his powerful old man head has been shaped by an artist that had intimately assimilated, not only the fundamental style and repertoire of Gian Lorenzo Bernini, but also his more extreme second thoughts and versions.
The appearance of this sculpture allows us the critical analysis of another terracotta head very near to ours. I am referring to a old-man head , of which a few photographs exist in the archives of the Federico Zeri Foundation. This sculpture was exhibited at the 1965 edition of the " International Antique Fair " held at the Strozzi palace in Florence, by the Sangiorgi gallery of Rome, with an attribution to Gian Lorenzo Bernini and on the back of this photographs in the Zeri archives it is a hand written note that states that the head depicts Saint Gerolamo and that is by the hand of Bernini. Clearly the writer of the note was referring at the marble Saint Gerolamo by Bernini in the Chigi chapel in the Duomo of Siena: indeed some details of this head ( the dramatic flow of hair and beard and the nearly shut eyelids) are very near the Siena marble , and also very near a Saint Crisostomo in bronze , also by Bernini, located in Saint Peter in Rome, and datable in the same years.
With this we do not infer that the saint head is a Bernini authograph, but that the author knew intimately the two terracotta preparatory sketches for this two sculptures. This is very likely because ( we suppose that at the time there were many more sketches and models by Bernini, today lost) we know for certain that in the 18th century the two sketches, one today at the Fog Art Museum and the other in the Vatican were visible and avaiable for young artist to study. Well aware of this was sculptor Lorenzo Ottoni whom directed a sculpture academy that used extensively Bernini's sketches and models, that were stored in the Fabbrica of Saint Peter, for didactic use.
This head of ours and the one documented in the Zeri archives, are two slightly different versions of the same idea: and two versions that have been shaped by the same hand, the hand of an artist that studied at the time when Bernini was the "state of the art" for all young sculptors.
If we look closely to our teracotta head ( fig.1), we perceive a fluid wax quality to it, near the manners of Melchiorre Cafa': but, side by side with this languid quality, we feel an expressive and individual strength that recalls the "oldmen" sculpted by Pierre Legros. We can deduce that the author of our head had very well assimilated the lesson of roman sculpture of the first two decade of the 18th century. So to find our author we have to look in the period between 1730 and 1750, and in this timeframe we know of a french artist working in Rome: Rene'-Michel Slodtz, a.k.a. Michel-Ange, for his skill in carving marble; his known works suit well with our head. Son and brother of prominent sculptors, he spent nearly twenty years in Rome, from 1728 (when he entered the academy after winning the Prix de Rome), to 1747, he had a brilliant and successful career which climax was the the commission for the statue of Saint Bruno, for the cycle of statue of saints founders of religious orders in the Saint Peter Basilica in Rome ( fig.10,11)
Around 1737, Antoine Lacroix Laval, a french prelate passionate with figurative arts, whom founded in his native Lyon a Fine Drawing academy, saw in the roman studio of Slodtz an unfinished marble bust depicting Crises the high priest of apollo from the Iliad (d'une execution sublime). Lacroix Laval asked the artist to finish the bust and commissioned a feminine a' pendant bust depicting a high priestess of Diana.
Slodtz finished the two sculptures in 1740, which today are in Lyon, at the Academie de Scienes, Belles Lettres et Arts (fig.12).
French art critics and literature of the time, hailed this two works of art, together with the terracotta preparatory models which were in Paris in the Lalive de Jully collection, as masterpieces of sculpting "virtuoso". This sketches, today in the Louvre (fig.13) were rediscovered by Francois Souchal in the warehouse of the Musee' Nationale de la Ceramique de Sevres in the 1960s, and also we find another model for a Crises at the Nationalmuseum in Stockholm (fig. 14).
Either the marble bust of Crises and his preparatory model, are very near our head and the one in the Zeri archives, as much in the invention ( the poignant leaning head, the excited gaze that deforms the facial expression), as much in the details (the shape of the eyes, the flow of the beard locks, the defined eyelashes and the open nostrils) (fig.15). also interesting is the comparison with face profile of a Saint Mark also by Slodtz in the church of Saint Mark in Rome (fig.16). At this point is possible to attribute with confidence this two terracotta oldman heads to Rene'-Michel Slodtz and they were preparatory for the Crises marble bust. And the lesser definition of face details (wrinkles), induces us to believe that we are looking at two of many examples of studies of Slodtz on Bernini's preparatory models even before the "Crises" invention.
We know that Slodtz, just after his arrival in Rome was working on a head of "Demostenes", so it is plausible that he shaped various terracotta heads of "Characters". On the another hand we can compare our head with a print from a Slodtz drawing from Guido Reni (fig.17). A common habit between the young sculptor studying in Rome in the first half of the 18th century as we see in the portraits painted by Cosmas Damian Asam for himself and more notorious brother Egid Quirin, were we find old mens bearded heads that are easy to imagine also shaped in terracotta (fig.18).
Our head was conceived as a preliminary composition and expression essay, and not a lateral detail figure (fig.9).
So our head here studied (fig.19) is a clear statement of the importance of Bernini's influence on the young european sculptor studying in Rome of the 18th century and how trough them this "Koine'" arrives all over the continent.