Robert H. Smith Renaissance Sculpture Conference: Renaissance sculptors and their impact abroad

As part of the ten year long V&A programme of conferences, lectures, publications and demonstrations dedicated to Renaissance sculpture funded with exceptional generosity by the late Robert H. Smith, this symposium focused on the meaning of ‘international’ in the context of European sculpture between 1400 and 1600.

With a list of speakers and chairs reading like the ‘Who’s Who’ of Renaissance sculpture experts, the intense two full days of talks and discussions continued over coffee and lunch breaks, and sometimes around dinner tables, which demonstrated how diverse and complex could be the interconnections between different areas of Europe and beyond. Artists of course travelled, either during their formative years or to work for a new patron, sculptures travelled, shipped to their destination or because they were collected, and so did techniques, materials, styles.

The opening session was on the dissemination of artistic ideas. This phenomenon was investigated from two different angles. The first, through the diffusion and impact of plaster casts across Europe, with a paper by Eckart Marchand, who has been working thoroughly on the subject. The second, from the account by Cinzia Sicca of the routes of the florid trade of sculpture and marble between Tuscany and Europe in the sixteenthth century.

Four of the eight sessions were centred on Italy. Two on exchanges between Italy and the North, one on the export of Italian sculpture to Spain, one on Italians in England. But, in general, the Italian school was a protagonist, with another session devoted to Renaissance sculpture in Hungary, described through two contributions by Péter Farbaky on Matthias Corvinus and his patronage of Italian artists, and by Alison Luchs with new information about the provenance of the marble relief of Alexander the Great in the National Gallery of Art in Washington.

Dorothea Diemer posed the question of Peter Vischer’s possible trip to Italy. In the absence of documentary evidence, she pointed the audience’s attention, for example, to the fact that the Vischer foundry was using techniques unknown North of the Alps, such as the use of live casts to make animals.

Another example of Italian influence on art made by non-Italian artists outside the Peninsula was discussed by Paula Nuttall, whose paper was on Memling’s Pagagnotti Virgin and Child, painted for an Italian patron in Bruges, a city with a wealthy, well-connected, Italian community and ruled by the Duke of Burgundy, a keen italophile.

The two papers on the export of Italian sculpture to Spain, given by Johannes Röll and by Kelley Helmstutler Di Dio, touched not just on the artistic relations between the two Mediterranean countries but also on practical inherent issues of sculpture, mainly on the problems of shipping monumental bronzes, like Tacca’s equestrian portraits, from Florence to Madrid.

In the section on Italians in England, Kent Rawlinson delivered a paper on Giovanni da Maiano rich with new observations, whilst Peta Motture analysed issues of transmission of bronze-casting techniques from Italy to Britain. Casting techniques, this time in the German and Dutch context, were the central theme also of Robert Van Langh’s intervention, based on the research carried out in the conservation department of the Rijksmuseum. Thierry Crépin-Leblond was the other speaker in this second session on the exchanges between Italy and the North. He spoke about Francesco Scibec da Carpi, his carved wood panels for King Henri II in Fontainebleau, and put forward the hypothesis that the Greek Staircase in Louvre might be by Scibec.

Lisa Wiersma and Arje Pappott, with a co-written paper on Jacques Jonghelinck, founder also of bronze reproducing plants and flowers made with the real botanical specimens as model, and Kim Woods with a talk about kneeling effigies in late Gothic Spain, with a specific focus on the Dutch émigré, Gil de Siloé, showed examples of another great artistic ‘love affair’ of the Renaissance: that between Spain and the Low Countries.

These were two intense days of excellent papers and stimulating discussions among the speakers, chairs, and the audience. The title of the symposium was ambitious, but almost all the possible declinations of the idea of international connections in Renaissance sculpture have been investigated, and the organisers can only be congratulated for their work.

We hope to see the papers published soon, so that so much new and thorough research will be available in print.

International Connections: Renaissance sculptors and their impact abroad.
Robert H. Smith Renaissance Sculpture Conference, Victoria & Albert Museum, London, 20-21 May 2015.

Main image: Pietro Torrigiano, King Henry VII, painted terracotta, h. 60.6cm., V&A, London (photo: © Victoria and Albert Museum, London)

Aurora Corio