Saturday 19 May 2018


Photo: David Weeks © 2018

The Virgin and Child with the Infant St John, ca. 1504-05
by Michelangelo Buonarroti (1475 - 1564)

RA Collection, Royal Academy of Arts, London

The 'Taddei Tondo' is the only marble sculpture by Michelangelo in Great Britain. Commissioned by Taddeo Taddei, it remained in the Casa Taddei, Florence, until the early nineteenth-century when it was in the possession of Jean-Bapiste Wicar in Rome. Sir George Beaumont purchased the sculpture in 1822 and bequeathed it to the Royal Academy.

At the left side of the tondo stands the infant figure of St. John the Baptist, with his attribute of a baptismal bowl. He presents what appears to be a goldfinch (representing the Passion) to the infant Christ, who momentarily turns away, towards his mother, symbolically anticipating his future destiny.

The relief is believed to have been executed ca.1504-1505 during Michelangelo's first Florentine period (1501-1505). At this time he executed two other circular compositions, a painting, the 'Doni Tondo' (Uffizi, Florence) and a marble relief, the 'Pitti Tondo' (Bargello, Florence).

The 'Taddei Tondo' is one of several unfinished sculptural works by Michelangelo, which, since the sixteenth-century, have been the focus of much scholarly debate. It is likely that Michelangelo abandoned some of his sculptures on account of his being over-committed to too many projects. Giorgio Vasari (1511-1574) suggested that he did not complete certain compositions out of creative frustration, an idea, which has crystallised into the notion of the artist as troubled genius.

C.R. Cockerell described seeing the tondo at Beaumont's estate in 1823 as a "great treat." The unfinished state of the sculpture with its contrasting rough and smooth surfaces did not deter, but enhanced his visual enjoyment of it. He insightfully noted in his diary that:

'the subject seems growing from the marble & emerging into life. it assumes by degrees its shape, features from an unformed mass. as it were you trace & watch its birth from the sculptor's mind as you would an animal from its birth, the chicken breaking thro' its shell. I have seen nothing but this that conveys the idea in the Greek epigram of a sculptor who says I have no merit but discovering the form which lies within the marble. one feels in beholding it to desire still to go on discovering, still to disclose more.'


Photo: David Weeks © 2018 

The Wrestlers
Attributed to Pergamene school and Follower of Lysippus

RA Collection, Royal Academy of Arts, London

Two men engage in the pankration style of wrestling, a sporting event introduced into the Greek Olympic Games in 648 BC.

This is a plaster cast of a marble sculpture which was discovered in Rome in 1583 and is now in the Uffizi collection. It was discovered with another sculpture, the ‘Niobe Group', and initially the two groups were thought to have belonged together. Soon after the discovery of the two groups they were bought by Cardinal Ferdinando de’Medici, and they were installed in the Villa Medici in Rome by 1594. The Wrestlers was sent to Florence in August 1677, and was positioned in the Tribuna of the Uffizi by 1688.

The Wrestlers is itself thought to be a copy of a bronze group, perhaps related to the Pergamene school or the Lysippus school. The heads of both wrestlers and right arm of the upper figure in the original marble statue are restorations—although the head of the lower wrestler is antique, neither is original. The statue was cast many times in different media including bronze, lead and plaster. In the 18th century it was much admired in Britain: Sir Joshua Reynolds in his 'Tenth Discourse' discussed The Wrestlers, explaining that 'the group of the Boxers is a remarkable instance; they are engaged in the most animated action with the greatest serenity of countenance. This is not recommended for imitation, (for there can be no reason why the countenance should not correspond with the attitude and expression of the figure,) but is mentioned in order to infer from hence, that this frequent deficiency in ancient Sculpture could proceed from nothing but a habit of inattention to what was considered as comparatively immaterial.'

Another Academician, sculptor John Flaxman, discussed the group at length in his Lectures on Sculpture. He felt that 'the group of boxers … exhibit the greatest muscular display in violent action. The forced action of the boxers renders the muscular configuration of their shoulders so different in appearance from moderate action and states of rest, that we may derive a double advantage from the anatomical consideration of their forms: first, we shall learn the cause of each particular form, and, secondly, we shall be convinced how rationally and justly the ancients copied nature.'

The date of this cast is not entirely certain as there was mention of a cast of The Wrestlers in Joseph Baretti’s A guide through the Royal Academy of 1781 and a cast of the work is visible in the painting attributed to Johann Zoffany RA, The Antique School of the Royal Academy at New Somerset House, c. 1780-83. However, as Council Minutes record, another cast was given by the Prince Regent in 1816.


Photo: Brian Sibley © 2018

Tuesday 15 May 2018


Weeks meets Pollock...

Monochromatic study...

Looking at Picasso...

Photos at Tate Modern by Brian Sibley © 2018