Bronze Christ, fixed to wooden cross on an alabaster base,
Italian, early 18th century
Massimiliano Soldani Benzi (1656 – 1740),
Provenance: Florentine Private Collection
Christ H 37 x W 27 cm (H 14,57 x W 10,62 in.)
Cross H 74 (with base: 90,5) x W 41 cm (H 29,13 (with base: 35,63) x W 16,14 in.
This fine bronze Christ on a wooden cross, mounted on a marble base, representing Golgotha, is one of a number of important and much celebrated objects, produced by the renowned sculptor and medaillist Massimiliano Soldani Benzi and his Florentine workshop during the first half of the 18th century. Stylistically it inscribes itself in the wider, opulent artistic tradition of Florence during the 17th and 18th centuries. The ephebic and rangy traits that so characterize the figures depicted in the works of Giambologna and his disciples Pietro Tacca and Antonio Susini, can still be clearly discerned and provide the figure of the crucified Christ with its very own unique and distinct character. The popularity of this bronze can be concluded from the fact that several other copies of it still exist in a range of varying sizes.
These crucifixes were produced by Soldani-Benzi and his workshop both in order to serve the private devotional needs of rich Florentine families as well as to embellish the altars of several convents. The quality of the craftsmanship displayed in this crucifix is remarkably high, with its accurate depiction of human anatomy and the meticulous execution of its patina.
Although both treat the same subject matter, this bronze portrays an altogether very different Christ compared to the relief representing the Crucifixion of Christ by Soldani Benzi’s main competitor and court sculptor to the Medici, Giovanni Battista Foggini (Museo degli Argenti, Florence), in which a living Christ looks up at the heavens. Notwithstanding the presence of several formal similarities, the present bronze contains none of the classicist elements that persistently pervade Foggini’s oeuvres. This bronze is far much more likely to have found its origin within Soldani Benzi’s workshop, especially when taking into account its stylistical as well as compositional features. The present crucifix bears striking resemblances with other presentations of the crucifixion by Soldani Benzi, most notably the relief of the Vision of Golgotha of Saint Catherine de’ Ricci (Collezione Corsini, Florence) and the relief of Saint Veronica receiving the Stigmata (Museo Nazionale, Florence). In these reliefs Soldani Benzi portrays a Christ who is dying, with his head hanging down towards the earth. The nearly identical way in which Christ’s hair is sculpted suggesting movement, as well as the particular form of Christ’s loincloth suggest the works were created by one and the same hand.
Born at Montevarchi, the son of a noble Tuscan cavalry captain, Soldani Benzi began making figures and reliefs of models from the della Robbia workshop as a child. At 19 he began training in the grand-ducal Galleria in Florence, and soon attracted the attention of the Grand Duke Cosimo III de' Medici, who sent Soldani-Benzi to Rome to complete his training in coin-making. Apart from coin-making, Soldani Benzi studied drawing with Ciro Ferri and sculpture with Ercole Ferrata. During his four year stay in Rome, he attracted the notice of several high church dignitaries as well as many aristocrats. The abdicated Queen Christina of Sweden wanted to commission work from him, but Cosimo objected and soon sent the artist to work with a famous medallist in Paris. There he was brought to the attention of Louis XIV, for whom he made a brilliant large-format portrait medal. When Louis XIV subsequently wanted him to enter the service of the French crown, Cosimo had him summoned to Florence, where Benzi was made director of the Zecca, the Grand-ducal Mint, and granted a workshop in the Uffizi.
After his appointment Soldani Benzi initially predominantly worked as a medallist, while producing also some small statuettes from time to time. From the 1690s onwards, however, he turned to producing high quality bronze reliefs, and free-standing figures as well as busts, often after the antique. In his bassirilievi d’invenzione, Soldani Benzi carried on the tradition begun by Giambologna and developed a sort of ‘painting in sculpture’ that was designed to be framed and hung like a real painting.
Among Soldani Benzi’s most notable achievements are his bronze reproductions of antique marble sculptures and of works by some of his illustrious predecessors such as Michelangelo, Cellini, Giambologna and Bernini. Although Soldani Benzi claimed he only wanted to produce faithful copies of the originals, his renderings turned out to be highly personal interpretations of great aesthetic charm.
Soldani Benzi furthermore concerned himself with monumental work, including elaborate Baroque church decoration.
Upon his death porcelain versions of Soldani’s small groups and statuettes were produced by the Doccia porcelain factory after the Marchese Carlo Ginori (1702–57) had managed to buy a large stock of his moulds.
Lankheit, K., Florentinische Barockplastik. Die Kunst am Hofe der letzten Medici 1670-1743, München, 1962.
Lankheit, K., ‘Eine Serie barocker Antiken-Nachbildungen aus der Werkstatt des Massimiliano Soldani’, Mitt. Dt. Archäol. Insts: Röm. Abt., 65 1958.
Lankheit, K., Soldani (Benzi), Massimiliano. Grove Art Online.
Weihrauch, H.R., Europäische Bronzestatuetten 15.–18. Jahrhunderts, Brunswick, 1967.
Pratesi, G., ‘Repertorio della scultura fiorentina del seicento e settecento’, Torino 1993, vol. III.
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