Art lovers in Europe and the United States have flocked to exhibitions featuring treasures from the museums of the former Soviet Union--works that were for many decades inaccessible to Western audiences. From the Sculptor's Studio: Italian Baroque Terracottas from The Hermitage is such an opportunity, presenting a remarkably broad collection of sculptures in clay by the leading Roman artists of the 17th century. The exhibition will be on view from May 16 through August 2, 1998, at the Philadelphia Museum of Art in Galleries 250, 255, 258 and 259 on the second floor, accompanied by European tapestries and other decorative objects.
The collection of terracottas was formed around 1750 by an Italian abbott, Filippo Farsetti, for his private museum in Venice. Tsar Paul I of Russia began acquiring the collection in 1800, and the transfer to Saint Petersburg was completed in 1805 by Tsar Alexander I.
From the Sculptor's Studio has been organized by The Art Institute of Chicago (where it was on view from February 28 through May 3) and the State Hermitage Museum, Saint Petersburg, with the participation of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. In Philadelphia, the exhibition will be installed by Dean Walker, the Henry P. McIlhenny Senior Curator of European Decorative Arts and Sculpture, and is supported by The Pew Charitable Trusts, the Areté Foundation, and the Malcolm Hewitt Wiener Foundation, Inc. The exhibition celebrates the 400th anniversary of the birth of Gian Lorenzo Bernini and Alessandro Algardi, the leading sculptors of the Roman Baroque period.
Models were used in the preparation of virtually all large Renaissance and Baroque sculptures, but only a tiny fraction of these fragile preliminary works survive. No museum in the United States has as comprehensive a collection as the Hermitage. The 35 rare sculptures from the Hermitage on view here include groups of works by Bernini and Algardi, as well as studies by their best-known colleagues, students and followers, including Stefano Maderno, Melchiorre Cafà, Ercole Ferrata, and Camillo Rusconi.
Malleable clay was the preparatory material preferred by Italian sculptors of the 17th and 18th centuries. When fired (terracotta literally means "fired earth"), the studies retained their form, becoming stronger, although still fragile. Terracotta models were employed in many phases of the creation of sculpture, and this exhibition displays a wide range of their uses. Sketch models (often called bozzetti) from the early stages of sculptural projects include Bernini's spirited studies for a fountain in the Piazza Navona and for his sculpture of Constantine at Saint Peter's.
Other statuettes come from the intermediate stages of work in which artists refined their ideas or attempted to solve particular formal problems, as in Algardi's Executioner, Cafà's Lion and several Bernini models for the angels of the Ponte Sant'Angelo. There are also more advanced models, often initiated at the request of patrons, such as Domenico Guidi's Charity, a figural group in preparation for an impressive tomb monument. Finished full-scale models served the sculptor and his assistants when translating the work into other materials, as with a portrait of Lelio Frangipane by Algardi that was to be completed in marble. In addition, terracotta could serve as the material for copies made "after" other popular sculptures, such as Maderno's statuette after the monumental Hellenistic Laocoön group.
From the Sculptor's Studio: Italian Baroque Terracotta's from The Hermitage is accompanied by a full-color illustrated catalogue published by The Art Institute of Chicago with entries on each object by Russian curators Sergei Androsov and Nina Kosareva, and essays by scholars Androsov on the history of the collection, Ian Wardropper on the role of terracotta in sculptural practice, and Dean Walker on the history of collecting terracotta preparatory models.