Young Centaur

Francesco Righetti the Elder, Italian, 1749 - 1819

Made in Italy, Europe



15 5/8 x 9 1/2 x 4 7/8 inches (39.7 x 24.2 x 12.4 cm)

Curatorial Department:
European Decorative Arts and Sculpture

Object Location:

Currently not on view

Accession Number:

Credit Line:
Bequest of Anthony Morris Clark, 1978

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This statuette is a reduction of a famous marble sculpture in Rome. Such pieces were purchased as souvenirs by travelers during their Grand Tour of Europe.

Additional information:
  • PublicationArt in Rome in the Eighteenth Century

    The centaur, a stock creature of Greco-Roman mythology, combines the attributes of man and horse. Dwelling in the wilderness, centaurs represent the wilder side of the human psyche, and are often associated with Bacchus, the god of wine. The dancing movement of this lively specimen, his arm thrown up in abandon, conveys an appropriately bacchic sense of revelry; meanwhile, the knobby club in his left hand indicates the centaur's potential for violence, a potential frequently realized in the ancient legends.

    Righetti's bronze is a small-scale copy of one of the Furietti Centaurs, a pair of statues excavated in 1736 by Monsignor (later Cardinal) Alessandro Furietti on the site of Hadrian's Villa at Tivoli. The life-size centaurs, carved in an exotic red basalt, are generally regarded as second-century copies after Hellenistic bronze originals. With their imperial provenance and dramatic composition, the centaurs were a sensation at the time of their discovery, and entered immediately into the canon of the most celebrated Roman antiquities.

    The fame of the statues, reflected by Righetti's selection of them as models for his bronze miniatures, grew over the course of the century. Monsignor Furietti contributed to this himself by commissioning Nicolo Onofri and Pompeo Batoni to design engravings of his centaurs. Pope Benedict XIV himself coveted the statues but was unable to persuade Furietti to part with them; Clement XIII finally acquired them in 1765 for the staggering price of 13,000 scudi. He immediately presented them to the Museo Capitolino, Rome's oldest public art museum, and regarded the transaction as such an accomplishment that he had a medal struck to celebrate it.

    Francesco Righetti produced multiple statuettes of both Furietti Centaurs, which collectors could purchase singly or as a pair; a pair exists, for instance, in the collection of the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. The Centaurs were part of the line of bronze miniatures that the Righetti workshop marketed to connoisseurs and northern European Grand Tourists, and they appear in Righetti's 1794 printed list of available statues and ornaments. Nor was Rightetti the only artist to offer miniature versions of the Furietti Centaurs: his rivals Giacomo and Giovanni Zoffoli produced similar versions in their slightly less expensive line of statuettes, and models in plaster and biscuit porcelain are also known. Displayed on the chimneypieces, dining tables, and side tables of a stately home, such objects would serve--much as the Canalettos on the wall--as mementoes of the owner's voyage to Italy and symbols of his status and cultivation.

    Although Righetti was typically very faithful in his reproduction of antiquities, the inscription that appears on the base of the [this] bronze is incorrectly copied from that of the original. The inscription on the Museo Capitolino marble in fact reads APICTEAC KAI ΠAΠIAC AΦROΔEICEIC, indicating that the original statue was produced by Aristeas and Papias, sculptors from the city of Aphrodisias (Haskell and Penny 1981, p. 178; the original inscription uses the C shown here instead of the more conventional Greek sigma). Aside from Righetti's imperfect command of Greek, there are other aspects of the sculpture that are typically Settecento. Righetti's very selection of the Furietti Centaurs depends on their attractiveness to a period eye. Moreover, the original marble centaurs were extensively restored shortly after their discovery, and thus inevitably reflect the taste of the restorer. Finally, very subtle hints of Settecento style maybe identified in Righetti's interpretation of his model, most notably a slight sweetening of the centaur's facial expression.

    The method of production of such bronze miniatures as Righetti's Centaur began with a sculptor studying the original and fashioning a reduced version in terracotta or wax. Righetti sometimes collaborated with other artists in the sculpting of these models: a 1785 entry in the diary of Camillo Pacetti's brother mentions that Camillo was making "alcune copie per Righetti il Metallaro" (Honour 1963, p. 199). From the model, a reusable mould would be formed from which multiple bronze casts could be produced. When the bronze had cooled, the artist would chase the surface, working to sharpen details and give a uniform polish. The statuettes were occasionally gilded. Righetti's training as a silversmith was important to the success of his production, and connoisseurs delighted in the fineness of the work. James Harper, from Art in Rome in the Eighteenth Century (2000), cat. 147, p. 277.

    Hiesinger, Ulrich W. and Ann Percy. A Scholar Collects: Selections from the Anthony Morris Clark Bequest. Philadelphia: Phildelphia Museum of Art, 1980, p.126.