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Antiquity and the Renaissance

The Bank of Italy’s art collections contain an interesting group of ancient sculptures, dated for the most part between the 2nd and 4th centuries AD.  Some of these were discovered at the end of the 19th century during the construction of Palazzo Koch, the most important being the statue of Antinous, an example of the balanced forms of Hellenic art revived by the emperor Hadrian. Other sculptures of various origin and size exemplify aspects of 2nd-century portraiture. The Head of Trajan, for instance, a slightly stylized but nonetheless incisive rendering, is the product of a fairly realistic conception of the emperor’s likeness, while the Bust of Commodus, with its heightened chiaroscuro, conveys the harsh and gloomy expression typical of the Antonine age.
The bloody end of Commodus’s reign and long period of political and military anarchy that followed drove the Empire into a slow decline. In the 3rd century, signs of the restlessness that was pervading society became reflected in the figurative arts. The crude depiction of lions and boars on the large lenos sarcophagus, as well as the very different stylized evangelic images on the Paleo-Christian sarcophagus illustrate the complex moment of passage as Western art evolved from Mediterranean to “European”.
Unlike the long centuries of the Middles Ages, which are not well-represented in the Bank of Italy’s collections, European Renaissance and Mannerist art is exemplified by works of considerable merit. A number of the paintings are landscapes, a dominant theme of Flemish art of the early 16th century. Indeed, the fame of the Nordic painters, many of whom were inspired by the founder of the style, Joachim Patinir, rested on just such wide panoramas of nature. Patinir’s influence is evident in the Baptism of Christ by the enigmatic Master of the von Groote Adoration and in Jan Mostaert’s Saint Christopher, with its attention to the realism of every detail. The late 16th-century Madonna with Child and Saint Jerome by an anonymous Spanish painter is in the Italianate style of Louis de Morales and belongs to the subsequent Mannerist phase.
In sculpture, the 16th century is represented by three magnificent works. The influence of Michelangelo on art in central Italy in the second half of the 16th century can be admired in the marble statue of the Holy Trinity, similar in style and technique to the work of the school of the Florentine sculptor Baccio Bandinelli. The pair of bronze statuettes depicting two of the twelve labours of Hercules are instead modelled on pieces by the Dutch sculptor Giambologna, who executed most of his work for the Medicis. His sculptures, inspired by the ideals of Antiquity, mark the end of the Renaissance period.


Alessandro Zuccari
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