Artibus et Historiae no. 76 (XXXVIII)

2017, ISSN 0391-9064

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CLAUDIA KRYZA-GERSCH - Confusing Signatures on Bronzes: Sculptor and Caster in Renaissance Venice (pp. 95–112)

According to Rona Goffen’s definition given in her 2001 essay Signatures: Inscribing Identity in Italian Renaissance Art, a signature ‘announces an artist’s responsibility for the work, even when it is a collaborative effort. The name is understood as a trademark announcing that the conception but not necessarily the execution is by the master’. As valid as this statement is for many if not most signatures, it cannot be applied to some of the most famous creations of Renaissance bronze sculpture in Venice. Goffen’s definition reflects a notion of artistic authorship which is deeply ingrained in our subconscious: We simply consider the intellectual process of inventing a work of art as more important than everything else. However, this ideal of the supremacy of invenzione is challenged when one looks at the equestrian monument of Bartolomeo Colleoni, the flag poles on Piazza San Marco, and the altarpiece in Cappella Zen, which were all signed by the casters and not by the masters who had designed them.

A careful analysis of the signatures, documents, and historical information reveals that the reason for these signatures was not primarily excessive pride on the part of the Venetian bronze founders but rather the Venetian government’s desire to send a message during the very threatening War of the League of Cambrai, which was intended to convey that Venice had plenty of resources to cast monumental bronzes. That meant that the city had enough of the precious alloy to make an endless supply of artillery and wage war as long as necessary.

The signature of the Venetian casters demonstrated furthermore that Venice had not only bronze in abundance, but it also had so many talented casters that the Senate could afford to have them make sculptures instead of cannons.

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