The Wallace Collection

The Wallace Collection, A Family Collection, A National Museum, An International Treasure House
Figure of a Grieving Youth
  • Venetian School , Perhaps
  • Figure of a Grieving Youth
  • Italy
  • early 16th century
  • Statuette
  • Brass copper alloy and rosso antico marble
  • Height: 32.4 cm
    Height: 44.4 cm, with socle
  • S73
  • Sixteenth Century Gallery
Commentary
History
Images & Media
Further Reading
  • This enticing male nude figure has long been thought to relate to the myth of the Niobids, killed to punish their mother Niobe for offending Leto. Wife of the King of Thebes and mother to 14 children, Niobe had boasted about her fecundity at a feast in honour of Leto. As a result of this affront to their mother, the gods Apollo and Diana slayed all of Niobe’s offspring with their arrows.

    The composition relates to some extent to a classical prototype, a 1st-century Roman statue representing a Dying Niobid (now Glyptothek, Munich). However, S73 seems to be a highly stylised representation of extreme grief rather than the interpretation of a specific subject. There are five surviving casts of the same model, and ours is considered one of the finest, for its excellent modelling and extremely high finish.

    These casts were for a long time grouped with a larger number of bronze sculptures linked to Francesco da Sant’Agata (c.1460/65-1524), who signed a beautiful pearwood figure of Hercules also in our collection (S273). However, Sant’Agata has now been correctly identified as a goldsmith, rather than a sculptor in bronze, and the group of figures once attributed to him might be too large and inhomogeneous for an attribution to just one workshop. There are, however, close affinities between S73 and the Hercules in their slim, lithe anatomies and the stylised, balletic poses.

    Among the other bronzes, the closest to our Youth is a figure of a running man today in Brunswick (Herzog Anton-Ulrich Museum), where the torso and head are virtually identical, suggesting that the same model might have been used, with variants in the position of the arms. This and another, very closely comparable, figure of Antaeus in a group with Hercules and Anteaus today in Washington (National Gallery of Art), share with S73 a common stylistic reference to the work of Andrea Mantegna (1431-1506), which suggest a Venetian origin for all of them.