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Niccolo' Dell'Arca

? Century - 
DELL'ARCA niccolo' A Fragmentary Terracotta Relief Of The Madonna
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Niccolo' Dell'Arca - A Fragmentary Terracotta Relief Of The Madonna

Niccolo' Dell'Arca - A Fragmentary Terracotta Relief Of The Madonna



Lot number: 58
Measurements note
36.7 by 28.8cm, 14 1/2 by 11 ¼ in.
with traces of original polychromy, on black marble support
La scultura al tempo di Andrea Mantegna tra classicismo e naturalismo, Castello di San Giorgio Palazzo San Sebastiano, Mantua, 2006-2007

La scultura al tempo di Andrea Mantegna tra classicismo e naturalismo, exhib. cat., Vittorio Sgarbi (ed.), Castello di San Giorgio Palazzo San Sebastiano, Mantua, 2006-2007, pp.106-107 (entry by Francesca Petrucci); M. Pulini, La parte muta. Incompiuto e frammeto allo specchio dell'arte, Milan, 2006, pp.29-31, fig.18

The present terracotta fragment of the Madonna is a testament to Niccolò dell'Arca virtuosity in clay. His evocation of the Child gently pulling on his mother's collar is jewel-like in its detail and expressive in its form. In 1462 Niccolò dell'Arca was described in a public document as a 'magister figurarum de terra' (master of figures in terracotta). He was an innovative artist who possessed a unique style that influenced a new genre of terracotta sculpture. The expressive drapery forms and acute attention to the details of the Madonna's dress can be compared to his small-scale figural sculpture from the sarcophagus in the shrine (arca) of San Domenico, Bologna; it is believed that the sculptor's nickname dell'Arca came from his work on this project. The way in which the present Madonna seemingly pivots almost entirely off of the flat back of the relief, the deep drapery folds of her cloak and finely modelled collar is repeated has precedents in many of his figures on the sarcophagus. The Madonna's type of dress and articulation of drapery is remarkably similar to the Mary in dell'Arca's most famous work, his Lamentation group in Santa Maria della Vita, Bologna. The Mary, who is modelled in a state of utter distress, wears a mantle which falls around her breast in the same swirling fashion. The present relief, however, stands in contrast to Niccolò's terracotta Madonna di Piazza (1478) on the exterior of the Palazzo del Comune, Bologna, which is a more mannered depiction of the subject. This indicates that the present Madonna was modelled earlier in dell'Arca's career, as it allies more closely with his sculpture from the 1450s. How dell'Arca came to develop such an individual style is puzzling. Scholars have disparate views on his influences. His late work, such as the Madonna di Piazza
, recalls the massive drapery folds of the Sienese sculptor Jacopo della Quercia. However, dell'Arca's earlier sculpture indicates he made a sojourn to Florence to see the modelling of Desiderio da Settignano and of Antonio Rossellino. It is also possible that Niccolò travelled to northern Europe in the late 1460s as his style reveals Burgundian influence. Although the derivations of dell'Arca's work may be confounding, the result was a new genre of vigorously modelled and expressive terracotta figures. The present work is a consummate example of Niccolo's most exquisite work. RELATED LITERATURE C. Gnudi, Niccolò dell'Arca (Turin, 1942); J. Pope-Hennessy: 'The Arca di San Domenico—A Hypothesis', Burlington Magazine, vol. xciii (1951), pp. 347–51; J. Beck, 'Niccolò dell'Arca: A Re-examination', Art Bulletin
, vol. xlvii (1965), pp. 335–44; C. Gnudi, Nuove ricerche su Niccolò dell'Arca (Rome, 1973) We are grateful to Prof. Giancarlo Gentilini for his assistance in confirming the attribution of this terracotta and for further comments.
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