Bust of Christ as the Man of Sorrows, Attributed to Agostino de Fondulis (c. 1450 – 1522?), It
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Bust of Christ as the Man of Sorrows

Attributed to Agostino de Fondulis (c. 1450 – 1522?)
Bust of Christ as the Man of Sorrows

Terracotta, with original polychrome
Italy, Lombardy, late 15th century

Dimensions

Height
41.9 cm; 1 ft. 4½ in.
Width
48.9 cm; 1 ft. 7¼ in.
Depth
24.7 cm; 9¾ in.

Provenance

With Heim Gallery, London, 1972
Dr. Arthur M. Sackler Collection, New York (Acc. No. 77.5.47)
His sale, Sotheby’s New York, 29 January 2010, lot 420
Private collection, London

Exhibitions

Heim Gallery, London, Sculptures of the 15th and 16th Centuries, Summer Exhibition, 30 May – 8 September 1972
The National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C., European Terracotta Sculpture from the Arthur M. Sackler Collections, 25 October 1979 – 5 October 1980
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, European Terracottas from the Arthur M. Sackler Collections, 21 March – 6 September 1981
The Fogg Art Museum, Harvard University, Cambridge, European Terracotta Sculpture from the Arthur M. Sackler Collections, Fall and Winter 1981 – 1982
The Art Institute of Chicago, European Terracotta Sculpture from the Arthur M. Sackler Collections, 9 December 1987 – 6 March 1988

Literature

Heim Gallery, London, Sculptures of the 15th and 16th Centuries, Summer Exhibition (Heim Gallery Ltd, London, 1972), no. 40
C. Avery, Fingerprints of the Artist: European Terra-Cotta Sculpture from the Arthur M. Sackler Collections, exhibition catalogue (Arthur M. Sackler Foundation, Washington D.C., The Fogg Art Museum, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1981), no. 1, pp. 1, 27-30, 302
J. D. Draper, European Terracottas from the Arthur M. Sackler Collections, exhibition catalogue (The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1981), no. 3, p. 12
I. Wardropper, European Terracotta Sculpture from the Arthur M. Sackler Collections, exhibition catalogue (The Institute, Chicago, 1987), no. 1, p. 5

Related literature

V. Sgarbi (ed.), La scultura al tempo di Andrea Mantegna: tra classicismo e naturalism, exhibition catalogue (Castello di San Giorgio, Palazzo San Sebastiano, Mantua, 16 September 2006 – 14 January 2007) (Mondadori Electa, Milano, 2006), pp. 100-101
S. Bandera, Agostino de’ Fondulis e la riscoperta della terracotta nel Rinascimento Lombardo (Edizioni Bolis, Crema, 1997)

This moving portrayal of Christ during His passion is unusual, not only owing to its form as a portrait bust, but also because in style it does not conform with the principal group of such terracotta busts which seem to have originated in the Florentine workshop of Andrea del Verrocchio. These busts were evidently derived from Verrocchio’s bronze statue of Christ from a group showing ‘Doubting Thomas’ in Orsanmichele, Florence (executed between 1466 – 1483) and have a pensive, melancholy expression.

It is the look of sheer agony on the Saviour’s face, combined with pity for his tormentors, that sets this bust apart: the furrowed brow, eyebrows strained upwards, half-closed eyes, open mouth and tense neck muscles, together with the sharply projecting cheek and collar bones, contribute towards an image of extreme pathos. The facial type is neither Verrocchiesque nor Florentine: the work retains the emaciated angularity of Late Gothic sculpture and this points to north of the Apennines.

When the bust was catalogued in the early 1970’s, analogies with the marble carvings of Cristoforo Mantegazza (active 1464 – 1482) at the Certosa of Pavia, were suggested. The medium of terracotta, the scale and bust form are, however, out of character. The harrowing emotions depicted and the vigorous modelling which helps to convey a mood of dramatic tension and realism was later seen as analogous to the pathos evident in the work of sculptors such as Niccolò dell'Arca (1435 – 1494), who was active in Naples and Bologna, and Guido Mazzoni (active 1473 – 1518), who worked in and around Modena until 1489 and thereafter in Naples and in France. The bust was previously given to the circle of Mazzoni, partly based on strong comparisons with the head of his once full-length figure of the dead Christ in the spectacular life-size, pigmented group of the famous Lamentation in Sant'Antonio di Castello, Venice (now in the Museo Civico, Padua). Close connection was also seen between the way passionate grief is registered on the facial features of the present bust and its rendering on the countenance of a young male mourner (probably Saint John) from the Venetian group.

Since the series of exhibitions of the present bust in North America in the 1980’s, Sgarbi (op. cit.) has discussed another near identical bust of Christ as the Man of Sorrows in the Fondazione Cavallini Sgarbi in Ferrara and argued convincingly that the profound emotion and quiet majesty of the Sackler bust and this comparable portrait share strong similarities with the monumental work of the Lombardy artist Agostino de Fondulis, who was born in Crema in 1450 and trained with his father Giovanni who moved in the circles of Donatello and Andrea Mantegna. Agostino’s naturalistically painted terracotta Pietà group with 14 figures for the church of Santa Maria Presso San Satiro in Milan executed in 1482 –1483 was inspired both by Paduan late Gothic naturalism and by the classicism of Mantegna. Other significant works include statues of the Apostles for the dome of Santa Maria Presso San Celso in Milan (1502), the Palazzo Landi in Piacenza, the Sanctuary of the Misericordia in Castelleone (1513) and the church of Mary Magdalene in Crema for which he produced a Lamentation now in the Pieve di Palazzo Pignano.

The intensely evocative iconography of the present bust marks it as an outstanding example of late Gothic Lombardy master craftsmanship. The profoundly personal depiction of suffering, underscored by the superb modeling of the high cheekbones, arched eyebrows, deep creases around the eyes and neck, furrowed and veined brow and beautifully spiralled twists of hair would have been intended for domestic veneration.

This work was, according to Dr. Andrew S. Ciechanowiecki FSA (Foreword, Sotheby’s New York, 29 January 2010, catalogue, p. 9), among the favourite objects of Dr. Sackler, the renowned psychiatrist and businessman who became one of the United States most important philanthropists establishing numerous medical and cultural institutions worldwide which bear his name.

A Report on Thermoluminescence Analysis from the Research Laboratory for Archaeology and the History of Art, University of Oxford, indicates that sample no. 281p88, 20 August 1979 was last fired 630 to 390 years ago (1349 – 1589).