Art, J. Paul Getty Museum, Sculpture and Decorative Arts

Cellini Gets a Rival

Double Head / Francesco Primaticcio

Double Head, Francesco Primaticcio (Italian, 1504–1570), about 1543–56. Bronze, 15 13/16 in. high. The J. Paul Getty Museum

A beautiful bronze Double Head, attributed to the Italian sculptor Francesco Primaticcio, has just joined the Museum’s collection. Though made by an Italian, it was commissioned by a Frenchman: Francis I, the king of France, for his palace at Fontainebleau outside Paris.

Why does the sculpture have two heads? It was probably meant to be displayed atop a column, and at one time was installed above a gate leading into a garden at Fontainebleau, where it could be admired from either side. At the Getty Center the Double Head is likewise displayed on a column—indoors, of course, harmonizing with late-Renaissance paintings by Titian, Dossi, and other Italian artists in Gallery N205.

Just downstairs, however, another Italian may be less happy with the new acquisition. In Gallery N102 is a bronze figure by Primaticcio’s great rival, Benvenuto Cellini, the suitably outraged-looking Satyr. This is  the preparatory model for one of the two full-scale figures Cellini designed to flank the monumental entrance to Fontainebleau’s Porte Dorée (Golden Door).

Satyr after a model by Benvenuto Cellini

Satyr after a model by Benvenuto Cellini (Italian, 1500–1571). Bronze, 22 3/8 in. high. The J. Paul Getty Museum, 85.SB.69

Both Primaticcio and Cellini excelled at sculpting after ancient monuments in Rome, and both were chosen by Francis I for his campaign to introduce a new classicizing style into France. But they often competed for commissions and for the favor of the king and his mistress, the Duchesse d’Etampes. (The ancient Roman prototype for this Double Head, the so-called Cesi Juno, may have served as the inspiration for the beautiful stucco decoration of female figures in the duchess’s private apartments at Fontainebleau.)

The rivals fought openly, and the notoriously hot-headed Cellini ranted against Primaticcio in the entertaining memoirs he composed while sentenced to prison.

Centuries later, though, we can put their rivalry aside and admire two intriguing, though dramatically different, examples of a watershed moment in French art.

Double Head (detail of face) / Francesco Primaticcio

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      All Hail Tiberius, Least Media-Savvy of the Roman Emperors

      Tiberius was proclaimed Roman emperor on September 17 in AD 14, exactly 2,000 years ago.

      He was also a bit idiosyncratic. “He was the least media-savvy emperor you could imagine,” says curator David Saunders, who has been in charge of this bronze portrait of Tiberius which leaves us on September 22. He point to this description found in the writings of Cassius Dio:

      Tiberius was a patrician of good education, but he had a most peculiar nature. He never let what he desired appear in his conversation, and what he said he wanted he usually did not desire at all. On the contrary, his words indicated the exact opposite of his real purpose; he denied all interest in what he longed for, and urged the claims of what he hated. He would exhibit anger over matters that were far from arousing his wrath, and make a show of affability where he was most vexed…In short, he thought it bad policy for the sovereign to reveal his thoughts; this was often the cause, he said, of great failures, whereas by the opposite course, far more and greater successes were attained.

      Moreover, David tells us, “Tiberius’s accession itself was a farrago: Tiberius sort-of feigning reluctance, the Senate bullying him, he being all, ‘Well, if-I-have-to,’ and in the end—according to Suetonius—saying he’ll do it as long as he can retire.”

      Suetonius is full of great, albeit spurious, anecdotes about poor old Tiberius, David reports. “When someone addressed him as ‘My Lord,’ it is said, Tiberius gave warning that no such insult should ever again be thrown at him.”

      Happy accession, My Lord!

      Portrait Head of Tiberius (“The Lansdowne Tiberius”), early 1st century A.D., Roman. The J. Paul Getty Museum

      Statue of Tiberius (detail), Roman, A.D. 37, Soprintendenza Speciale per i Beni Archeologici di Napoli e Pompei – Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Napoli, Laboratorio di Conservazione e Restauro. Currently on view at the Getty Villa following conservation and study.


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