Francesco Fanelli, Cupid Standing on a Dolphin, c. 1635-41
The image of a child or Cupid on a dolphin is of classical origin, but became especially popular during the Renaissance. Here it is conflated with the later iconography of the blindfold Cupid which refers to sensual Love and its dangers. During the Renaissance, Cupid was often represented as standing on a lion skin, to represent the triumph of Love or, alternatively, on a sphere, to emphasise his identification with Fortune.
This diminutive yet extremely lively figurine is very vigorously modelled, and carries a great deal of detail in the wax, with almost no sign of afterwork. The detailed modelling is, together with the thin walls, the brassy alloy used for the cast, and the blackish lacquer still visible on certain areas, typical of a number of bronzes attributed to the Florentine sculptor Francesco Fanelli.
Having moved from Florence to Genoa around 1605, Fanelli became sculptor to King Charles I in 1632 and is documented in England until c. 1643, working not only for the king but also for William Cavendish, Earl of Newcastle, the writer John Evelyn, the Lord Treasurer and the Earl of Arundel.
In 1639, the court antiquarian, Abraham van der Doort made an inventory of Charles I’s collections at Whitehall which included various models by Fanelli, among them two St George and the Dragon, a Nessus and Deianira, a Turk on Horseback and a Cupid on Horseback.
The latter has been fundamental in attributing our Cupid to Fanelli, as the torso and arms of the two figures are most likely based on the same model. Fanelli’s known workshop practice was based on the reuse and combination of various separately modelled and cast pieces, thus producing endless variants of one basic composition.
It has long been assumed that most of Fanelli’s models were produced in England where he was among the first artists to practise this specific genre. However, Fanelli was already over 50 years old when he came to England and considering this production was extremely popular in his native Florence, it is most likely that he had already designed some of his compositions in Italy.
Our Cupid was purchased by Sir Richard Wallace on behalf of the 4th Marquess at the Michel sale in 1847 as a Florentine bronze of the end of the 16th century. It was later lent by Sir Richard to the Bethnal Green exhibition (1872–5) mounted on a ‘pedestal supported by satyrs’ identified as S66. The Cupid can also be seen on this pedestal in Blaise Desgoffe’s still-life of works of art in the collection of Sir Richard, painted in 1883.
Tuesday 4 and Wednesday 26 April at 1pm with Leda Cosentino, Curator of Sculpture, in the Sixteenth-Century Gallery.
Jeremy Warren, Wallace Collection Catalogue of Italian Sculpture, vol. II, no. 100
Charles Avery, Francesco Fanelli- King Charles I: a unique bronze statuette, 2011