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Relief - Don Carlos of Spain
  • Don Carlos of Spain
    Abondio, Antonio, born 1538 - died 1591
  • Enlarge image

Don Carlos of Spain

  • Object:

    Relief

  • Place of origin:

    Vienna (made)

  • Date:

    ca. 1570-1572 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Abondio, Antonio, born 1538 - died 1591 (sculptor)

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Wax relief, in a copper-gilt locket

  • Credit Line:

    Salting Bequest

  • Museum number:

    A.525:1, 2-1910

  • Gallery location:

    Medieval & Renaissance, Room 62, The Foyle Foundation Gallery, case 7 []

Wax is used as a sculpting material for preliminary models and for works in their own right. It is quick and easy to shape, yet also cheap. Once softened, it is modelled in a similar way to clay, with the composition built up gradually. To enhance the wax, pigment can be added before moulding and pearls or other jewels can be embedded in the surface afterwards. Wax was first used to make works of art, as opposed to models, in Italy around 1510. Later, Abondio became the first artist to make portrait medallions in wax. He worked mainly in the courts of northern Europe. This wax, showing the infamous son of Philip II of Spain, comes from a series of imperial portraits.

Abondio (1538-1596) and his teacher Leone Leoni were the only Italian medallists to be highly successful as court medallists north of the Alps. His eclectic style reflects Italian, German and Netherlandish sources. He was influenced by the Venetian Alessandro Vittoria and earlier by Alfonson Ruspagiari and the school of wax modellers and medallists centered on Reggio Emilia.

Although Abondio is well-known as a medallist and court artist to the Holy Roman Emperors, he is generally accepted to be the first artist to work in wax in order to create a work of art from that material, rather than merely to use it as part of the sculptural process. He is therefore a key figure in the development of sculpting of wax, and in the history of portraiture. His development of the use of wax as a medium in its own right is also significant in its contribution to the formation of Kunstkammers and Cabinets of Curiosities. Wax was included in these collections because it was unusual and finely-worked. This object's attribution to Abondio therefore must make it amongst the earliest waxes to form part of such a collection.

Physical description

Coloured wax on glass. Don Carlos is represented in profile to the left, wearing a black cloak with a gold and black lining over a gold and black tunic with a high neck and white ruff, and a black hat with a feather studded with seed-pearls. He wears the collar of the Golden Fleece. The relief is contained in a copper gilt locket, the front of which shows the Disobedient Prophet dead under a tree and the back of which is engraved with strapwork.

Place of Origin

Vienna (made)

Date

ca. 1570-1572 (made)

Artist/maker

Abondio, Antonio, born 1538 - died 1591 (sculptor)

Materials and Techniques

Wax relief, in a copper-gilt locket

Dimensions

Height: 14.4 cm overall, Width: 8.1 cm overall, Depth: 3 cm, Weight: 0.24 kg

Object history note

This relief (along with A.523, 524 and 526-1910) was part of the Spitzer Collection and was sold in the Paris sale 17 April-16 June 1893 (lot no.2968) to George Salting. It then came to the museum as part of the Salting Bequest (no.1213).
There is a wax relief of Matthias I of Hapsburg in the Kunsthistorischesmuseum in Berlin (no.8278) which is ascribed to Antonio Abondio. It is contained in a locket which is similar in design to the present piece, hence the current attribution to Abondio. The Matthias I portrait has been linked to a wax portrait relief of Archduke Ernst of Austria, formerly in the Spitzer Collection and now in the Wallace Collection. The Matthias I wax has been linked stylistically with portaits of Emperor Maximillain II and his wife in the Munzkabinett at Munich although acknowledged to be slightly different in handling to the present piece. Closer to this one are two portraits ascribed to Abondio in the Ambrosiana, Milan, of Mary, wife of Maximillian II and an unknown woman.
The companion piece to this portrait is A.523-1910, portrait of Philip II. The scene inscribed on the locket containing the present relief of Don Carlos depicts the Disobedient Prophet (1 Kings 13, 11-32). Pope-Hennessy says it is likely that this story alludes to the circumstances of Don Carlos's death, in which case the two portraits must date from after 1568. Dworschak suggests that the head may have been modelled from life, in which case it would predate 1568. However, there is no recorded of Abondio to Spain which would fit with this interpretation, it therefore more likely that this portrait was carried out during Abondio's documented visit to Madrid in 1571-2.

Historical significance: This object is significant because of it's attribution to Abondio, as well as in being an attractive portrait in it's own right. Although Abondio is well-known as a medallist and court artist to the Holy Roman Emperors, he is generally accepted to be the first artist to work in wax in order to create a work of art from that material, rather than merely to use it as part of the sculptural process. He is therefore a key figure in the development of sculpting of wax, and in the history of portraiture. His development of the use of wax as a medium in its own right is also significant in its contribution to the formation of Kunstkammers and Cabinets of Curiosities. Wax was included in these collections because it was unusual and finely-worked. This object's attribution to Abondio therefore must make it amongst the earliest waxes to form part of such a collection.
In addition, the pigmentation of the wax was very successful, it has held its colour well, and the fine quality of the portrait is very well preserved, which can, in part, be put down to Abondio using a good 'recipe' for his wax, soft enough to mould delicately, but dried hard enough to survive.

Historical context note

This type of portrait in wax would have been produced in order to commemorate or disseminate the image of the sitter. Philip's relationship with Don Carlos has been traditionally portrayed as an unhappy and tragic one. However, actual historical events are not necessarily the same as those depicted in Schiller's play and Verdi's opera. It is most likely that Don Carlos was a troubled young man, and that Philip was not the heartless tyrant he is depicted as being. It is therefore, quite likely that these portraits were commissioned together in commemmoration of Don Carlos.
Wax is a cheap material, easily worked, as well as light and easily transportable. It is also intended as a kind of object of desire, covetable and collectible. For that reason it is put in an ornate gilt locket, decorated on the surface of the wax with seed pearls and other adornments and is skilfully pigmented. It is the ideal kind of object for a Kunstkammer in that it is small and light enough to the held in the hand and passed from person to person, and that it is attractive to the eye. The famous sitter would also increase its attractiveness, Philip II being a powerful monarch with whom a glamorous tale of intrigue is associated.
The artist, Antonio Abondio, was born in Lombardy, Italy and was trained in the Milanese School as a pupil of Leone Leoni. However, he worked as a medallist and wax modeller in the Imperial court of the Holy Roman Empire in Prague and Vienna for most of his career. In 1571-2 he accompanied the Imperial Ambassador on a trip to Spain, and it may be from this period that the present work dates. The important early Kunstkammers and Cabinets of Curiosities were, however, founded in the region where Abondio worked, around Prague and Vienna, thus strongly linking it to these types of collection. Indeed, Abondio went on from the service of Maximillian II into that of Emperor Rudolph II upon his accession and Rudolph, interestingly, was among the most important early collectors of these type of curiosities and formed important collections at Prague, Dresden and Munich.

Descriptive line

Wax on glass, Don Carlos, by Antonio Abondio, Italy (Lombardy), about 1570-2

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

Penny, Nicholas. Catalogue of European sculpture in the Ashmolean Museum : 1540 to the present day. Oxford : Clarendon Press, 1992, p.190.
Pope-Hennessy, John. Catalogue of Italian Sculpture in the Victoria and Albert Museum. Volume II: Text. Sixteenth to Twentieth Century. London: Her Majesty's Stationery Office, 1964, pp. 538, 9
Dworschack, F Antonio Abondio: Medaglista e Ceroplasta (1538-1591)Trento, 1958, ill. p.75, p.34, 55
'Salting Bequest (A. 70 to A. 1029-1910) / Murray Bequest (A. 1030 to A. 1096-1910)'. In: List of Works of Art Acquired by the Victoria and Albert Museum (Department of Architecture and Sculpture). London: Printed under the Authority of his Majesty's Stationery Office, by Eyre and Spottiswoode, Limited, East Harding Street, EC, p. 85
Trusted, Marjorie, ed. The Making of Sculpture. The Materials and Techniques of European Sculpture. London: 2007, p. 27, pl. 32

Labels and date

DON CARLOS (1545-1568), son of Philip II of Spain.
Coloured wax, in a contemporary South German copper gilt locket with a representation of the Disobedient Prophet.
ITALIAN; second half of the 16th century.
Salting Bequest.
A.525-1910 []
DON CARLOS (b. 1545; d. 1568),
son of Philip II of Spain.
A.525-1910
The front of the copper-gilt locket shows the Disobedient Prophet dead under a tree. []
DON CARLOS (b. 1545; d. 1568), son of Philip II of Spain.
By ANTONIO ABONDIO THE YOUNGER (b.1538; d. 1591)
ITALO-AUSTRIAN; about 1571-2
Salting Bequest
A.525-1910
This portrait may have been executed postumouslyin 1571-2 when Abondio visited Spain. The front of the locket shows the Disobedient Prophet dead under a tree. [October 1989]
1 Don Carlos of Spain
About 1571–2
By Antonio Abondio (1538–91)

Wax was first used to make works of art, as opposed to models, in Italy around 1510. Later, Abondio became the first artist to make portrait medallions in wax. He worked mainly in the courts of northern Europe. This wax, showing the infamous son of Philip II of Spain, comes from a series of imperial portraits.

Prague (Bohemia)
Wax relief, in a copper-gilt locket

Salting Bequest
Museum no. A.525-1910 [October 2004]

Materials

Wax; Copper; Gold

Techniques

Gilding

Categories

Portraits; Royalty; Sculpture; Medallions

Collection

Sculpture Collection

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