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Relief - Pilate washing his hands and Christ led from judgement
  • Pilate washing his hands and Christ led from judgement
    Giambologna
  • Enlarge image

Pilate washing his hands and Christ led from judgement

  • Object:

    Relief

  • Place of origin:

    Florence (made)

  • Date:

    ca. 1579-1580 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Giambologna (maker)

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Red wax on a wooden ground

  • Museum number:

    330-1879

  • Gallery location:

    Medieval & Renaissance, Room 62, The Foyle Foundation Gallery, case 1

This group of three wax reliefs (see also V&A Mus. nos: 328-1879 and 329-1879) were studies for three of six bronze reliefs made by Giambologna for the Grimaldi Chapel in San Francesco di Castelletto, Genoa.

This group of objects is of major historical significance in showing the different steps in the sculptural process. Giambologna's sketch drawings for these pieces do not survive, although he examination of his technique elsewhere suggests he would have done some. The survival of the wax sketch models is therefore even more crutial to our understanding of Giambologna's working practise. The dynamism of the composition in wax explains how the finished bronzes became so successful. Wax is a delicate medium and therefore the physical survival of these pieces is remarkable, suggesting they were especially valued. Already by this date drawings associated with high profile artists had become collectable, and it is likely that wax sketches were gaining the same importance. It is possible to conclude from the survival of the present pieces that the whole commission is very significant and that Giambologna's models were particularly prized and therefore kept safe, rather than destroyed, as many less significant artists' work would have been. Also important to observe are the few changes made between the wax stage and the finished bronze.

Pilate literally and symbolically washes his hands of his duty to judge Christ. The scene is rare in Passion imagery, but here it deliberately emphasises the message of salvation affirmed by the Roman church. Pilate’s indecision caused Jesus’s crucifixion. Counter Reformation scholars argued that he was therefore an essential instrument in God’s design for humankind’s salvation.

Physical description

Relief in red wax on a wooden ground. On the right Christ, seen from behind, is pushed down a passage by a group of soldiers. Two more soldiers stand in the right foreground. To the left is Pilate seated on a throne, washing his hands over a basin, into which water is poured by a boy. In the centre is a rectangular doorway with a view of a terrace beyond.

Place of Origin

Florence (made)

Date

ca. 1579-1580 (made)

Artist/maker

Giambologna (maker)

Materials and Techniques

Red wax on a wooden ground

Dimensions

Height: 46.9 cm, Width: 74.6 cm, Depth: 12.5 cm

Object history note

This group of three wax reliefs were studies for three of six bronze reliefs made by Giambologna for the Grimaldi Chapel in San Francesco di Castelletto, Genoa.
The six reliefs are Scenes of the Passion depicting:
1. Christ before Pilate
2. The Flagellation
3. Christ Crowned with Thorns
4. Ecce Homo
5. Pilate Washing his Hands
6. The Way to Calvary
The commission also included a relief of the Entombment, six bronze Virtues (Faith, Hope, Charity, Justice, Fortitude, Temperance), a bronze Crucifix (now lost), two paintings (Sacrifice of Isaac and Joseph Sold into Egypt by Aurelio Lomi, c.1590), a tomb, a bronze statue of Grimaldi and stuccos.
After an exchange of letters between Grimaldi and the Grand-Duke Francesco de'Medici running from 22 April to 10 June 1579, Giovanni Bologna paid a short visit to Genoa, where, on 24 July, the contract for the sculptures was signed (witnessed by the painter Luca Cambiaso). It is stipulated in the contract that the sculptures should be made in Florence. Giovanni Bologna was still working on the chapel in 1584, and it appears to have been completed in this or the following year.
On the demolition of San Francesco di Castelletto in 1815, the statues and reliefs were transported to the University, in the chapel and Aula Magna of which they are now housed. At a later date versions of the six reliefs, with small modifications, were cast for the Grand-Duke Ferdinando I de'Medici, and were made available by him for inclusion in the sculptor's memorial chapel, the Cappella del Soccorso in the Annunziata in Florence, on which Giovanni Bologna was at work between 1594 and 1598.
A third set of bronze reliefs is in the Bayerisches Nationalmuseum, Munich.

Comparison of the wax versions with the 3 bronze versions (Pope-Hennessy): The versions of the reliefs in Florence are inferior to those at Genoa. The principal differences between the Genoese and Florentine versions of the Christ brought before Caiaphas rest in the angle of the head of the youth behind Christ, the treatment of certain details of drapery, and the placing of the feet on the tiled floor. In respect of the latter point, 328-1879 agrees decisively with the relief at Genoa and not with that in Florence. The head of the soldier on the extreme left, which in the bronze relief is turned away and in the wax relief is shown in profile, has been broken, and is perhaps incorrectly replaced.
According to Mary Weitzel Gibbons the bronze versions differ only is details, the wax versions being very similar to the Genoa versions. The notable differences are: Christ before Pilate - the position of the soldier at the extreme left turns inward towards Pilate; in the finished version he turns his head away and looks out of the relief. Pilate Washing his Hands - the relationship between Pilate and the water pourer is different. In the wax Pilate looks towards Christ's back and the boy looks into the basin; in the bronze, Pilate looks at his own hands and the boy looks into Pilate's face.

The compositions of the Passion scenes on the left door of the Duomo at Pisa, with which this and the companion models appear at one time to have been associated, are totally dissimilar. "Four rilievos in the church of Santa Maria Novella, Florence" (Inventory, 1879), for which this and the companion reliefs were regarded as studies when acquired by the Museum, are figments of a 19th-century imagination.

The present group of three reliefs was first mentioned for sale in the catalogue of the Fitzhugh (Locke of Norbury) sale (London, Christie, 16 April, 1785, No.23: "Four Basso relievos in wax, by Gio.di Gologna"), where they were accompanied by a fourth relief. They were purchased for £5 5s. by the sculptor Nollekens, and figure once more in the Nollekens sale (London, Christie, 4 July, 1823), where the subjects are described:
34. G. DI BOLOGNA. Christ before Pilate, ina glazed Case. This and the 3 following very fine and original Terra Cottas were purchased at Mr. Locke's Sale.
35. DITTO....The Flagellation
36. DITTO....Pilate washing his hands.
37. DITTO....Christ exposed to the Multitude
By 1858, when three of the reliefs are mentioned parenthetically in the catalogue of the J. Rogers sale (London, Christie, 17 June, 1858, No.5) as in the possession of James Vallentin, the Flagellation model had been separated from the three other reliefs. The models appear again in the sale of the collection of Sir James Vallentin (London, Christie, 28 July 1870, Nos. 333, 334, 335) as "Reliefs in terra-cotta, said to be the Models by G. di Bologna for part of the Bronze Gates of the Duomo at Pisa"
The three reliefs were purchased by a dealer, Benjamin, for £2 10s. From Benjamin they passed successively through the hand of Calvetti and Pinti, two Italian dealers resident in London, and were then sold to Riblet, a dealer in Florence, from whom they were purchased in 1878 by Mr. Francis Austen. The fourth relief of the Flagellation wax recorded in the Howel Wills collection, Florence (sale, London, Christie, 16 February, 1894, No.277: "A large relief in wax representing the Flagellation of Christ - a model made by G. di Bologna for the bronze relief in the great west door of Pisa Cathedral - in walnut-wood case, with folding doors", bought Jones £4 15s). It is now in the Queensland Art Gallery, Brisbane.

Physical Condition: The composition of the wax was analysed in 1978 by Raymond White of the National Gallery. The main constituent was found to be beeswax, with animal fat or tallow added, which would have made the mixture easier to model and would adhere to itself better (if built up sectionally). Parts of the fat have separated (hydrolised) and migrated to the surface leaving the sticky deposit which gives the waxes their 'sweaty' appearence.

Historical significance: This group of objects is of major historical significance in showing the different steps in the sculptural process. Giambologna's sketch drawings for these pieces do not survive, although he examination of his technique elsewhere suggests he would have done some. The survival of the wax sketch models is therefore even more crutial to our understanding of Giambologna's working practise. The dynamism of the composition in wax explains how the finished bronzes became so successful. Wax is a delicate medium and therefore the physical survival of these pieces is remarkable, suggesting they were especially valued. Already by this date drawings associated with high profile artists had become collectable, and it is likely that wax sketches were gaining the same importance. It is possible to conclude from the survival of the present pieces that the whole commission is very significant and that Giambologna's models were particularly prized and therefore kept safe, rather than destroyed, as many less significant artists' work would have been. Also important to observe are the few changes made between the wax stage and the finished bronze.

Bought in England in 1879.

Historical context note

Giambologna's work is of key importance in illustrating the Reformation of the Catholic Church. Whilst the Protestant reformers were emphasising the primacy of the text over the image for devotion, the Catholic Church's response was to commission visual arts which broke new boundaries in emotive expression. He is widely percieved as an artist who puts technical virutosity and emotional emphasis above all else in his work, particularly in works such as the Rape of the Sabines which he is believed to have worked on solely as an artistic exercise examining three figures in motion, as it was not commissioned by a patron (only later being given a religious context by being named when it was complete). However, the Grimaldi Chapel reliefs are significant in that they combine the technical virutosity and highly charged emotional evocation with a strong narrative cycle. The Reformation aimed to make worshippers more physically and emotionally involved in the liturgy. The Passion of Christ, with its strong emotional and physical narrative was a key area to emphasise in order to achieve this.

Descriptive line

Relief, red wax, of Pilate washing his hands and Christ led from judgement, studies for the Grimaldi Chapel, Genoa, by Giambologna, (Italy) Florence, ca. 1579-1580

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

Raggio, Olga Review of Catalogue of Italian Sculpture in the Victoria and Albert Museum, Art Bulletin, vol. L, 1968, p. 102
Pope-Hennessy, J assisted by Lightbrown, R Catalogue of Italian Sculpture in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, 1964, pp. 469-47s, cat. no. 494, fig. 496
Avery, C and Radcliffe, A Giambologna 1529-1608, Sculptor to the Medici, exhibition catalogue, Arts Council of Great Britain, 1978, pp. 222-223, cat no. 232
Borroni Salvadoni, F 'Le esposizione d'arte a Firenze dal 1674 al 1767', Mitteilungen des Kunsthistorisches Institut in Florenz, XVIII, 1974, p. 90 and p. 11, no. 41
Penny, N Catalogue of European Sculpture in the Ashmolean Museum. 1540 to the Present-Day, Oxford, 1992, vol. 1 Italian, p. 95
Bury, M 'The Grimaldi Chapel of Giambologna in San Francesco di Castelletto, Genoa' Mitteilungen des Kunsthistorisches Institut in Florenz, XXVI/1, 1982, pp. 85-128
Gibbons, Mary Weitzel Giambologna's Grimaldi Chapel, PhD thesis, Rutgers University, 1984 (printed 1994), NAL 66.R.146
Macchiani, S 'Le Sculture del Giambologna', Il Palazzodell'Università di Genova. Il Collegio dei Gesuiti nella Strada dei Balbi, Genoa, 1987, pp. 359-387
Gibbons, Mary Weitzel, Giambologna: Narrator of the Catholic Reformation, Berkeley, Los Angeles and London, 1995
Holderbaum, J The Sculptor Giovanni Bologna, PhD Thesis, Harvard University, New York and London, 1983, pp. 262-4, plate C, fig. 190
Maclagan, E and Longhurst MH Catalogue of Italian Sculptures, Victoria and Albert Museum, London, 1932, p. 144-145
Avery, C Florentine Renaissance Sculpture, New York, 1970, pl. 184 and p. 251
Catalogue of the sale of the collection of the late Sir James Vallentin (Christie's July 28, 1870)
Catalogue of the sale of the J Rogers sale (Christie's June 17, 1858, Lot 5)
Gotz-Mohr, B.V. Nachantike Kleinplastische Bildwerke. II, Italien, Frankreich, Niederlande, 1500-1800, Melsungen, 1988, cat. 65, pp. 170-1
The Rape of the Sabines. Liegebhaus Frankfurt, inv no. 365

Labels and date

CHRIST LED FROM JUDGEMENT
Red wax.
By GIOVANNI BOLOGNA
(b.1529 - d. 1608)
ITALIAN (FLORENTINE); ca. 1579.
330-1879
This and two companion reliefs are sketch-models for three of the six bronze Passion scenes made by Giovanni Bologna for the Grimaldi Chapel in S. Francesco di Castelletto, Genoa. The bronze reliefs are now in the University of Genoa. The contract for the sculptures in the Grimaldi Chapel was signed in July 1579, and work on them was still in progress in 1584. Save for certain details in the Christ before Caiaphas, the models correspond closely with the completed bronze reliefs. []
RELIEFS FOR THE GRIMALDI CHAPEL

These wax reliefs are studies for three of the six bronze panels made by Giambologna for the Grimaldi Chapel in San Francesco di Castelletto, Genoa. They were removed to the University of Genoa when the church was demolished in 1815. The contract for this major commission was signed in 1579 and included a Crucifix, six putti and six life-size statues of Virtues.Giambologna was still working on the chapel in 1584.

Versions of the six reliefs were later cast for Ferdinando I de'Medici and made available by him for Giambologna's memorial chapel, the Cappella del Soccorso in Santissima Annunziata, Florence, which the sculptor was working on between 1594 and 1598.

PILATE WASHING HIS HANDS AND CHRIST LED FROM JUDGEMENT
Red wax on a wooden ground
By GIOVANNI BOLOGNA (1529-1608)
ITALIAN (FLORENCE); about 1579-80
330-1879 [April 1992]
PILATE WASHING HIS HANDS AND CHRIST LED FROM JUDGEMENT
Red wax on a wooden ground
By GIOVANNI BOLOGNA (1529-1608)
ITALIAN (Florence); about 1579-80
330-1879 [December 1995]
PILATE WASHING HIS HANDS AND CHRIST LED FROM JUDGEMENT
Red wax on a wooden ground
By GIOVANNI BOLOGNA (1529-1608)
ITALIAN (Florence); about 1579-80
330-1879

Pilate washing his hands was the fifth scene specified in the contract. The series isnot based directly on anyone gospel account. This event is only recorded in Matthew's gospel, where it appears before the Scourging of Christ (or Flagellation).

RELIEFS FOR THE GRIMALDI CHAPEL
These was reliefs are studies for three of the six bronze panels made by Giambologna for the Grimaldi Chapel in San Francesco di Castelletto, Genoa. A fourth wax study, depicting the Flagellation, is in the Queensland Art Gallery, Brisbane, Australia. The bronzes were removed to the University of Beoa when the church was demolished in 1815. The contract for this major commission was signed in 1579 and included a Crucifix, six putti and six life-size statues of Virtues. Giambologna was still working on the chapel in 1584.

Versions of the six reliefs were later cast for Ferdinando I de'Medici and made available by him for Giambologna's memorial chapel, the Cappella del Scoccorso in Santissima Annunziata, Florence, which the sculptor was working on between 1594 and 1598.

The glistening appearance of parts of these wax reliefs is the result of the inherently unstable nature of the materials and impurities in its composition. Their condition is monitored on a regular basis. [January 1997]

Materials

Wax; Wood

Subjects depicted

Basin; Soldiers; Men; Architecture

Categories

Sculpture; Religion; Christianity; Waxes

Collection

Sculpture Collection

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