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Late 16th century gilt bronze Roman pax after a design by Michelangelo

Image of Late 16th century gilt bronze Roman pax after a design by Michelangelo
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A gilt bronze pax of the Pieta (after Michelangelo), attributed to Jacopo and/or Ludovico del Duca, ca. 1580.

Approximate size: 115.1 x 170.2 mm

Paxes were small objects held-in-hand and kissed by the congregation during certain liturgical ceremonies. They were often made by local craftsman for regional churches or commissioned by wealthy patrons as donations to important churches throughout Europe. They were popularly used until the mid-to-late 17th century. They are wondrous in their ability to capture both sculpture and architecture in a singular, beautiful work-of-art.

The present small bronze Pieta relief cast integrally with its frame follows after a prototype by Michelangelo (1475-1564) made by him during the early 1540s. Michelangelo created this Pieta design for Vittoria Colonna (1492-1547), an esteemed noblewoman with whom he shared corresponding spiritual beliefs inspired by progressive Christian reformists.

Michelangelo’s Pieta relates to Colonna’s Lamentation on the Passion of Christ, written in the early 1540s and later published in 1556. In her Lamentation Colonna vividly adopts the role of Mary in grieving the death of her son, Christ. Michelangelo’s Pieta was likely inspired by Colonna’s writing, evidenced through the synchronicity of his design in relationship with Colonna’s prose. The two frequently exchanged poetry and letters.

The most recent scholarship concerning this pax suggests it was made during the 1580s in the Roman workshop of Jacopo or Ludovico del Duca, both successful sculptors and bronze casters. In particular, Jacopo was serving as Michelangelo’s assistant at the time of Michelangelo’s death and subsequently inherited several of his projects.

For a complete analysis of this object see: www.renbronze.com/2016/10/06/michelangelos-pieta-in-bronze/

Condition: Contemporary cast. Gilt obverse and reverse. Contemporaneous gilt and separately attached handle. Modestly rubbed gilding along the high points of the relief. Cherub head along the base and scalloped shell at the top flattened due to wear or repeated falls. Warping along the upper right pediment, probably due to a casting flaw. Finely finished with elaborate punch work.