Firenze, 2nd half 18th Century
Joseph Wilton (1722-1803) att.
Model by Gianlorenzo Bernini (1598-1680)
Carrara marble on a Nero Portoro rectangular marble base
H 56 x W 29 x D 22 cm
H 22 x W 11 1/2 x D 8 2/3 inch
Carrara marble on a Nero Portoro rectangular marble base
H 56 x W 29 x D 22 cm
H 22 x W 11 1/2 x D 8 2/3 inch
This marvellous marble bust is a masterfully executed, faithful 18th century rendering of Gianlorenzo Bernini’s so-called Anima dannata (‘Damned Soul’). The Anima dannata was designed by Bernini to form a pair with its pendant, the so-called Anima beata (‘Blessed Soul’), and together these busts were studies in the depiction of extreme psychological and physiognomic states under an iconographical cloak. The general assumption is that the pair of heads, which are currently housed at the Palazzo di Spagna in Rome, represent two contrasting states of the Christian soul, one delighted by the pleasures of Heaven and the other damned and tormented by the punishments of Hell, an iconography that reflects the medieval concepts of summum bonum and summum malum respectively (Cueto 2015, 37; Campitelli 1998, 152-169; Lavin 1993).
The Anima dannata, actually believed to be a self-portrait worked before the mirror (Wittkower 2009, 213), depicts its subject with a distorted face, staring slightly down, his mouth gaping, his eyes wide open and his brow deeply creased. His teeth are clearly visible and together with his slightly pulled back tongue they reinforce the aggressive expression. The waves of his hair resemble the agitated flames of a raging fire. Terror and agony pervade his features.
Recent publications have argued that some of the earliest sources referred to the pair of heads as a satyr and a nymph and that an exclusively mythological interpretation of the subject matter rather than a Christian one was originally favoured, contrary to what is claimed in all subsequent interpretations of the pair in the historiography on Bernini (Ceuto 2015; Campitelli 1998, 152-169; Lavin 1993).
The Florentine sculptor Massimiliano Soldani-Benzi (1656–1740) was believed to have owned plaster casts of these busts, taken during his study years in Rome (O’Neill 1985, cat. 64). He exploited their decorative aspects and adapted them as ornamental elements. In 1707 he completed two masterfully executed, golden-red patinated bronze copies of the busts intended for the prestigious collection of bronzes of Prince Johann Adam Andreas I von Liechtenstein (O’Neill 1985, cat. 64; Lankheit 1962, 47, 51, 140-41, 151; docs 681-86).
Furthermore, there exist two other noteworthy white marble copies of the Anime, made in 1906 by Frederico Moratilla, that are housed at the Spanish Seminary of Santa Maria di Monserrato (Wittkower 2009, 233; Campitelli 1998, cat. 14).
Supremely skilled, innovative in his work and a gentleman in his lifestyle Joseph Wilton (1722-1803) was, for a time, England’s most highly regarded sculptor (Roscoe 2009, 1385-1393), whose works ‘combined strength and accuracy … with all taste and delicacy of a Bernini’ (Wilson 2005). Born in London in 1722 to William Wilton, a wealthy entrepreneurial plasterer and manufacturer of papier-mâché ornaments, Joseph Wilton left England in 1739 to join the workshop of Laurent Delvaux in Nivelles, Belgium, in order to receive a training as a sculptor on the Continent. In 1744 he moved to Paris where he learned to carve marble in the studio of Jean-Baptiste Pigalle (1714-1785) and eventually won a silver medal, presumably from the French Academy.
Towards the end of the decade he left France for Italy to study antique sculpture as well as the more recent works of illustrious predecessors such as Michelangelo, Bernini and Giambologna.
In Rome he soon befriended many English as well as Italian aristocrats and artists residing in the city. Records dating to 1749, recount how he was recommended by the English politician, George Bubb Doddington, to the most influential Roman art collector and patron, Cardinal Alessandro Albani (Roscoe 2009, 1385-93).
It was during his stay in Rome that Wilton became involved in the making and selling of plaster casts and marble copies of antique and old master sculpture. Wilton’s Rome sketchbook includes many drawings of ornaments in churches and among others a study of Bernini’s monument to Pope Alexander VII at St Peter’s. His statues were much sought after by wealthy English and Irish aristocratic tourists, including, for example, the avid collector, Lord Malton, later 2nd Marquess of Rockingham and Prime Minister of Great Britain.
From 1751 to 1755 Wilton resided in Florence, where for a certain while he lived in a house belonging to the British envoy, Sir Horace Mann, who proudly wrote to Horace Walpole of the ‘ingenious modest sculptor’ whose work ‘is admired by all the professors as well as connoisseurs’ (Lewis 1937-1983, vol. 20, 391-2). He became a familiar figure with British visitors of the city and acted as a guide to the collections of the Palazzo Pitti and the Uffizi galleries, where he met many of his future patrons.
In Florence Wilton was elected to the prestigious Accademia del Disegno and he produced some splendid original sculptures, such as the bust of Dr Antonio Cocchi. However, he also industriously carried on his activity of collecting molds and casts, at a time when, for example, the heirs to the workshop of Massimiliano Soldani-Benzi, had created a lucrative business from selling plaster casts and molds of the great master’s works (Kenworthy-Browne 2009, 42). Some of the acquired casts were sold on by Wilton as such, while others were used to create marble copies. Apart from works after the antique they included copies of celebrated sculptures by Giambologna, Michelangelo and even Bernini (Kenworthy-Browne 1983; Kenworthy-Browne 2009, 40-49). His copies were ‘mentioned with encomiums’ in The London Daily Advertiser and the Literary Gazette (Lewis 1937-1983, vol 20, 391-2) and among his clients at the time were Lord Edgcumbe, Lord Tylney and the Duke of Richmond (Roscoe 2009, 1385-1393; Kenworthy-Browne 2009, 40-49).
In 1755 Wilton returned to London in the company of the painter G.B. Cipriani (1727 – 1785) and the architect Sir William Chambers, with whom he would collaborate extensively in later years (Bilbey 2002, 161-164). On his return he began to build up a considerable practice, producing both monuments and busts, copies as well as originals. One of his most prestigious projects is the monument to General James Wolfe in Westminster Abbey dating to 1760, the commission for which he won in competition with such formidable rivals as Louis-François Roubiliac, John Michael Rysbrack and Henry Cheere. In 1761 he was appointed Statuary to His Majesty, George III, as a result of which he received numerous royal commissions.
Wilton also played a central role in the foundation of new institutions. In 1758 he became one of the directors, of Richmond House Gallery at Whitehall, London, a collection of plasters and marble copies mainly after the antique, created by the 3rd Duke of Richmond and Lennox. These sculptures were made available for free to students and artists for study and copying. In 1768 he became a founder member of the Royal Academy and exhibited there from 1769 to 1783. He was eventually made its Keeper in 1796, a post he retained until his death in 1803.
Even though the present bust doesn’t carry Wilton’s signature and though no explicit mention of it is made in any of the known sources listing the works of Wilton (cf. Roscoe 2009, 1388-1393), there are several elements that compellingly suggest that it was sculpted by Joseph Wilton.
There exist a good number of other works that have been convincingly attributed to Wilton and that do not carry the artist’s signature either (e.g. ‘Bust of Pseudo-Seneca’ at the Getty Museum (87.SA.111), Fusco 1997, 57; ‘Apollo Belvedere’, Christies, ‘The English Collector’, 22 May 2014, Lot 1072; ‘Albani Faun’, Tomasso Brothers Scultura IV, cat. 18).
Furthermore, since Wilton never kept detailed accounts of his artistic output, a fact he himself at one point came to lament (Farington 1978-1984, vol. 2, 415), and since no catalogue enumerating the contents of the sale of his premises and studio has surfaced (Roscoe 2009, 1386), no comprehensive list of his models after the antique and after old masters exists. Consequently, many of his sculptures remain to be identified to date and the present bust is likely to be amongst them. Wilton had been an admirer of the works of Bernini and, as mentioned above, his sketchbooks show that, while in Rome, he had been studying works of his celebrated predecessor.
Given his extensive connections among the Roman elite, most notably with Cardinal Albani, he would have had first hand access to many of Bernini’s sculptures, including both the Anime. Moreover, receipts from the Duke of Richmond’s archives, preserved at the West Sussex Records office, clearly demonstrate, for example, that Wilton produced copies for the Duke of the hands of Charity and Fortitude from Bernini’s monument to Alexander VII (Kenworthy-Browne 2009).
A comparison of the present marble with some well-known busts by Joseph Wilton helps to corroborate the attribution of this rendering of the Anima dannata to Wilton.
The first suggestive element is the marble socle, the form of which follows a very particular pattern. It is a rectangular waisted socle, having a bowed front combined with concave sides and a concave back. This type of socle was not very commonly used. The only known examples being a very limited number of marble busts by Roubiliac (e.g. ‘Sir Peter Warren’ at the Huntington Library and Art Gallery (San Marino, California), ‘King Charles I’ in the Wallace Collection, London) on the one hand, and some portraits by Joseph Wilton (‘Philip Dormer Stanhope, 4th Earl of Chesterfield’ at the British Museum; ‘Leak of Okeover’, private collection; the socle of the bust of Mary Okeover) on the other (Dawson 1999, 68; Jackson-Stops 1985, cat. 217; Baker 1995, passim; Kenworthy-Browne 2009, 16). John Cheere is believed to have made similar socles in the style of Roubiliac, but these only remotely resemble the form of the present socle (Bilbey 2002, 67). The base that most closely resembles the socle of the Anima dannata is the one on the marble bust depicting Philip Dormer Stanhope, 4th Earl of Chesterfield, which Wilton made in 1757 (Dawson 1999, 66-68). Both bases are nearly identical in form.
Perhaps more revealing is a comparison of the back of the bust with other (signed) busts by Wilton. Different sculptors and their workshops seem to have finished the backs of busts following different patterns and these latter appear to have been used fairly consistently, even though some sculptors and their workshops may have employed several types. Deviations were sometimes found on busts intended for particular settings, for example the busts that needed to fit into a particular surrounding (Baker 1995, 831).
Busts by Wilton, usually have a central support in a shape designed to fit the outline of the socle. Since Wilton often used oval socles, many of his busts have corresponding oval and flat central supports. However, several busts have rectangular supports to fit a rectangular base. The central support usually splays out at the top and both the support and the concave areas are finely chiselled with parallel lines (Baker 1995, 831 et passim).
The present bust has a rectangular central support that corresponds with the outline of a rectangular base at the bottom and flares out towards the top. The central support as well as the concave surfaces of the back are covered with fine parallel chiselling, predominantly vertically orientated, with the exception of a small area at the bottom of the support where horizontal lines can be observed as well. In this it resembles most of the known busts by Wilton that have a rectangular socle combined with a rectangular central back support. The similarities are most striking when the present bust is compared with the aforementioned portrait of the Earl of Chesterfield (British Museum) and with the ‘Bust of a Man (after the antique)’ from the Getty Museum, but there is also a strong resemblance to the marble busts of an ‘Unknown Man, possibly Dr Edward Archer’, that of ‘Oliver Cromwell’ and even that of ‘Dr Antonio Cocchi’, all housed at the V&A.
Kenworthy-Browne, John. "Matthew Brettingham's Rome Account Book 1747-1754." The Volume of the Walpole Society 49 (1983), 37-132.
Kenworthy-Browne, John. "The Duke of Richmond's Gallery in Whitehall." The British Art Journal, 10.1 (2009), 40-49.
Lavin, Irving. "Bernini's Portraits of No-Body". Past-Present (1993), 101-38.
Lankheit, Klaus. Florentinische Barockplastik: die Kunst am Hofe der letzten Medici; 1670-1743. Bruckmann, 1962.
Lewis, Wilmarth Sheldon, ed. The Yale edition of Horace Walpole's correspondence. Yale University Press, 48 vols, Yale, 1937-1983.
O’Neill, John Philip, Liechtenstein, the princely collections. Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1985.
Penny, Nicholas, ‘Lord Rockingham’s Sculpture Collection and The Judgement of Paris by Nollekens’, J Paul Getty Museum Journal, vol 19 (1991), 5-34.
Postle, Martin, ‘An Early Unpublished Letter by Sir Joshua Reynolds’, Apollo, vol 141, no 400 (June 1995), 11-18.
Roscoe, Ingrid, ed. A biographical dictionary of sculptors in Britain, 1660-1851. Yale University Press for the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art and the Henry Moore Foundation, 2009.
Smith, John Thomas, Nollekens and his Times: comprehending a life of that celebrated sculptor; and memoirs of several contemporary artists, from the time of Roubiliac, Hogarth, and Reynolds, to that of Fuseli, Flaxman, and Blake, 2 vols, London, 1828.
Tomasso Brothers Fine Art (Leeds). Scultura IV. Carlton Hobbs, New York, 2019.
Trusted, Marjorie, The Return of the Gods: Neoclassical Sculpture in Britain. Tate Britain, London, 2008.
Whinney, Margaret, English Sculpture 1720-1830. London, 1964.
Wilson, David, ‘A bust of Thomas Hollis by Joseph Wilton RA. Sitter and bust revisited’, British Art Journal, vol V, (2005), 4-26.
Wittkower, Rudolf, Bernini: The Sculptor of the Roman Baroque. 3th edition, Phaidon, London, 2009.
Wolstenholme, Gordon Ethelbert Ward, et al. The Royal College of Physicians of London: Portraits. Churchill; Elsevier-Excerpta Medica-North Holland, 1964.