A Fine Marble Statue of the Grotticella Venus
A Fine Marble Statue of the Grotticella Venus
A Fine Marble Statue of the Grotticella Venus
A Fine Marble Statue of the Grotticella Venus
A Fine Marble Statue of the Grotticella Venus


A Fine Marble Statue of the Grotticella Venus

c. 1780 Florence

Offered by Arthistorical Ltd.

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After Jean Boulogne, called Giambologna
(Douai 1529 – 1608, Florence)
'The Groticella Venus'
Florence, late 18th Century
Marble, on a later painted wood column
Dimensions: the figure 131 cm. / 52 inches high, 204 cm. / 80 inches high including column

With a renowned London art gallery;
Private collection, USA

Conway Library, Courtauld Institute, London, ref: A98/228, Giambologna, 16thC Sculpture (illustrated)

This large marble figure of Venus, the Roman goddess of love, is an excellent full-size copy of Giambologna’s famous Groticella Venus. The original Venus still resides on top of a fountain in an inner chamber of Buontalenti’s grotto in the Boboli Gardens, Florence. The figure was probably commissioned by Francesco de’Medici and carved around 1572-3, whilst Giambologna was working on the larger Fountain of the Ocean (1571-5), located nearby in the same gardens of the Palazzo Pitti. For the Groticella Venus, Giambologna employed his twisting 'figura serpentinata' composition, which actively draws the viewer around the sculpture, as opposed to a static frontal composition. This compositional device was the prototype for his later allegorical female figure in Giambologna’s group Florence triumphant over Pisa (c.1575) and for the Cesarini Venus (1583). The Groticella Venus has been praised by scholars such as James Holderbaum (op. cit.) as Giambologna’s ‘masterpiece... surpassing anything else in his entire oeuvre'. In its day it was also revered, often regarded as the most perfect female nude ever carved.

High-quality copies of the Groticella Venus are rare, firstly because the original is a Renaissance rather than Antique marble (the latter being more widely copied) and secondly because, for many centuries, it was hidden from the public in its private grotto in Florence, only being accessible for the Grand Dukes and their guests. As a result, previous research has dated the present work as a near-contemporary, seventeenth century version of Giambologna’s Venus. After careful examination and research, however, we suggest that the present sculpture is more likely to date from the late eighteenth century. At this time, after a period of decline in the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries, the Boboli gardens were undergoing a period of expansion under Duke Leopold of Lorraine, the new ruler of Florence, who began re-ordering the gardens after 1765 and until the end of his rule in 1790.

It is documented that the Duke employed a group of Florentine sculptors to restore existing sculptures in the gardens, as well as to make copies of them. This group included the notable Roman sculptor Innocenzo Spinazzi (1726–1798), as well as Giovanni Battista Capezzuoli (fl. c.1755-77) and the English sculptor, Francis Harwood (fl. c.1748-1783), who worked in Florence for a long period in the second half of the eighteenth century. The three sculptors were commissioned by Duke Leopold to produce copies of the monsters on the balustrade surrounding the Vasca dell’Isolotto in the Boboli Gardens, making it highly likely that they would have encountered Giambologna’s original Venus in its grotto nearby. The present sculpture, therefore, may well have been another commission from Grand Duke Leopold for one of these sculptors working in Florence in the latter half of the eighteenth century, when work was most active in the Gardens.

This late eighteenth century dating is supported by stylistic analysis of the present marble. Firstly, the general fine form of the figure, which successfully achieves the energetic 'figura serpentinata' movement of the original, is evidence that it was carved by a sculptor well-trained in the classical tradition. Of note too is the hexagonal shape of the base, which matches the original base, whereas in later nineteenth century copies it is usually a more conventional round shape. It is also notable that in the present figure the big toe of the right foot daringly overlaps the edge of the base, in a faithful rendering of the original composition. Furthermore, the intricate carving of the drapery on the vase and the attention-to-detail of the indentation of the flesh, as the fingers of her right hand touch her left shoulder, are evidence of a sculptor using precise and delicate carving and finishing, rather than the more mechanical processes used for later nineteenth century copies from the Carrara workshops. This substantiates our conclusion that the present Venus is most likely a faithful and technically accomplished late eighteenth-century work, executed by an established Court sculptor in Florence.

Avery, C., 'Giambologna: The Complete Sculpture' (London, Phaidon, 1993)
Gurrieri, F. and Chatfield, J., 'Boboli Gardens' (Florence, Editrice Edam, 1972)
Haskell, F. and Penny, N., 'Taste and the Antique' (New Haven, Yale, 1982)
Holderbaum, J., 'The Sculptor Giovanni Bologna', Ph.D. Dissertation, (New York & London, 1983)
Roscoe, I., 'A Biographical Dictionary of British Sculptors 1660-1851' (Yale University Press, New Haven, 2009), pp.583-585

Please note, a research paper for this sculpture including illustrations is available on request.
Arthistorical Ltd.

Arthistorical Ltd.

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