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October 22, 2008

LOS ANGELES—The J. Paul Getty Museum announced today the acquisition of two full-scale bronze versions of the Venus de’ Medici and the Dancing Faun, cast after the renowned Hellenistic statues in Florence by the 18th–century Florentine sculptor, Pietro Cipriani (c.1680–1745).

“The acquisition of these two life-size bronze casts is not only a great addition to our collection and to the greater public collection of Los Angeles but will also provide a superb example of the continuum between antique sculpture and the later European tradition,” said Michael Brand, director of the J. Paul Getty Museum. “English visitors on a ‘Grand Tour’ to Italy in the 18th century marveled at the renowned Hellenestic figures in Florence on which these works are based, and then sought out lasting impressions of their own. Now, visitors to the Getty will also have the opportunity to appreciate the superlative artistic and technical skill of these bronzes versions. They will be crown jewels in our Neo-Classical sculpture galleries.”

For centuries, artists, patrons and collectors have been fascinated by the Graeco-Roman artistic tradition. As part of a classical education they would visit Italy to perfect their knowledge of classical culture and literature, where they would also have the opportunity to study architecture, sculpture and painting, and collect antiquities. This reverence for antique culture predominated the 18th century, and sculptural replicas—typically small scale and transportable—of famous sculptures from classical antiquity were frequently brought home, particularly to England, by Grand Tourists returning from Southern Europe.

In 1722, George Parker, later the 2nd Earl of Macclesfield, commissioned Pietro Cipriani, one of the most gifted bronze sculptors of his generation in Florence, to make full-scale casts of two of the most famous Hellenistic sculptures for display at his family’s seat, Shirburn Castle in Oxfordshire, England. The bronzes were modeled after the Venus de’ Medici and the so-called Dancing Faun—ancient marbles from the renowned Medici collections, which had been prominently displayed in the Tribuna of the Uffizi since the 1600s, and which were of particular importance to any Grand Tourist and art enthusiast visiting Florence. The sculptures celebrate the two major deities associated with sensual pleasures, Venus and Bacchus. Venus, the Roman Goddess of Love, is shown in the role of the Venus Pudica (‘chaste Venus’)—shielding her breasts and genitals with her hands as she is surprised by an unannounced visitor—while the Dancing Faun or Satyr with a kroupezion, is shown with musical instruments, as he entices a nymph to dance.

Cipriani’s bronzes move far beyond simple notions of the "souvenir" by way of their large scale, and by the superlative quality of the unique bronze casts; furthermore, the original plasters molds were destroyed immediately after casting to prevent the production of a second edition. The precision of the sculptural recreations is impeccable, and Cipriani reveals his debt to his master Massimilano Soldani Benzi, with whom he trained and worked and whose own versions of these figures, cast for the Prince of Leichtenstein (completed between 1697-1702), and for John Churchill, 1st Duke of Marlborough (completed in 1711) were models for this pair.

Cipriani used bronze for his versions rather than recreating the sculptures in marble because of the widespread notion in the 18th century that the ancient marbles were copies after bronze originals. Cipriani also takes artistic license in eliminating the dolphin ridden by putti below Venus’ leg, which serves as a support in the marble version, and liberates the figure from unnecessary elements.

The Venus de’ Medici and the Dancing Faun are major additions to the Getty’s collection of 18th-century European sculpture. These large bronzes will crown the museum’s holdings of small bronzes by the two principal masters of Florentine late-Baroque sculpture, Giovanni Battista Foggini and Massimiliano Soldani Benzi. In addition, the Dancing Faun makes a direct link with Adriaen de Vries’s Juggling Man (ca 1615), also in the Getty collection, which is one of the most original variations on the theme of the dancing faun. Together, they illustrate very different artistic responses to Hellenistic sculpture during the two periods in post-classical art in which classical antiquity represented the paradigmatic touchstone against which to measure artistic achievement.

The Venus de’ Medici and the Dancing Faun will go on view in the next few months in the West Pavilion gallery devoted to Neo-classical sculpture. There they will complement Joseph Nollekens’ marble figures of Juno, Minerva and Venus, as well as adding a colorful accent to the primarily white marble gallery with their warm, translucent brown patinas. The addition of these bronzes to the collection also further underscores the roots of Neo-classical sculpture in ancient classical sculpture. 

Note to editors:  Images available on request.

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Rebecca Taylor
Getty Communications

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