Bronze, Giallo Marble Base
Italian (Napels), 19th century
After the Antique (Herculaneum, Villa of the Papyri)
National Museum of Archeology, Naples (Inv. 5618)
H 68 x W 43 x D 26 cm
H 26 3/4 x W 17 x D 10 1/4 inch
The bust, which was initially identified as the portrait of Plato, probably represents Dionysus (polymorphous deity of Greek and Latin Olympus, Zeus and Semèle’s son, the inventor of wine) with his head bent on his chest and turned to the right.
His hairstyle is worked with a stylised treatment of the surfaces: on his forehead a high taenia holds in place his thick hair which rolls down on both sides of his head and falls to the nape, while the flowing beard ends below his neck in tight curls. The god, who has a large straight nose and high cheekbones, gazes downwards with a thoughtful expression. There are slight traces of folds in the central part of his tunic. The bust was discovered in an outlying room of Villa of the Papyri at Herculaneum, but it probably decorated the peristilium, (four-sided colonnade with a central garden).
The Villa dei Papiri
The Villa dei Papiri was an ancient Roman villa in Herculaneum, in what is now Ercolano, Southern Italy. It is named after its unique library of papyri (or scrolls), discovered in 1750. The Villa was considered to be one of the most luxurious houses in all of Herculaneum and in the Roman world. Its luxury is shown by its exquisite architecture and by the very large number of outstanding works of art discovered, including frescoes, bronzes and marble sculpture which constitute the largest collection of Greek and Roman sculptures ever discovered in a single context.
It was situated on the ancient coastline below the volcano Vesuvius with nothing to obstruct the view of the sea. It was perhaps owned by Julius Caesar’s father-in-law, Lucius Calpurnius Piso Caesoninus. Barker 1908 suggested Philodemus was owner of the Villa of the Papyri Library.
In AD 79, the eruption of Vesuvius covered all of Herculaneum with some 30 meters of volcanic ash.
Herculaneum was first excavated in the years between 1750 and 1765 by Karl Weber by means of tunnels. The villa's name derives from the discovery of its library, the only surviving library from the Graeco-Roman world that exists in its entirety. It contained over 1,800 papyrus scrolls, now carbonised by the heat of the eruption, the Herculaneum Papyri.
Most of the villa is still underground, but parts have been cleared of volcanic deposits. Many of the finds are displayed in the National Archaeological Museum of Naples. The Getty Villa is a reproduction of the Villa of the Papyri.
The Chiurazzi Foundry
If you were part of the wealthy class in the 19th century, you would quite probably have embellished the formal gardens with bronze reproductions of Roman, Renaissance and Baroque sculptures cast by Chiurazzi & Sons, one of the three most renowned foundries in Naples, Italy. (the others were Sommer and De Angelis) Of the large statues, the main buyers were musea, universities and private collectors (John Ringling for his museum in Florida, the Rockefellers, the Rothschilds,
J P Getty, …).
The foundry was established in 1840 by Gennaro Chiurazzi senior, a student of Pietro Masulli a famous Neapolitan sculptor in his day and the first to reproduce works of art using moulds and the ancient lost-wax casting technique. Chiurazzi kept Masulli's foundry going after his death and created an art school in Naples that trained scores of master artisans able to continue the work. The family business flourished and was passed on for four generations. The work of Chiurazzi allowed art lovers and collectors to admire and also buy nearly perfect copies of famous works of art. The works were so highly regarded, that the Italian government formally authorized Chiurazzi to make plaster moulds of artifacts found at Pompeii and Herculaneum, and of museum masterpieces, including works by Michelangelo, Bernini and Donatello. In this way Chiurazzi and his artists were able to amass a collection of some 1,500 moulds. Uncompromising mastery of lost-wax casting resulted in reproductions that curators, collectors and art historians consider among the very best. In some cases, original sculptures have been damaged or altered in the intervening century, making certain moulds an invaluable addition to their story.
Furthermore, taking plaster moulds from these treasures is unheard of today, making the Chiurazzi collection even more valuable. However, Chiurazzi’s activities were not limited to the traditional foundry and foundry for copying classic works. During its golden age it also produced marble works, ceramics and last but certainly not least monumental foundry, contributing to produce some of the greatest monumental works in the world at the time.
During World War II, however, the Chiurazzi Foundry nearly went bankrupt. One can easily imagine how the global violence would monopolize the materials needed to make bronze castings, kill or send fleeing the master craftsmen who made the work, and make it impossible to ship works to wealthy clients. Gennaro Chiurazzi's famous school closed and the foundry lapsed into semi-obscurity. But it did not vanish altogether.
In 2000, the Italian government decided to redevelop the 170,000-square-foot warehouse where the Chiurazzi mould collection had been languishing. In a government auction, Clemente Setaro, a professor who spent his life teaching art and music appreciation and philosophy in Italian high schools, won the collection.
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