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Italian, probably Venetian, 17th century
Stock No. 8221G
The various forms of putti or, indeed, the harpy as in this instance, were often used on inkwells, candlesticks, etc that were created in Italy during the 16th and 17th century. Roccatagliata and other North Italian sculptors working in bronze at that time, such as Andrea di Alessandro Bresciano and Giuseppe de Levis, used similar motifs in their craft and, as such, make it often difficult to distinguish between sculptors and the original creator of specific designs.
In the second half of the 15th century, the interest in collecting small bronze statues grew, with the principal artistic influences of these works being from antiquity. Although they have always been called ‘bronzes’, i.e. made of copper and tin, many were actually alloys of copper and zinc (and often tin and lead) and were more ideally called brasses.
One of the Roman mythological creatures that was regularly represented on these bronzes was the Harpy, one of the winged spirits best known for constantly stealing all food from Phineas. The name comes from the Greek word ‘to snatch’. A harpy was the mother of the horses of Achilles sired by the West Wind Zephyros. The Greek poet, Hesiod called them ‘lovely-haired’ creatures, with pottery art depicting harpies as beautiful women with wings. Traditionally, they are known as three sisters and were later to be depicted as ugly bird-women. The aquila or eagle was a prominent symbol used in ancient Rome, especially as the standard of a Roman legion.