The Frick Collection
Andrea Riccio: Renaissance Master of Bronze
Special Exhibition

Learn More About
Andrea Riccio

Introduction to the Exhibition


Exhibition Checklist

Andrea Riccio: Renaissance Master of Bronze
October 15, 2008 through January 18, 2009

  Andrea Briosco Riccio (1470-1532), Lamp, 15th century, 16.83 cm high. The Frick Collection, New York, photo: Michael Bodycomb

Andrea Riccio (1470–1532), Oil Lamp, c. 1516–24, bronze, The Frick Collection, photo: Michael Bodycomb

Small, ornate, mysterious, and beautiful, the Frick’s Oil Lamp is a masterpiece in a collection known for its Renaissance bronzes. The Oil Lamp (right) exemplifies the high standards of Henry Clay Frick, who demanded “first pick” of the small bronzes that the dealer Joseph Duveen offered him from J. Pierpont Morgan’s estate. Morgan’s bronze collection — which included this lamp — had become famous after being on view at both the Victoria and Albert Museum and The Metropolitan Museum of Art, and was commemorated in 1910 with a sumptuously illustrated catalogue by Wilhelm von Bode, an eminent scholar of Renaissance sculpture. In the catalogue, Bode attributed the magnificent lamp to Andrea Riccio, one of the greatest Italian sculptors of the sixteenth century. The lamp is now on view alongside some of Riccio’s most important works as part of Andrea Riccio: Renaissance Master of Bronze. The exhibition presents thirty of the sculptor’s rare autograph bronzes, two of his life-size terracottas, and a selection of sculptures associated with his workshop. The objects span every phase of Riccio’s career and represent the genres in which he worked: figurative statuettes, functional bronzes, and narrative reliefs.

Riccio was born Andrea Briosco but gained his nickname from his curly hair (riccio means curly in Italian). He worked in Padua at a time when the city was celebrated throughout Europe. Its Basilica of Saint Anthony was a site of pilgrimage, and its university was the most important center of Aristotelian studies on the Continent. In Padua, bronze sculptors enjoyed high status because they practiced an art that was considered equivalent to scholarly pursuits. Riccio thus became closely acquainted with Padua’s religious and intellectual leaders. He studied ancient and contemporary works of art in their private collections and probably learned much about antiquity in discussions with them. His scholarly patrons and friends, in turn, esteemed Riccio for his ability to realize their ideas about the classical past in bronze.

  Andrea Briosco Riccio (1470-1532), Lamp, 15th century, 16.83 cm high. The Frick Collection, New York, photo: Michael Bodycomb

Riccio, Oil Lamp (detail), c. 1516–24, bronze, The Frick Collection, photo: Michael Bodycomb

In 1504, when Riccio was beginning his career, the humanist Pomponius Gauricus published De Sculptura, a landmark Renaissance treatise that focuses primarily on bronze. Gauricus’s text, written while he was studying at the University of Padua, presents sculpture from a scholar’s perspective. He discussed the proud tradition of bronze statuary from antiquity to his own day, described its classical subjects, its process
of design by means of modeling, and its complex casting techniques. In De Sculptura, Gauricus proposed the radical idea that modeling demanded as much of a person’s inventive powers as did writing. He singled out Riccio from contemporary Paduan artists, praising his gifts as a modeler and naming him as a friend. Gauricus believed that he and Riccio shared similar goals. To Gauricus, Riccio was a scholar, poet, and rhetorician — not of words, but of bronze. Gauricus’s De Sculptura reflects the attitude of Riccio’s erudite patrons in the Veneto: their enthusiastic engagement with bronze sculpture, their sophisticated understanding of its techniques, and their willingness to equate their literary skills with a sculptor’s artistic ones. The Frick Oil Lamp, which is one of four attributed to Riccio, encapsulates Riccio’s ability to fulfill his patrons’ ideals regarding bronze sculpture. Although the original owner of the Oil Lamp is unknown, the work’s provenance and its Aristotelian symbolism suggest that he was Paduan. Riccio modeled the lamp to stand independently, balancing its long, heavy body on a delicate base that is improbably poised on four tiny, upturned scrolls. The composition elegantly tests the limits of bronze’s ability to support itself. When the lamp was lit, its flickering flame would have seemed to animate the long tendrils curling out around it. Each vine emerges from a relief of a winged harpy or male mask, fantastic hybrid creatures that were Renaissance emblems of imagination and creativity. The Frick Oil Lamp thus allies the notion of ingenio (creative genius) with Aristotle’s concept of the pneuma, the animating spark that engenders life. As a work of art, it celebrates Riccio’s inventive genius and mastery over bronze. The Oil Lamp was also a physical embodiment of the past. In material form and function it evoked Roman antiquity, thereby linking the Paduan scholar who commissioned it to the great Roman thinkers and orators of the Republic and Empire. Set on a desk in a private study, the Oil Lamp would have symbolized its owner’s literary genius as it illuminated and inspired him while he read, pondered works of art, and wrote.

Andrea Briosco Riccio (1470-1532), Lamp, 15th century, 16.83 cm high. The Frick Collection, New York, photo: Michael Bodycomb
Riccio, Shepherd with Syrinx, date unknown, bronze, Musée du Louvre, Paris  

Riccio’s figurative bronzes are much simpler in form than his fantastic oil lamps, but they are no less rich in meaning. Riccio often based his compositions on classical literary themes. This practice underscores how Riccio responded to his erudite patrons’ desire “to see what we read about,” as one of them memorably stated. The Shepherd with Syrinx has no exact precedent in ancient marble sculpture or relief. The figure’s idealized proportions and unselfconscious nudity capture the ethos of classical art without directly quoting it. The syrinx (panpipes) held in the lowered right hand suggests that the figure is a shepherd. Riccio’s pensive nude recalls Virgil’s pastoral poems, in which shepherds tend their flocks and play their pipes in the mythic land of Arcadia. Their youthful beauty and innocence symbolized mankind’s purity of body and mind before being corrupted by civilization. The Shepherd with Syrinx captures not only the subject, but also the hushed elegiac mood of Virgil’s poetic world: he has set aside his pipes and looks up expectantly, as if quietly listening for the sylvan music of Arcadia. The Shepherd demonstrates Riccio’s gift for portraying a figure’s actions and emotional state in orchestrated unity. An even more dramatic example of this talent is The Shouting Horseman. Here, Riccio explores the classical theme of the partnership between rider and horse. The startled warrior turns and shouts, while his alert horse calmly readies itself for the next command. Riccio’s reversal of the normal relationship between horse and rider sets his work apart from large-scale equestrian statuary, in which man is always portrayed in perfect control. The precedents for the theme of The Shouting Horseman are found both in the art of Leonardo da Vinci and in classical literature. In the Aeneid, for example, Virgil vividly described the camaraderie between warriors and their horses. In his treatise on horsemanship, the Greek author Xenophon praised the ability of a horse to maintain its spirited self-possession and protect its rider during the furor of battle.

  Andrea Briosco Riccio (1470-1532), Lamp, 15th century, 16.83 cm high. The Frick Collection, New York, photo: Michael Bodycomb

Riccio, The Shouting Horseman (detail), c. 1510–15, bronze, Victoria and Albert Museum, London

In the intimate confines of the scholar’s study, small bronzes such as Riccio’s Shepherd with Syrinx and The Shouting Horseman were handled and enjoyed over long, repeated viewings. Most were intended to evoke a variety of poetic, religious, and historical meanings for owners who were fully conversant with a broad range of ancient literature. Some statuettes, however, were designed to delight by recalling specific classical sources. One such masterpiece, the Boy with a Goose, is a bronze reduction of a large-scale ancient marble statue, probably known to Riccio through drawings. Though it is Riccio’s only known work based on a surviving antique, it is no mere reproduction.

Andrea Briosco Riccio (1470-1532), Lamp, 15th century, 16.83 cm high. The Frick Collection, New York, photo: Michael Bodycomb
Riccio, Boy with a Goose, c. 1515–20, bronze, Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna  

Riccio imaginatively completed the famous antique sculpture by fashioning the boy’s head, which was missing from the ancient marble. The child happily clutches the goose, unaware that he grasps the bird too tightly. Riccio’s perceptive portrayal of the mischievous boy adds engaging emotional resonance to a composition that features the figures’ dramatic pinwheeling movement in the round. Riccio may have turned to this subject because the Boy with a Goose was one of the few surviving ancient sculptures that his patrons would have known from reading classical texts such as Pliny’s Natural History. Identifying a surviving ancient statue with its description in a classical text generated tremendous excitement during the Renaissance. Scholars and collectors were also curious about what the lost classical masterpieces discussed by Pliny might have looked like. Riccio satisfied this curiosity by creating the Strigil Bearer a statuette of an athlete grooming himself with oil after exercise. In his hand he holds a strigil, a curved instrument used in ancient Greece and Rome to scrape the skin after bathing. The idealized male nude is Riccio’s re-creation in miniature of a famous lost antique statue described by Pliny, which had been made by the foremost ancient master of bronze, Lysippus. Riccio was celebrated as a modern Lysippus for statuettes such as this, which expressed his imaginative ability to endow with sculpted form the fragmentary heritage of the classical past.

  Andrea Briosco Riccio (1470-1532), Lamp, 15th century, 16.83 cm high. The Frick Collection, New York, photo: Michael Bodycomb

Riccio, Strigil Bearer, c. 1515–20, bronze, collection of
Mr. and Mrs. J. Tomilson Hill

Riccio was as interested in investigating bronze techniques as he was in exploring new subjects. Until recently, it was generally assumed that Riccio used the traditional direct-casting method, which produced only one bronze cast of an original wax model. However, technical research undertaken for the Frick exhibition suggests that Riccio experimented with diverse casting methods. Sometimes he directly cast his wax models to produce unique bronzes. At other times, he used an indirect casting method to create multiple bronze versions. The Strigil Bearer, for example, exists in another version, known as the Warrior, a figure that originally held a shield in his upraised arm and a sword in his lowered hand. Although both bronzes derive from the same wax model, their different subjects and handling indicate that Riccio made each to accommodate the taste of an individual patron. The Warrior’s features and musculature are more broadly modeled than those of the Strigil Bearer, and the surface of the statuette is rougher. The differences between the two works are the result of Riccio’s ability to model in wax on a diminutive scale and then preserve the nuances of the wax in bronze. The statuettes’ modeling is consonant with their themes and moods. In the Warrior, Riccio depicts the aggressive power of the male nude engaged in combative action, while in the Strigil Bearer he emphasizes the graceful elegance of the nude’s pose.

Andrea Briosco Riccio (1470-1532), Lamp, 15th century, 16.83 cm high. The Frick Collection, New York, photo: Michael Bodycomb
Riccio, Saint Martin and the Beggar, 1513–20, bronze,
Galleria Giorgio Franchetti alla Ca’ d’Oro, Venice

Riccio’s mastery of a range of casting techniques afforded him great freedom to model his wax compositions, for he knew he could make molten bronze follow the path of his imagination. In his Saint Martin and the Beggar the tensile strength of bronze to execute a dramatic composition that could not have been realized in marble or terracotta. In this relief, created as the principal image for an altar in the Church of Santa Maria dei Servi, Venice, Riccio depicts Martin performing his first saintly act of cutting his cloak to clothe a beggar. Riccio renders the figures in extraordinarily high relief to generate a dynamic composition in three dimensions. Martin sharply twists to meet the beggar’s upturned gaze. He extends his cloak straight out over his sword, past the limits of the relief’s frame. This startling spatial transgression would have added emotional drama to devotional contemplation of Martin’s pious act. Every detail is crisply captured in this tour de force of bronze casting, from the extravagant pagan decoration on Martin’s saddle and scabbard to the nuanced expressions on the men’s faces. This, perhaps the most beautiful of Riccio’s reliefs, reminds us that the sculptor and his patrons’ celebration of the special exhibition classical past embraced their own Christian heritage. Riccio depicts Martin with historical accuracy as the Roman imperial officer that he was before his conversion, endowing him with a refined, classical beauty to reflect the spiritual grace that impelled him to sainthood. The ability to grant the classical past vivid relevance was one of Riccio’s greatest contributions to Renaissance bronze sculpture. Until mid-January, the range of Riccio’s achievement is on view at The Frick Collection for visitors to study, appreciate, and enjoy. — Denise Allen, Curator

Riccio Home | Introduction | Learn More | Chronology | Checklist | Catalogue