Giacomo Zoffoli, Italian, c. 1731 - 1785, or Giovanni Zoffoli, Italian, c. 1754 - 1805.
Geography: Made in Italy, Europe Date: c. 1780-1790Medium: BronzeDimensions: 11 3/8 x 11 5/8 x 4 inches (28.9 x 29.5 x 10.2 cm)Curatorial Department: European Decorative Arts and SculptureObject Location:
Currently not on view
Accession Number: 1978-70-138Credit Line: Bequest of Anthony Morris Clark, 1978
This bronze is a miniature of a life-size Roman marble from the celebrated Farnese collection. During the first half of the eighteenth century the original, thought to represent Nero's mother, Agrippina, decorated the semi-public Farnese Gardens on the Palatine Hill. Later it was removed from Rome to Naples by King Charles III, the heir of the Farnese family. A second, very similar, version, also an original Roman antiquity, remained in Rome, in the Museo Capitolino. The fame of the so-called "Agrippina" led Zoffoli to copy it in reduced scale and include it in the line of bronze miniatures that he offered to Italian connoisseurs and to the cultivated foreign amateurs who visited Rome on the Grand Tour.
In its scale, its exquisitely worked finish, and its classical subject the "Agrippina" is a typical example of the miniature production of the Zoffoli. It is difficult, however, to attribute this undated piece more precisely, as the signature reads simply G. Zoffoli F. While the F is an abbreviation for fecit (Latin for "made it"), the G could indicate either Giacomo or Giovanni. Since these two kinsmen collaborated closely and since in many cases they finished sculptures cast from the same set of molds it seems imprudent to attempt a more specific attribution.
In 1795 Giovanni Zoffoli issued a printed catalogue list of the fifty-nine miniature bronze sculptures available from his workshop. The "Agrippina, Madre di Nerone" is the fifth entry on the list, where it is offered for a price of 15 Roman zecchini. The exhibited bronze is a multiple rather than a unique object: another Zoffoli "Agrippina" survives as part of a five piece garniture de cheminée at Saltram House, Devon. There it is paired with a seated figure of Menander, a juxtaposition that has more to do with symmetry and decorative balance than with meaning.
Yet meaning was often important to the buyer, and part of the desirability of the bronze miniature "Agrippina" derives from the notoriety of the subject's story. According to the ancient historian Suetonius, the empress Agrippina murdered her husband Claudius with a poisoned dish of his favorite mushrooms. The same historian, whose passion for the scurrilous made his Twelve Caesars such popular reading (translations in various languages were published throughout the eighteenth century), reported Nero's "lecherous passion" for his mother. Eventually the capricious emperor turned against his mother and resolved to have her killed. Attempting at first to have her drowned in a staged boating accident, Nero dispatched his assassins to her villa, where they clubbed and hacked her to death.
While modern scholars agree that the marble (and hence the exhibited bronze) does not represent Agrippina, Settecento viewers did not question the identification. The travel writer Mariana Starke felt that the statue captured the mood of the doomed woman, back in her villa after the first attempt on her life and knowingly awaiting the second. Looking at the quietly reflective pose of Zoffoli's figure, with its bowed head, one may join Mrs. Starke in imagining the "mild, pathetic, deep despair" that filled the imperial lady's final hours (quoted in Haskell and Penny 1981, p.134).
The quiet, restrained compositional style of the "Agrippina" attracted admiration during the last quarter of the eighteenth century, a period in which a stern Neoclassicism was coming into fashion. Antonio Canova paid the sculpture the highest compliment when he followed it closely in his life-size marble portrait of Napoleon's mother; "Madame Mère" must have been flattered enough by the comparison to an ancient Roman empress to overlook the more negative aspects of Agrippina's reputation.
For the Grand Tourist the display of such pieces was meant as a sign of the owner's worldly cultivation. For many connoisseurs, an object such as the "Agrippina" was appreciated as a possessable simulacrum of one of the world's most famous sculptures. Above all, however, the miniatures were regarded as artworks in their own right, admired for their beauty and technical virtuosity. James Harper, from Art in Rome in the Eighteenth Century (2000), cat. 160, p. 293.
Honour, Hugh. "Bronze Statuettes by Giacomo and Giovanni Zoffoli." The Connoisseur, vol. 148 (1961), pp. 198--205.
Hiesinger, Ulrich W. and Ann Percy. A Scholar Collects: Selections from the Anthony Morris Clark Bequest. Philadelphia: Phildelphia Museum of Art, 1980, pp. 127--28.
Haskell, Francis, and Nicholas Penny. Taste and the Antique: The Lure of Classical Sculpture, 1500-1900,. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1981.