This very beautiful terracotta sculpture represents a holy bishop, as his miter and long beard suggest. In Christian iconography, several holy bishops are represented with these attributes but only two of them have hair of this length: Saint Augustine and Saint Ambrose.
The Fathers of the Churches are writers who lived in the early eras of Christianity in a state of holiness and who are authoritative in matters of faith by their works and their doctrine. They are identifiable by attributes present on their body: Saint Ambrose carries a beehive or a whip, while Saint Augustine holds in his hand an inflamed heart. Our sculpture therefore does not allow the precise identification of the character. Nevertheless, the facial features of our holy bishop remind us of those used by artists to represent Saint Ambrose. At the beginning of the 17th century, the Flemish painter Matthias Stomer (1600-1650) produced several paintings which represented the holy bishop with elements similar to our terracotta head. He depicts him wrinkled, but not as an old man with pretty curls and full hair and beard. Slightly chubby, the saint has a focused gaze. The most representative element is the nose of the holy bishop, long and very straight with narrow nostrils.
The Re.s.Artes laboratory carried out a thermoluminescence test on our terracotta which was able to prove its dating, this being between 1550 and 1650. During this period in Liguria-Emilia, important centers of terracotta sculpture cooked were implanted. This very fragile material has been retained for centuries in climates kept away from humidity. Among the most famous works of this production is the Head of an Old Man made by the Bolognese artist Guido Reni (1575-1642) around 1600-1603.
Our Head of a Saint Bishop is closer to the production of the artist from Emilia-Romagna, Antonio Begarelli (1499-1565) known as il Begarino, to whom we have chosen to attribute it. Born in Modena, he was active in the Po Plain and very quickly became one of the most eminent artists of his time. He began his career in Modena alongside his master Giovanni dell'Abbate, father of the painter Niccolò dell'Abbate (1509-1571), whom Begarelli later trained in his studio. At that time, the city of Modena saw its churches decorated with terracotta sculptures: some were grouped together above the altars to replace the traditional paintings. The artist Guido Mazzoni (1450-1518) was the first to propose this type of set with free figures almost life-size. Among his masterpieces is the Contemplation of the Dead Christ made around 1485 and 1489 for the church of Sant'Antonio di Castello in Venice.
It was on the death of Mazzoni in 1518 that Begarelli became one of the greatest terracotta sculptors in his region because, following this tragic event, many commissions were entrusted to him. Thus, in 1522, he created the Madonna di Piazza, now kept in the Municipal Museum of Modena. Begarelli did not just take over the work of Mazzoni and offered an artistic language more restrained in expression, drawing inspiration from the great models of classical antiquity.
At the end of his life, Begarelli was a lay member of the Benedictine order and as such produced numerous sculptures. Our Head of a Bishop is in keeping with the style of his production at the end of his career, in particular his sculptures made for the abbey church of San Benedetto Po. Bagarelli affirms his style and proves the greatness of his technique by making sculptures with realistic details. His saints have very beautiful beards with well-defined curls and the artist does not hesitate to mark their wrinkles. Their eyes are characterized by a pupil carved in terracotta and covered with a large upper eyelid.
Just before his death, Begarelli worked on the decoration of the abbey church of the monastery of the Benedictine fathers of San Pietro in Modena, for which he began the altarpiece which he unfortunately could not complete. This exceptional work will become his funeral mausoleum. This is the work most similar to our work with holy bishops represented as wrinkled old men whose representation in space is meticulously studied. As a Benedictine sculptor, Il Begarino not only offers a set of a certain technique, but also a reflection of the position of the saints according to the perception of the monks, this experience having to respond to the new practice of prayer introduced by Ludovico Barbo (1381-1443).
Antonio Begarelli regularly introduces the cherubini motif into his works. It is possible to find them carved alongside the saints as for his representations of Saint Benedict, but also in small ornament as on his mausoleum. This motif is also found in ornament on the clothes of these saints, notably on the medallion of Saint Geminian of Modena on the altarpiece of San Pietro. The miter of our Bishop's Head has the same element, which reinforces the hypothesis of this attribution. Moreover, it has no trace of polychromy and Begarelli chose monochromy in order to respect the Benedictine liturgy specific to the Congregation of Modena.
Our sculpture depicts the character of the terracottas of Antonio Begarelli. At the end of his life, he established himself as an artist who mastered his art and put it at the service of his faith and the buildings of his region. Our work takes up the characteristics of his production at the end of his career, imprinted with classicism, a movement which affects all the arts from the 16th century and which combines the search for perfect forms with the resumption of the classical model, dating reinforced with the analysis by thermoluminescence.
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Please note that packing and shipping costs are not included in the price of the objects which are quoted ex shop.
Final amount including packing and shipment to be discussed with Galerie Alexandre Piatti.
28 000 €