Edited by Andrea Bacchi

This magnificent Saturn, signed on the back “A.B.”, initials that can be interpreded as “Andrea Brustolon”, is perhaps the most beautiful and complex terracotta which has come down to us by the great Venetian master and specialist in carving.

Published for the first time in 2000, in the repertoire of Venetian sculptural edited by the present author, it was immediately linked to one of the most important works of Brustolon’s career, namely the six statues in pine wood made for Count Tiopo Piloni from Belluno1. The sculptures were then purchased by Count Francesco Tauro di Feltre in 1803 and are today at the Fondazione Coin in Venice.

The statues, described in an anonymous handwritten dissertation written on the occasion of the transfer of ownership at the beginning of the 19th century, depict, according to the identifications already proposed there, Saturn, Mercury, Souls, Justice, Prudence and Grace. Each of them measures, with elaborate and very fine bases, about 240 × 90 × 60 cm2.

Saturn is represented with its classic attributes of the sickle and the hourglass, linked to the concept of Time, for the association of Cronus / Time with Xronos / Saturn masterfully studied by Erwin Panofsky in his 1939 Studies of Iconology. The god is captured in the act of devouring one of his sons (presumably Jupiter).

The composition was investigated by the artist with another terracotta model, similar in size (31.5 × 14 cm) to the one here discussed and in which the invention had already been focused (the god, standing , has the son in his left hand, raised to his mouth, and his right raised in the gesture of holding the long scythe, lost or absent). This piece, coming from a private collection, shows engraved on the back the date 17223.

The date of completion of the Piloni statues has always been indicated by the critics, starting from the beginning of the 20th century, in 1727. The latter date is in fact engraved on the back of a half-relief portrait in terracotta of the Piloni himself, a work also referred to Brustolon and now preserved in the Civic Museum of Belluno4.

However, there are no certain elements to say that the creative process has really occupied the artist for five years. Perhaps we also have another preparatory terracotta for this cycle, the one relating to the so-called Grace, neither dated nor signed. However, it is significant that another, generically referred to as Boxer, is also dated and signed “1722”, “A.B.”. And they have singular similarities with the Tizio from the Piloni series. Susanna Zanuso’s hypothesis that this is a first idea for that statue seems convincing5.

Just as in the case of the Saturn under discussion here, Brustolon would have profoundly modified the invention before arrive at its definition in the wooden statue. Our god in terracotta, in fact, is not depicted according to the classical iconography, which involved the act of eating children, but is instead associated with two dragons who are pulling a chariot, which was not even sketched by the sculptor.

There is at least one precedent for this solution, Noël Coypel’s (Paris 1628-1707) sketch for an unrealised ceiling (but whose program was described by André Félibien) in the castle of Versailles. But dragons usually weren’t automatically associated to Saturn6. In the famous Florentine masquerade of the genealogy of the gods of 1565, carefully described by Baccio Baldini Saturn’s chariot was pulled by oxen, while it was that of Demogorgon who had a team of dragons7.

Baldini had also written that the dragons had been assigned to Demogorgon, the first god of the procession, because “they have more resemblance to the divinity”, ancient and immortal. And it was generally Saturn who was referred to as the father of all gods, so that Coypel and Brustolon’s images is not entirely unusual8.

In any case, at a later time the Venetian carver seems to have decided to depict all those six standing statues, without suggesting the presence of a chariot. But there are many questions that, on an iconographic level, the cycle of Piloni poses. In the first place the association between three mythological male figures with what appear to be three female allegorical personifications is surprising, and it is also the sequence that includes two strange divinities. . . (Saturn and Mercury) followed by one of the damned for ubris, Tizio.

A serious and thorough reading of these inventions has never been conducted, and it is not possible, for example, to argue that the decapitated head at the feet of Mercury is simply that of a dead man, to suggest the function of the god as a psychopath-pompos, because he was to be the leader of Argos9. But these iconographic changes, as well as the survival of various preparatory terracottas, demonstrate the exceptional importance of that commission.

The Saturn discussed here, characterised its careful and sensitive modelling by might seem like a work already conceived for private collecting. After all, the terracottas born as collector’s items were a type in which, as we know, our sculptor excelled if already the same age, the Belluno canon Scipione Orzesio, could dedicate a poetic composition “to Mr. Andrea Brustolon for his clay models”10.

Looking closely at this Saturn, both the beautiful and velvety finish of the surfaces and the way of delicately sculpting the terracotta with short replicated strokes seem relevant to suggest the roughness of the ground in the foreground, of that type of wall, below, on which Saturn seems to lean, as well as the anatomy of dragons.

The convulsive and dramatic attitudes of the two children are quite typical of Brustolon and found in many of works from the Fornimento Venier to the sacred altarpieces for Belluno.

The sculptor’s training has not yet been fully clarified: one of the possibilities is that he collaborated with the Genoese Filippo Parodi, documented in Veneto after 1680. Similarly, a probable stay in Rome, not documented but recorded by the sources and also attested by a series of drawings made by him that reproduce various classical marbles as well as the frescoes of the Galleria Farnese, remains to be investigated11.

Several times, however, his attention to Sebastiano Ricci’s painting has been indicated which the terracotta presented here fully confirms. In fact, both the progress of the drapery and the rendering of the anatomy, elegant and sensitive at the same time, explicitly acknowledging various pieces by Sebastiano and his thought. A close example, and well-known to the sculptor, is one of the canvases painted by Ricci for Palazzo Fulcis Bertoldi in Belluno, built in the early 18th century.

Therefore, if the cultural coordinates that preside over his stylistic development have not yet been fully focused, the powerful originality of his language remains incontrovertible, both in the works in wood and in terracotta. As the Saturn presented here also authoritatively attests, Brustolon must therefore be considered as one of the most important voices in Italian sculpture of the early 18th century, and not only the extraordinary “Michel Ange du bois” admired by Balzac.

1 Zanuso 2000c, p. 708; the history of these statues had already been reconstructed, when they were still in the hands of the heirs of Tugni-Tauro (and therefore in Feltre), in Biasuz, Buttignon 1969, pp. 116 and 314, notes 97-98.

2 Biasuz, Buttignon 1969, pp. 314-315, note 98.

3 De Grassi 2009, p. 61; Belluno 2009, p. 359 n. 129 (entry by Massimo de Grassi).

4 Biasuz, Buttignon 1969, p. 115; Zanuso 2000c, p. 708; Belluno 2009, p. 324, n. 28, p. 361, n. 133 (entry by Massimo de Grassi). We don’t know much about the Tiopo Piloni portrayed there (except that he was 54 years old in 1727, as reported in the Latin inscription of the portrait itself), and that he was a namesake of the Tiopo mentioned in Piloni 1607, pp. 108, 131, 135. The historical Giorgio Piloni who lived between the 16th and 17th centuries remains the most illustrious representative of the family from Belluno. On him (and on his library) see the articles collected in the monographic issue of “Archivio storico di Belluno, Feltre e Cadore”, LXXIX, n. 336, 2008 (published in the centenary of the Historia just mentioned: Piloni 1607).

5 For the Grace see Belluno 2009 p. 359, no. 130 (entry by Massimo de Grassi). According to De Grassi, however (p. 61) it would be a terracotta dating back to around 1710 and not precisely linked to the Piloni statue; for the so-called Boxer, see Zanuso 2000c, p. 708; the hypothesis was rejected in De Grassi 2009, p. 61.

6 Versailles 1998, p. 148; Milovanovic 2000, p. 122.

7 Baldini 1565, p. 23; see also the relative drawing, in Firenze 1966, p. 28 and fig. 7. On the iconography of Saturn according to 16th-century mythography, the basis for all subsequent solutions, see Cartari 1571, ed. 1996, pp. 41-64. 8. Baldini 1565, p. 8 and Firenze 1966, pp. 21-22.

9 Belluno 2009, p. 325, no. 30 (entry by Massimo de Grassi).

10 De Grassi 2009, pp. 65-67.

11 Zanuso 2000c, p. 706; De Grassi 2009, pp. 18-22.

Baccio Baldini, Discorso sopra la mascherata della geneologia degl’Iddei de’ gentili, Firenze 1565

Andrea Brustolon 1662-1732: “Il Michelangelo del legno”
, ehx. cat. (Belluno, Palazzo Crepadona, 28.03-12.7.2009), ed. by Anna Maria Spiazzi, Massimo De Grassi, Giovanna Galasso, Milan 2009

La peinture a Versailles, XVIIe siècle, exh. cat. (Versailles, musée du Chateau, 1998), ed. by Thierry Bajou, Paris, 1998

Giuseppe Biasuz, Maria Giovanna Buttignon, Andrea Brustolon, Padova 1969

Vincenzo Cartari, Le immagini degli dèi, Venezia 1571, ed. by Caterina Volpi, Roma 1996

Massimo De Grassi, “Per altrui vaghezza”. Le terrecotte di Andrea Brustolon, in Belluno 2009, pp. 56-67

Mostra di disegni vasariani, exh. cat. (Firenze, Gabinetto Disegni e Stampe degli Uffizi, 1966), ed. by Anna Maria Petrioli, Firenze 1966

Nicolas Milovanovic, Les plafonds des grands appartements de Versailles: un traité du bon gouvernement, “Monuments et mémoires de la Fondation Eugène Piot”, 78 (2000), pp. 85- 139

Susanna Zanuso, Brustolon, Andrea, in Bacchi, Zanuso 2000 pp. 708;

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