July Treasure of the Month
An Acrobat attributed to Barthélemy Prieur
This beautiful Renaissance statuette is said to have been Sir Richard Wallace’s last purchase. A man performing a handstand is an unusual theme in sculpture, although a few versions of this model survive, all attributed to the French sculptor Barthélemy Prieur. He brilliantly captured the moment of a balancing act.
The subject may have been inspired by a painting, known only from a preparatory drawing in the Louvre by Primaticcio (1504–1570), representing the Masquerade of Persepolis. This North Italian artist, who worked in France, included men standing on their hands in his composition.
Prieur travelled to Italy where he worked for four years for the Duke of Savoy in Turin. Upon his return to France, he specialised in funerary monuments, but also made small bronzes. The Wallace Collection has a few more statuettes attributed to him. In 1591 Prieur was appointed sculptor to King Henry IV of France.
Although not well-known today, he was an artist who took a giant leap ahead in the making of sculpture, looking forwards to the masterly bronzes of Auguste Rodin.