Wednesday, April 30, 2014

St Sebastien : a stunning ivory sculpture rediscovered

A few years ago, a stunning ivory sculpture reappeared on the art market after several centuries out of view, during a limited time exhibition. Stunning because it was one of the largest ivory sculpture created, of extremely high quality of sculpting, that could be compared to great artists' masterpieces in marble.

The sculpture transmits lots of emotion, and the exhibition title summarized it perfectly : ''Agony, Ecstasy, Ivory". It was the Saint Sebastian of Jacobus Agnesius, done around 1638.

''The statuette represents a young man with a heroic, muscular build, and long and thick curly hair, who is naked save for a loincloth. He stands on his right foot, with his left leg, bent at the knee, raised and extended behind him. His arms are crossed in a complex, asymmetrical position as they jut upward over his head and in front of his body. Cords of rope bind his left wrist and right elbow. His torso arcs forcefully to the proper left, and he throws his head back over his left shoulder. As originally mounted, the figure was shown tied to a tree, which was made either of wood or metal. The figure’s complex and twisting stance is meant to convey both the weight of his body hanging down from the tree (note, for example, the tension of his painfully extended arms), and the violent thrusts of his body as he writhes in pain and tries to free himself.''

''The anatomy is rendered with astonishing precision. Every detail of the musculature and skeleton is recorded. On the back of the figure, for instance, the artist has correctly noted the trapezius, deltoid, infraspinatus and latissimus dorsi muscles; he has even carefully indicated the vertebrae of the spine as they ascend the median furrow. Likewise, Agnesius has depicted the bones, muscles and cartilage of the arms, chest, and rib cage with great exactitude. Studying the thorax, one can see such details as the manubrium, the xyphoid process and floating ribs all precisely indicated.''

Andrew Butterfield, dealer who discovered it, said “It is one of the largest and most astonishingly detailed sculptures in its representation of the anatomy and has a degree of raw emotional power found only in very great works of art. The statue is two feet tall, twice the size of what is normally considered large for a work in ivory. Given its scale and its quality, it was almost certainly commissioned for a prince or other royal patron."

Mr Butterfield, who is also a researcher, treasure hunter, and specialist in Renaissance and Baroque sculpture, bought it from a South American dealer in 2010, who did not know who the sculptor was. Mr Butterfield arranged the sculpture cleaning by New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art.

 The result is a work of extraordinary beauty and power. “With its luscious yet exacting portrayal of the human body, its grim depiction of emotional and physical suffering, and its suggestion of the exaltation of religious release, Agnesius’s Saint Sebastian is almost without parallel,” said Butterfield. "Size alone would not make the work desirable, of course. In carving this nearly naked martyr-saint, who was tied to a tree and shot with arrows in the third century, Agnesius used the curvature of the tusk to create an arced, anguished body, supplementing it with two pieces for the arms."

Little is known about the life of Jacobus Agnesius, who was most likely from northern Europe, but studied and worked extensively in Italy. Works by his hand are exceedingly rare, and up to now only two have been universally recognized: the Martyrdom of Saint Bartholomew in the Musée Toulouse-Lautrec in Albi, France, signed by the artist and dated 1638; and the Saint Sebastian in the Musée du Louvre, Paris. Each of these works is a masterpiece, noteworthy both for the unsurpassed skill of the carving, as well as the dramatic representation of intense suffering.

This sculpture was exhibited for the first time to the public early 2011 during the exhibition called 'Agony, Ecstasy, Ivory: The Saint Sebastian of Agnesius, A Rediscovered Masterpiece and A Selection of Italian and Other European Old Master paintings' at Moretti Fine Art / Adam Williams Fine Art, 24 East 80th Street, between Fifth and Madison Avenues.

Some quotes about this sculpture:

"The carving is amongst the largest ivory figures ever made in Renaissance and Baroque times", writes ivory expert Eike Schmidt, head of the Minneapolis Institute of Art's Department of Decorative Arts, Textiles & Sculpture, in an essay commissioned for a catalogue on the work.

"It is a powerful, expressive work invested with an extraordinary understanding of anatomy," says Nicholas Penny, director of the National Gallery in London.


Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Stadio dei Marmi (3) and the nude male bronze sculptures

Although the majority of male statues in the Foro Italico, or Stadio dei Marmi actually, are in marble, there are also a few male athletes statues in bronze. On the Western side of the Stadio dei Marmi, we can observe two couples of nude male athletes wresling. The sculptor is Aroldo Bellini, who also executed several of the marble statues.

Aroldo Bellini was born in Perugia in 1901, had his training at the Academy of Fine Arts, and went to Rome in 1932, where he executed most of his sculptures for the Stadio dei Marmi. He was part of the project to create a gigantic monument for Mussolini, the Duce, which was planned to be taller than the Statue of Liberty in New York. But he only achieved a foot, and the head, before the fall of the Mussolini's regime.

And two other single athletes have been represented in bronze, including one archer. The sculptor is unknown.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Stadio dei Marmi (2) male athlete mosaics from the Physical Academy

The Academy of Physical Education, in Rome (Italy),  was built almost a century ago. It is now the seat of CONI, the Italian Olympic Committee. It is located close to the Stadio Dei Marmi. So the students could exercise and train just next to it. It contains a covered swimming pool, previous class buildings, pathways, etc. The School became the most important center for the training of the male leadership of the Youth organisations under Mussolini era.

Some of the lithostratos (in Greek 'covered in stone' or paths in stone' or 'pavement' or 'pathways') from the obelisk to the Stadio dei Marmi is made in black and white mosaic ('tesseras' in Italian) representing athlètes performing various sports.

Most of them have been executed by Angelo Canevari (1901-1955) who did himself the drawings, with the help of painters.

 In the covered swimming pool, he also designed the colored mosaics and large wall paintings.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Stadio dei Marmi, superb collection of male athletes sculptures (1)

If you want to admire nice male Olympic athletes sculptures, we suggest you travel to Rome (Italy) where is probably the largest outdoor collection of double-than-life-size (12 feet) white marble sculptures, most of them naked or with just some accessories. Just go to their Stadio dei Marmi (Marbles' stadium), in the North of the city.

White marble sculpture detail - photo by Petr Svarc

White marble sculpture detail - photo by Petr Svarc
It is located in the 'Foro Italico', a large sport complex which includes a running track, a soccer field, the Sports stadium, and an Olympic stadium, all designed in the 1920s by Enrico Del Debbio, and built during Mussolini's fascist period in Italy.

It is a beautiful location on the banks of the Tiber river, surrounded by the nice hill of Monte Mario. Some bronze fig leaves have been added to cover the athletes' nudity.

Next to it was the Academy of Physical Education, which today is the seat of the Italian Olympic Committee. We will see in another post some mosaics from that Academy building.

Handball player - Sculpture by Bernardo Morescalchi - 1931 - photo by Petr Svarc
Archer - Sculpture by Bernardo Morescalchi (1895-1975) - 1932
It took 8 years to be achieved. Each sculpture was offered by a province of Italy. The stadium was inaugurated in 1932.
Ancient Warrior - sculpture made by Aroldo Bellini (1902-1984)  - 1932
More recently, it hosted some of the field hockey preliminaries for the 1960 Summer Olympics, and the Stadio dei Marmi was also the host for the 2009 World Aquatics Championship's opening ceremony.

Hercules - Sculpture made by Silvio Canevari (1893-1932) - 1931


Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Adonis Art : London's only gay male art gallery

To find male figurative art works in London, like paintings, watercolors, drawings, pastels or sculpture, we suggest you visit Adonis Art gallery. Their website mentions they ''specialize in fine antique and contemporary works of art that celebrate the male body in all of its strength and beauty.”

Adonis Art gallery website current cover (detail)

This gallery, currently in Earls Court since end 1996, was founded by Stewart Hardman one year before in a small space on Kings Road. When he opened it, the gallery was specialized in antique male bronze statues and old drawings of male figures, then a few painters focussing on the male body asked him to represent them, as there were not many places in the world to display male figurative art. Hence the move to a larger space which allowed him to show more contemporary works together with past artists' pièces.

The story behind the creation of the gallery is amazing! Steward Hardman, as he tells the story in the 'Art of Man' magazine, explains that he was trying to find a 'niche market' that suited him. And it was during his almost last holiday trip (as he had no more money from his antique's business which was going very bad!) that he found his idea!
He went to Egypt, sailing on a felucca on the Nile with a handsome young boatman, and seeing him in his brilliant white jellaba standing on the prowl, with the sun shining through, silhouetting his superb physique, he thought:  'Why does no one deal in male art ?' He went back to London, borrowed money, and opened his gallery! 

Stewart Hardman organizes many exhibitions (he did more than 150 so far!), and represents some famous artists like Cornelius McCarthy Andrew Potter, Miles Anthony. Not much sculptures, but you can still find some terracotta works, pewter, acrylic resin, bronze resin, and real bronze. Either from contemporary artists, or from last century.

As an example, the two sculptures below (for sale at the gallery), on the same theme of the 'Fisher Boy'. The first one is from the French Francisque Joseph Duret (1804-1865), who is the son of another French sculptor (François-Joseph Duret).

Fisher boy, by Francisque Joseph Duret (1804-1865)

And the second one is from Louis Edmond Laforesterie, born in Port au Prince (Haiti) in 1837, who pursued sculpture training in Paris, where he died in 1894. Adonis website mentions that little of his work can can be seen today, but Laforesterie did a large white marble statue called 'La Vigne et l'Ormeau' (a Bacchante) which sold for close to 100.000 USD at Sotheby's in 2001. (Picture of it can be seen here.)

'Fisher boy' by Louis Edmond Laforesterie - Paris 1875
Sources :
- Adonis Art Gallery. Here is the Adonis Art gallery website.
- David Jarrett article in the Archive, N.11, Autum & Winter 2003, from Leslie Lohman Museum of Gay Art. David Jarrett is specialized in male photography. Discover his works in his website.
- Interview of Stewart Hardman in 'The Art of Man', (2nd edition - Fall 2010) quarterly magazine published by Firehouse Publishing, specialized in male figurative art. This is the 'Art of Man magazine website.'