Sculpture Highlights at London Art Week Summer 2021

Written by Pippa Roberts | 14 July 2021

Sculpture highlights at London Art Week Summer 2021 span the millennia from ancient Egypt and Rome, through the Renaissance, to the very recent early 21st century. 

Among the earliest works for sale this Summer, with Kallos Gallery, is a stunning Egyptian greywacke fragmentary figure of a priestess and noblewoman - Takhibiat, the Sistrum-Player of Amun-Re - carved In Thebes in the Early Ptolemaic Period, circa 332 - 200 BC. Measuring 26 cm in height (10 inches) this fragmentary statue represents the idealised, modest yet desirable depiction of the female form refined in the Late Dynastic to early Ptolemaic period. (The title of Sistrum-player is found from the 22nd dynasty through to the Ptolemaic Period.) She wears a long tightly fitting dress that enhances her figure as much as it covers. On the reverse, careful attention has been made to show the curve of her buttocks juxtaposed with the straight lines of the back pillar, which is engraved in sunken relief with two columns of incised hieroglyphs.

An Egyptian greywacke fragmentary figure of a priestess and noblewoman, Takhibiat, the sistrum-player of Amun-Re
Thebes, early Ptolemaic Period, c. 332 - 200 BC
Kallos Gallery

The extant hieroglyphs read: The noble lady, great of favour, holder of benevolence, excellent of character, sweet of love and praised in the mouth of everyone, great of favour without her knowing, the great lady [... , and, Beloved by her brothers, praised by her city god, the august one, sistrum-player of Amun-Re, Takhibiat, true of voice, daughter of the god's father and prophet [...

In the Late Period, it became increasingly common for women to record their own biographies on stelae and statues and this figure should be seen in the context of that. Text on monuments belonging to men tends to promote their careers and record their public titles. The inscriptions for women more usually focus on their marriage, family and religious roles. Frequently employed epithets suggest the ideal woman was 'amiable', 'rich in praise', praised by the gods, and kind toward others.

The title of 'noble lady' found on this figure is extremely unusual in a private statue of this period. Found right at the beginning of her inscription, this and indeed the sequence of her titles are close to that of Queens and Wives of the God and indicates that Takhibiat was a noblewoman of high rank, possibly connected to the royal family.

Takhibiat is a superbly carved fragment of elegant form and in a fine quality greywacke as opposed to the more commonplace limestone statues surviving from Karnak in this period.  Greywacke, 'was considered to be one of the most prestigious materials used during the course of the Egyptian Late Period. It was the stone of choice for royal images of the Persian kings of Egypt, for which see the statue of Darius the Great from Susa, and it continued to be so regarded by the Julio-Claudian emperors of Rome who employed it repeatedly for representations of members of their royal family'.  This choice of stone, the quality of the carving, combined with her rare set of titles, make this a unique piece of excellent provenance, and a wonderful rediscovery.

Christoph Lencker (1584 - 1613)
Martin Luther and Pontius Pilate presenting Christ: Ecce Homo, c. 1600
Georg Laue, Kunstkammer Ltd

Sculpture is worked in a multitude of media and can be two-dimensional as well as three. This Renaissance silver devotional work is sculpted in relief through embossing techniques.

'Ecce Homo', 'Behold the man' (John 19: 5) - those words were spoken by Pontius Pilate, governor of the Roman province of Judaea, when he presented Jesus of Nazareth, wearing the Crown of Thorns and clad in a purple robe after the scourging, to the mob, headed by Caiaphas, the High Priest, thus making clear that he finds no fault in Jesus. This frequently depicted episode from the Gospel of Saint John is shown on this silver relief with Georg Laue, Kunstkammer Ltd, staged with almost hyperbolical drama, with the cast condensed to only three characters: Christ stands at the centre of the picture in front of a stone balustrade between Pontius Pilate and his helper. 

Whereas Pontius Pilate is represented as a bearded man wearing a turban, on the right, the usual soldier or henchman has been replaced by a man sporting a beret on a mop of curly hair, who looks as if he had been transplanted from a Renaissance portrait. In fact, a contemporary observer would have identified the figure as Martin Luther on the spot.

The recognition effect is reinforced, on the one hand, by the distinctively rugged facial features and, on the other, by the characteristic headgear, both of which recur on numerous prints and paintings depicting the Reformer. The circumstance that Luther appears here playing a principal role in New Testament events is closely linked to the veneration of the Reformer that had already set in during the 16th century and led to Luther's quite often being portrayed with a halo or even as a saint.

Hence the present Ecce Homo panel represents not only a precious devotional object but also a profession of religious affiliation. The exceptionally high quality of the repoussé work and the political and religious scope and significance of the iconography suggest that this work was treasured as a Kunstkammer object of the first water, which would have whetted the appetite of any princely collector who affirmed the Reformation.

Baroque: Ancient to Early Modern is a joint exhibition by Tomasso and Galerie Chenel, showcasing ancient Greek and Roman works of art, all the way to the height of the Epoque in the seventeenth century, in a display that revolves around the Baroque aesthetic.  The works selected are characterised by a heightened sense of movement, grandeur and theatricality, paired with opulent detail and narrative flair.  We share two examples:

The plasticity of clay makes it a medium wholly suited to many sculptural situations, as testified by two Italian works from the 18th century:  

Raccanello Leprince's exhibition of porcelain sculptures includes a c. 1750 work from the Doccia factory by Gaspero Bruschi (1710-1780), after a small bronze by Massimiliano Soldani-Benzi of a famous Renaissance marble group by the great Giambologna created for the de'Medici. It shows Virtue triumphant over Vice, in a hard-paste porcelain group depicting a naked woman, Virtue, kneeling triumphantly on the back of a bound, bearded man, Vice. 

In 1706 the sculptor Soldani-Benzi wrote to Prince Johann Adam von Liechtenstein in Vienna stating that he had completed a series of twelve bronzes, mostly after the antique, and famous statues of Florence. Among them was a small version of the allegorical marble group representing Florence Triumphant over Pisa, commissioned in 1565 by Francesco de'Medici from Giambologna for the Palazzo Vecchio in Florence (a work now in the Bargello Museum). The personification of Florence, or an allegory of Virtue, overcomes a man cowering on the ground, and represents either Vice or the city of Pisa, depending on the interpretation. The triumph is expressed by a gesture of physical dominance.

Although Soldani-Benzi remained faithful to Giambologna's model, the bronze was produced on a large scale in several slightly different models and is known by various titles: Virtue Triumphant over Vice, Honour Overcoming Falsehood and Beauty Chaining Strength. The model is one of the subjects listed in the inventory taken by the Doccia porcelain factory, which purchased numerous moulds from Soldani's son and heir in 1744. 

Several casts from this series are known, and Soldani-Benzi's workshop must have produced a number of series of these bronzes notable for the way the composition spirals upward, hence the name of 'figura serpentinata'. The wax model for this figure by Soldani-Benzi is illustrated, no. 233, in the Inventory of models still kept in the Doccia factory, published by Klaus Lankheit.

Gaspero Bruschi (1710 - 1780)
Virtue triumphant over Vice, c. 1750
Raccanello Leprince
Luigi Acquisti (1747 - 1823)
Two Female Figures (Fortitude and Temperance), c. 1780
Brun Fine Art

Brun Fine Art offers a remarkably rare pair of terracotta figures, and a recent discovery by the gallery, depicting allegories of Temperance and Fortitude by Luigi Acquisti (1747-1823.  Their execution is of exquisite quality, and they are one of the only two known examples of Bolognese 18th-century terracotta studies made for stucco sculptures - sculptures which in this instance, can still be seen today in the church for which they were created.

The figures are typical examples of early Neoclassical Bolognese sculpture, a sculptural counterpart to the last great flourishing of Bolognese painting with the brothers Ubaldo and Gaetano Gandolfi.

During the long period spent in his home region, between Bologna and Romagna (up to 1791), Acquisti worked primarily on decorative programmes, both sacred and secular, executed in the stucco bas-relief technique. However it is now known that by 1778 the artist was producing terracotta sculptures. It is likely the present pair were modelled in preparation for the still existing stucco figures of Docility and Humility seated on top of the altar of the Oratory of Santa Maria dei Guarini in Bologna, which were executed by Acquisti in 1788.  Acquisti changed both the subject represented and the position of the figures, more comfortably reclining in these terracotta models to being more practically seated in the stucco works executed for the tympanum of the Oratory in Bologna.

Acquisti moved to Rome in 1792; he desired to completely throw off the role of mere decorator and be recognised as a more serious artist.  Despite an example of his work being dismissed by the local Accademia as "poor", a judgement Acquisti rebutted with force over many years, the sculptor's ambitions were soon satisfied: between 1803 and 1804 he had the honour of being chosen by Canova himself to execute the statue of St. Ignatius intended to replace the silver one by Pierre Le Gros on the altar of the same name in the church of the Gesù in Rome, a masterpiece melted down by the French in 1798. This was a genuine triumph: before him perhaps just one other Emilian sculptor, the great Alessandro Algardi in the 17th century, had started by training as a modeller in stucco and terracotta, and succeeded in creating a work of such enormous importance in Rome.

Bernardino Cametti (1669 - 1736)
Walter Padovanni

Walter Padovani also offers an exquisite terracotta group by the Roman sculptor Bernardino Cametti(1669-1736) of the Nativity dating to the beginning of the 18th century.

From the Revolutionary period in Paris comes this extremely rare and fine marble bust, with Daniel Katz Gallery, by Joseph Chinard (1756-1813), the great sculptor of the French Republic.  It depicts a female artist presumed to be Madame Constance-Marie Charpentier (1767-1849).  Chinard was famed for his particularly refined and realistic portraiture, most notably of Napoleon's family and retinue.  This superb portrait epitomises his consummate ability to achieve an acute likeness without compromising on the purity and harmony of the neo-classical ideal.

Traditionally identified as the painter Madame Constance-Marie Charpentier (1767-1819), the carving is thought to date to around 1800, executed at the height of the Lyonnais sculptor's fame and two years before his celebrated bust of Madame Récamier (the terracotta now at the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles).

One of the ways in which the new egalitarian society in France progressed was in its open approach to female artists. Thus, the present sculpture encapsulates the radical socio-political developments of the period not only in her modish dress, but also in her denotation as an artist. Art was seen as a suitable endeavour for a cultivated and learned lady in society and could even be seen as a legitimate 'career'. Many women made a vocation in the painting profession and, whilst there were still limitations on the number allowed to join, and male life-classes were out of bounds, several women artists were admitted to the Académie Royale.

Furthermore, the newly formed Salons allowed women the opportunity to exhibit work even if they were not a member. Female artists abounded for the first time, the better known being Madame Constance-Marie Charpentier (1767-1819), Adélaide Labille-Guiard (1749-1803), Elisabeth Vigee-le-Brun (1755-1847), Marguerite Gerard (1761-1837) and Anne Vallayer-Coster (1744-1818).

Despite these developments it is worth remembering however that it was still extremely challenging for female artists of the day. Not only compared to their male counterparts, being greatly restricted in their endeavours by comparison, but also given the general difficulties for artists in light of the constraints and challenges that permeated society due to the political upheaval and instability brought about by the Revolution. Therefore, the present sculpture  can be interpreted not only as symbolic of a new found social standing for the female artist and a newly established autonomy, but also as emblematic of the triumph of the individual female painter in the face of adversity.

The new role of women in French society is reflected in Chinard's portraiture. As the official portraitist of the Bonaparte family he was arguably best placed to capture these developments. Chinard made many busts of female members of the Imperial family: Josephine, Princess Augusta of Bavaria, Julia Clary, the Princesses Zenaida and Charlotte, and Elisa Bonaparte all posed for the artist. Indeed, his most publicly acclaimed and most widely known work is also of a female sitter, the beauty and socialite Mme Récamier (1777-1849).

Joseph Chinard (1756 - 1813)
Bust of a female artist presumed to be Madame Constance-Marie Charpentier (1767 - 1849)
Daniel Katz Gallery

Don’t miss out on special events and visitor information.

Stay up to date with London Art Week.