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: A Masterpiece of Roman Baroque Silver


Anthony M. Clark



Institution Minneapolis Institute of Arts
The silver and gilt holy-water font on the cover of this Bulletin1 bears the stamp of the Reverenda Camernventories, contemporary accounts, and the biographies of Roman artists contain many descriptions of vast and fantastic table ornaments, opulent dining services, and all sorts of domestic silver, as well as liturgical silver overwhelming altars and filling sacristies. The great families and the great churches of the center of Catholic Christianity demanded truly princely silver and, for the important commissions, required prominent architects, sculptors, and painters to design and supervise what the silversmith would execute. Most of the major artists of 17th- and 18th-century Rome at one time or another served this demand; furthermore, the most famous silver specialists were not exclusive and humble artisans but sculptors and casters famous for more monumental commissions of the highest quality in other metals. This predominance of the truly professional and profoundly trained prominent artist meant that the important silver produced was of supreme quality and a true, high product of the current artistic style.The Minneapolis font is one of the glories of late Baroque Roman art and is a final and graceful statement in small dimensions of, for example, Bernini's decoration of the apse of St. Peter's, then over a half-century old. Bernini's triumphant power and glory have almost turned into Rococo frivolity, but not quite: the grandsons of his style still know that even worldly prettiness must be grandly trumpeted to be opulent, even if the trumpet notes are to be softer, more delicious, more intimate, and less bold.It seems probable that the font was executed from the designs of two leading artists, a painter and a sculptor. The central roundel with the Holy Family is in the style of the followers of Carlo Maratti (1628-1713), the dominant Roman painter at the end of the 17th century, and direct sources for the pose and type of each figure are available in Maratti's own work.2 Giuseppe Chiari (1654-1727) and Andrea Procaccini (1671-1734), two of the most celebrated Maratteschi, are possible candidates as the font's designer. The style of the two angels, and of the numerous angelini heads suggests the intervention of a sculptor of ability, and seems to be related to the style of the fine and famous Camillo Rusconi (1658-1728).3 A life-size stucco angel supporting a large oval painting by Procaccini in the Roman church of S. Maria dell'Orto is close to the angel at right and may be due to Rusconi who worked at the church.4The study of Roman art at the beginning of the 18th century—not the least attractive phase of its long history—is still immature, and it is too early to make a sound suggestion as to the authorship of the font.5 The use of the piece (which could be a typical gift of that intelligent patron, Pope Clement XI Albani) is less mysterious: it would have been proper for a great cardinal's private chapel, or for the chapel of one of the grander Roman princes, where indeed it hung until earlier in this century. Endnotes
  1. 63.35. The Lillian Z. Turnblad Fund: silver (of greatest purity then used), silver gilt, gilt bronze, and lapis lazuli, ca. 1720, 29 1/8" x 20" 73.7 x 50.4 cm.).
  2. For the Madonna see Maratti's Adoration of the Shepherds in the Quirinal Palace and the Immaculate Conception in S. Isodoro, Rome; the Baptist reproduces a pair of early engravings by the artist; the sleeping Child, frequently adapted by Maratti from Annibale Carracci and others towards the pose shown, was highly popular among Maratti's successors (see Trevisani's Madonna and Child in the National Gallery of Rome); the St. Joseph occurs in a drawing for a Rest on the Flight in the author's collection.
  3. Rusconi, best known for his important Roman monumental commissions, also produced designs for silver. For example, see L. Montalto, Un Mecenate in Roma Barocca (Florence, 1955), p. 226.
  4. I know of no secure date for the relevant S. M. dell'Orto commissions, which were apparently in the first decade of the century. The main painter concerned died early in 1706, and Andrea Orazi and Andrea Procaccini, young artists who possibly both had here their debut, could have replaced him. There are stylistic reasons for thinking that the design of the font predated its execution.
  5. It is also impossible to know the actual silversmith. On pieces of Roman silver such as this (where the designers would have been prominent artists associated with other media and given credit at the time) the actual silversmith's mark was not stamped.
Referenced Work of Art
  1. Water Font, Roman, ca. 1720
    Silver gilt, gilt bronze, and lapis lazuli, 29 1/8" x 20" (73.7 x 50.4 cm.)
    The Lillian Z. Turnblad Fund, 63.35.
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Source: Anthony M. Clark, "A Masterpiece of Roman Baroque Silver," <i>The Minneapolis Institute of Arts Bulletin</i> 53, no. 1 (March, 1964): 27-28.
Rights: ©MIA
Added to Site: March 10, 2009