A Roman Baroque Bénitier Acquired by the National Gallery in Washington


2/11/12 - Acquisition - Washington, National Gallery of Art - Roman Baroque sculpture, which reached its utmost expression with Bernini and Algarde, continued until the late 18th century thanks to hundreds of sculptors and goldsmiths who filled the city’s churches with very high quality monuments in marble and bronze as well as with many smaller objects, produced in silver, gilt bronze and hardstones. All are often characterized by a polychrome finish created by using these different materials.


1. Giovanni Antonio Fornari (1734-1810)
Bénitier, c. 1760-1765
Silver, Gilded Bronze, Lapis lazuli - 82 x 50 cm
Washington, National Gallery of Art
Photo : Galerie Kugel

2. Giovanni Antonio Fornari (1734-1810)
Bénitier, c.1760-1765 (detail)
Silver, Gilded Bronze, Lapis lazuli - 82 x 50 cm
Washington, National Gallery of Art
Photo : Galerie Kugel


The National Gallery of Art in Washington has thus acquired a sumptuous holy-water basin by the master goldsmith, Giovanni Antonio Fornari, bearing his hallmark (ill. 1), from the Galerie Kugel in Paris.
A silver oval relief, set against a Rocaille background in gilt bronze, represents the Baptism of Christ, with very Bernini-like silver angels on either side (ill. 2). The basin itself is at the bottom, supported by a putto while the ensemble is topped with a gilt bronze glory and cherubim. Lapis lazuli elements add to the color effects.
A leather case for holding the basin bears the arms of the Braschi and the Onesti families. Most likely produced around 1760-1765, the work was probably presented by Pope Pius VI Braschi (elected in 1775) to his nephew Luigi Braschi Onesti, Duke of Nemi. Nothing is known about its history between the 18th century and its reappearance in the Piasecka-Johnson collection in the 20th.

Giovanni Antonio Fornari was the son of the goldsmith Bartolomeo Fornari. Documents mention him between 1760, the year he became a master goldsmith in Rome, and 1795. Other known pieces by him are, notably, another Baroque holy-water basin dating from 1762 and a monstrance, dating from 1776, at the Assissi cathedral.

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Didier Rykner, samedi 3 novembre 2012



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