Portrait of a man
Firenze, 1674 – 1755
Material: White marble
Size: 71 cm high
review by PROF. MARA VISONà
As busts are some of the late Baroque Florentine sculpture trademarks, we can ascribe the one we’re analysing – because of its visual patterns and the sign at its back mainly – to Vittorio Barbieri. He was revalued from the 1960’s only, despite his undisputed artistic skills. Since then, several essays were written. I’d like to take this opportunity to suggest Classicismo e sensibilità nella scultura di Vittorio Barbieri (Paragone, XLII, 1991, pp. 39 to 67), the one I wrote.
Despite his clear features, it’s very difficult to identify the allegedly renowned man Vittorio Barbieri realized the high relief bust for. On the one side, we can assume the artist chose him because of his austere gaze and proud aspect, despite his early age.
On the other, we carefully analysed all the late Baroque style medals had been realized to honour the most important Florentine people at that time. However, we didn’t get enough information to surely identify such an unknown man.
Focusing on his clothes, therefore, we’d fail if we stated the man was from Florence. His petit col à rabat and calotte ronde are then meant to suggest he was a French lawyer.
On the one side, we can compare them to those we may appreciate by looking at the bust Gérard-Leonard Hérard realized for Pierre Seguier (1588-1672), today at Louvre Museum (for further information, please see Geneviève Bresc-Bautier, Le Chancelier Pierre Séguier, in Portraits sculptés. XV-XVIII siècle. Collections du Musée du Louvre et des Musées des Beaux-Arts de Dijon et d’Orléans, exhibit catalogue, Dijon-Orléans, Dijon-Quetigny, 1992, pp. 38-39, n. 11).
On the other, focusing on the Roman sculpture, we can appreciate similar clothes (please see Andrea Bacchi, Scultura del ‘600 a Roma, Milano, 1996, fig. 240: Francesco Maria Mancini bust by Francesco Brunetti, Rome Museum; Ivi, fig. 390: Gaspare Morone bust, allegedly realized by Ercole Ferrata, at Santa Maria del Suffragio church, Rome).
We may then identify the man Barbieri sculpted with Atto Melani from Pistoia. According to the words his cenotaph was adorned with, he moved to Louis XIV’s court where he worked for Giulio Mazzarino and died in 1714. Barbieri is very likely to be charged with the realisation of the bust not by Melani himself, but thanks to someone else whose identity is still unknown.
Two sketches for Melani funeral chapel, as well as a portrait of him, would be meant to prove that (P. Benassai, Chiesa e convento di San Domenico, piazza San Domenico, in Settecento illustre. Architettura e cultura artistica a Pistoia nel secolo XVIII, L. Gai, G. C. Romby (edited by), Pistoia, 2009, pp. 305 to 318 and pp. 310 to 312 especially).
If we assume Barbieri carried out all of them, we’ll realise they refer to the same young man he sculpted the bust for, although no ties between him and the artist were proved.
Born in 1674 in Florence, Vittorio Barbieri was an apprentice of Carlo Marcellini’s, whose artistic techniques he quickly got to improve his own sculpting skills.
When he was in his twenties, Barbieri took over his teacher to get on with the external decoration of Santissima Annunziata church left chapel.
He then helped Marcellini with Ginori Palace and Vallombrosa Abbey stuccos. At the Benedectine monastery he also played an important role in building its altars.
He then realized several sculptures and busts at Corsini Palace in Florence (for further information, please see M. Visonà, Carlo Marcellini. Accademico “Spiantato” nella cultura fiorentina tardo-barocca, Ospedaletto, Pisa, 1990, pp. 72, 73, 87, 88, 95, 101, 102, 121 and note n. 89).
However, because of the original themes he chose and the finely visual details he was able to realize, Villa Corsi sculptures (Sesto Fiorentino, close to Florence) represent such an improvement of Barbieri’s artistic skills. Francesco Maria Gabburri’s biography of the artist can surely prove that (please see Visonà 1991, op. cit., pp. 39 to 67).
Although he realised a few busts only, we can consider Barbieri as one of the most skilled portraitists, just like Giovan Battista Foggini whose style, however, he was in debt to.
Since it was signed, we can then ascribe the bust we’re analysing to Vittorio Barbieri. Because of its severe gaze staring at the audience, on the one side it’s said to give out such a dynamism it could be compared to the busts Giovacchino Fortini, Antonio Montauti and Girolamo Ticciati realized between the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.
On the other, it certainly recalls Alessandro Algardi and Ercole Ferrata’s naturalistic academism as it’s meant to finely emphasize human civil and moral virtues both.