow. Antico was no doubt among them.

It was in this artistic atmosphere that Antico developed a sophisticated technique of reproducing small-scale bronzes. This involved taking moulds from his original model and casting the statuettes from them. The moulds could be reused. Antico was therefore able to provide copies of several of his bronzes about 20 years after he had made the originals. He did this for Isabella d’Este, who was a great patron of the arts. This is, however, the only known version of the Meleager. The figure’s hair, moustache, beard, teeth, tunic and sandals are inlaid with silver. This rich decorative treatment is characteristic of Antico’s work and reflects the taste of his Gonzaga patrons. It contrasts with the rougher but more vibrant handling of bronzes produced at the time in the humanist circle at Padua.

Physical description

Statue of Meleager, bronze, parcel-gilt, eyes with silver inlay, poised in position to kill the great boar.

Place of Origin

Mantua (made)


ca. 1484 - ca. 1490 (made)


Antico Pier Jacopo di Antonio Alari Bonacolsi (sculptor)

Materials and Techniques

Bronze, parcel-gilt with silver inlay


Height: 33 cm From bronze base, Width: 18 cm Width of base, Depth: 10 cm Depth of base, Weight: 4.74 kg

Object history note

Purchased with the assistance of funds from the Bryan (£500) & Horn (£600) bequests.

Descriptive line

Statuette, partially gilded bronze, 'Meleager', by Antico, made in Mantua, ca. 1480-95

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

Williamson, Paul, ed. European Sculpture at the Victoria and Albert Museum. London: Victoria and Albert Museum, 1996, pp. 88-89
Bober, P. P. and Rubinstein, R. O. Renaissance Artists and Antique Sculpture, a Handbook of Sources. Oxford, 1986, p. 144, fig. 112a
Blume, Dieter, 'Anticos Antike', in: Städel-Jahrbuch, II, 1987, pp. 179-204, esp. pp. 188-190, illus. 10 + 11
Allison, Ann Hersey. The Bronzes of Pier Jacopo Alari Bonacolsi called Antico, Vienna, 1994, pp. 49-50, 60, 167-171 (V&A version, pp. 168-171), ill. p. 167, 8
Williamson, Paul, The NACF and the National Collection of Sculpture. In National Art-Collections Fund Review,1986, pp. 80-81.
Luciano, Eleanora (ed.) in collaboration with Denise Allen and Claudia Kryza-Gersch, Antico. The Golden Age of Renaissance Bronzes, (exh. cat. National Gallery of Art Washington 6 November 2011-8 April 2012; The Frick Collection, New York, 1 May-29 July 2012) London: Paul Holberton Publishing, 2011, inc. pp.172, 192; pls 22 and 22a
Ebert-Schifferer, Sybille, Natur und Antike in der Renaissance, Frankfurt: Liebieghaus - Museum Alter Plastik, 1985.
Baker, Malcolm, and Brenda Richardson (eds.), A Grand Design: The Art of the Victoria and Albert Museum, London: V&A Publications, 1999.
Pope-Hennessy, John Wyndham and Santangelol Antonio. Italian Bronze Statuettes . London : Arts Council, 1961
Chambers, David and Martineau, Jane (eds.), Splendours of the Gonzaga : Catalogue, London : Victoria and Albert Museum, 1981
Trevisani, Filippo and Gasparotto, Davide (eds.), Bonacolsi l'Antico: uno scultore nella Mantova di Andrea Mantegna e di Isabelle d'Este, Milano : Electa, 2008

Labels and date

MELEAGER, also known as Il Villanello
About 1480-95
Pier Jacopo Alari-Bonacolsi, called Antico (about 1460-1528)

Meleager is shown poised ready to kill the great boar sent by the goddess Artemis to attack his homeland. Based on an antique marble statue, this bronze is probably the 'figure of metal called the little peasant' referred to in a Gonzaga inventory of 1496. Antico's highly classicising but richly decorated bronzes appealed to his Gonzaga patrons at Mantua.

Italy, Mantua

Partially gilded bronze, with eyes inlaid in silver

Museum no. A.27-1960
Purchased from the Horn and Bryan bequests with the assistance of a contribution from The Art Fund [2008]


Bronze; Gold; Silver




Sculpture Collection

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