Attracting international interest, the piece eventually sold for a premium-inclusive £386,500. Here Dr Charles Avery, independent art historian and former Deputy Keeper of the Department of Sculpture at the V&A Museum, explores the work of Soldani-Benzi further and the particular history of this exceptional piece.
Massimiliano Soldani-Benzi (1656-1740) was Master of the Mint in Florence, but extended his range beyond the coinage of Tuscany. In 1702 he had modelled two elaborate mythological subjects, the Judgment of Paris and Diana and Callisto, which give a premonition of the sculptor’s ‘pictorial’ style of composition, with strong diagonals animating the groups of figures, which are laden with exquisitely rendered details. Soldani had learned at the short-lived Medicean Academy in Rome, where one of his instructors had been Ercole Ferrata, himself a follower of Algardi. Soldani was thus a leading member of the third generation of sculptors in the tradition of the Roman Baroque, of which the present group, Ganymede and the Eagle, is a typical product.
It was probably statuary after the Antique and his splendid portrait medallions that initially attracted the British ‘Milordi’ to Soldani’s studio at the Mint, which was conveniently situated opposite the entrance to the Uffizi Gallery. Surviving correspondence from the sculptor to his representative in London, G.G. Zamboni, describes Soldani’s attempts to sell, and get payment from, these well-heeled English gentlemen. Soldani’s first letter, of 15 October 1716, described Lord Burlington’s purchase of two bronze reliefs of The Seasons and his order for two others (all now in the Royal Collection). It also relates how Burlington commissioned some other groups in bronze from models that he had seen in Soldani’s studio. These had since been cast, but not paid for, and so had not been forwarded to His Lordship. Soldani enclosed for Zamboni’s benefit a list of the four compositions in question, as well as their measurements and prices. It begins with Venus and Adonis, of which there is an example in the J. Paul Getty Museum, California, and ends with a splendid, Bernini-esque, group of Apollo & Daphne.
In between them, the sculptor lists casts from terracotta models that the flighty young Lord Burlington also had seen and commissioned: a matching pair of rather smaller and simpler groups depicting Leda and the Swan and Ganymede and the Eagle. To Soldani’s chagrin Burlington did not honour his obligation, but further correspondence from Soldani to Zamboni indicate such a pair was later sent to England. The present statuette - with its interesting Anglo-Irish provenance that might take it as far back as 1716 - may well be one of them. The only other pair, in the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, is from an Italian source.
The Earl of Lanesborough was a title in the Peerage of Ireland. It was created in 1756 for Humphrey Butler, 2nd Viscount Lanesborough. The Butler family descended from Theophilus Butler, who represented County Cavan and Belturbet in the Irish House of Commons. In 1715 he was raised to the Peerage of Ireland as Baron Newtown-Butler, of the County of Fermanagh, with remainder to the heirs male of his father. It may have been he who acquired the present bronze, probably with its pair of Leda and the Swan (now missing), from Soldani’s representative G.G. Zamboni in London.
This exquisite work of Italian Baroque sculpture, which comes to Lyon & Turnbull from the collection of the Countess of Lanesborough, will be featured in our Fine Furniture & Works of Art auction on the 22 April 2015.
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS & FURTHER READING
Lyon & Turnbull would like to thank Dr. Charles Avery for his assistance with cataloguing this bronze. To read Dr. Avery’s complete essay on Soldani-Benzi’s bronzes commissioned by Lord Burlington, and in particular Ganymede and the Eagle, click below