19./20. Jahrhundert Frühe Neuzeit Kunst

Making it up

How a ‘masterpiece’ by Michelangelo was made out in the Nineteenth century

For Susanna Burghartz,
a great and inspiring historian of Material Culture1


If you dream about an object for long enough, one day it will appear right in front of you. In the best of dream worlds, it will appear both in the form of a material object, and as a figment of your imagination.

This is what happened to a great art historian who, like a number of his fellow countrymen, was dedicated to the task of securing Italian Renaissance masterpieces for Great Britain. His name was Sir John Charles Robinson (1824–1913). From 1852 to 1869, he was a curator in the South Kensington (now Victoria and Albert) Museum in London. His obsessive quest for Old Masters laid the foundations of the museum’s collections. But, on occasions, his passionate urge to make a purchase led him astray. Besotted by an Italian masterpiece that he had just discovered, he would do everything in his power to buy it immediately. Sometimes, his purchase would prove to be a second-rate object, or even a fake.

Art historians’ mistakes and errors also belong to the history of art; after all, viewing and observing are human activities steeped in history and circumstances, whatever the outcome. 

Robinson’s mind resembled a cosmos in which imagination and observation, fanciful projections and careful visual analysis combined their powers with unexpected consequences. This cosmos should now become an object of serious study. When writing on the history of collections, historians should not restrict their attention to the treasures and masterpieces accumulated by curators and collectors in the past.2 Art historians’ mistakes and errors also belong to the history of art; after all, viewing and observing are human activities steeped in history and circumstances, whatever the outcome. They are cultural phenomena that are determined by what one could call precise cultural configurations, in which imagination and observation play an equal part. One of these cultural configurations is the complex representation of Italian Renaissance sculpture, as it was constructed by amateurs in Britain and in Europe during the second half of the nineteenth century.3 And it was this configuration that could lead art historians to purchase fakes.

Fig. 1: Statue of St John the Baptist (‘San Giovannino’). Marble, 17th century. Formerly in Berlin, Kaiser-Friedrich-Museum. Destroyed during the Second World War.

By the end of the nineteenth century, Robinson and his friend Wilhelm von Bode were luminaries in the field of Italian Renaissance sculpture.4 At the end of a distinguished career, Robinson was the surveyor of the Queen’s pictures. At the time of his retirement, Bode was general director of the Berlin museums. Yet these two Titans of the museum world, who purchased so many masterpieces for the Victoria and Albert Museum and for the Kaiser Friedrich Museum in Berlin, also made some colossal errors of judgment. Bode purchased a sculpture in wax that he attributed to Leonardo da Vinci; it was soon discovered that the fragile statue had in reality been crafted by a modern British artist.5 Bode even purchased a so-called Michelangelo that subsequently turned out to be an Italian sculpture of the Baroque period (Ill. 1).6 The mistake was understandable: the German museum director may have felt under pressure to acquire a Michelangelo marble, because his English counterpart – and friend – Robinson had found a Cupid by Michelangelo.7 Unfortunately, unbeknown to Bode, Robinson had also felt under pressure to secure a Michelangelo for his museum. And the statue that he bought turned out to be as problematic as the one purchased by Bode. Robinson’s ‘Cupid’ had probably started life as a Narcissus. It had been restored shortly before it was sold to the South Kensington Museum, and during this restoration it became a Cupid. Analysis showed that it is not even by Michelangelo, but is a marble statue by a minor Florentine Renaissance sculptor, Valerio Cioli (Ill. 2).8

Fig. 2: The so-called Cupid by Michelangelo [Attr. Valerio Cioli, Narcissus. C. 1564. Marble, restorations. Height 99.9cm. Victoria & Albert Museum, London.

How did Bode and Robinson commit such egregious mistakes? It hardly seems probable that on certain – albeit rare – occasions, these great connoisseurs suffered a temporary bout of blindness, an affliction that was brought on whenever some atypical, unconventional or weird object was brought to their attention. What is at stake is certainly more complex than this. We are here confronted with a historical problem: how can we reconstruct a culturally circumscribed phenomenon, such as the behaviour of the scholarly gaze when it alights on and then focuses on an art object at a given time in history and working within a particular context?

Robinson and Bode were extremely well read; both were familiar with a vast number of Italian Renaissance artworks. Even so, the art market regularly unearthed and then submitted to their judgement and approval hitherto unknown sculptures. Some of these objects exerted a dangerous fascination over the two men, for a number of reasons. Some ostensibly offered answers to unresolved – and cardinal – questions concerning their creator; some seemed to fill apparent gaps in an artist’s career and corpus; yet others were clearly rarities. They seemed to offer convenient solutions to tricky artistic conundrums; they as a result became irresistible, acquiring a special aura.

In order to understand these and similar situations, it becomes necessary to cast aside some mainstream representations of the connoisseur’s mind. It is commonly assumed that a connoisseur is very skillful at assembling a meaningful configuration of images in his or her mind – their mental picture library. It is true that he or she does indeed gather these mental images while collecting stylistic and material observations, generally drawn from the close observation of authentic specimens. Other images also help the connoisseur. These are what we can call secondary images. They are material images of art works, for example photographs.

During the second half of the nineteenth century, collecting photographic reproductions of authentic artworks became an important issue for connoisseurs.9 However, these mental and material images are not the only resources on which connoisseurs draw. What is all too often forgotten when we investigate the mind of the connoisseur, is that fiction also plays a very important role. Connoisseurs create visual fictions in their mind. These fictions assume a cognitive role. They comprise a number of ideal qualities that connoisseurs acknowledge as being ‘characteristic’ of an old master. From time to time, these fictions become so powerful that the connoisseur projects them upon the material artworks that he or she is scrutinizing and evaluating. In such instances, mental fictions obliterate the results of the immediate observation of an object; all of a sudden, the material art work appears to embody one of these fictions too perfectly.

One example of this is the 1861 purchase by Robinson of the marble ‘Cupid’ for the South Kensington Museum (Ill. 2). The opportunity seemed perfect – it fulfilled a long held, weighty wish. In fact, the wish was so profound and so ancestral that it was almost fated to lead Robinson astray. The curator was desperate to find a Michelangelo, since over the preceding centuries no one had managed to secure for a British collection – public or private – a sculpture by the great Florentine artist.

Michelangelos for Britain – a lengthy history of failure

Since the seventeenth century, great collectors and kings had been determined to secure highly important art works by the best sixteenth-century Renaissance artists, especially by Raphael and by Michelangelo. Every prince dreamt of possessing a Raphael; the artist was hailed as an absolute model for aspiring artists by art academies across Europe. In that respect, the British monarchy had certainly succeeded. In 1623, King Charles I had secured a major set of paintings by this artist, the famous cartoons for the Sistine tapestries. When Queen Victoria lent these precious works to the South Kensington Museum in 1865, the museum became a very important address for all tourists interested in art, a destination that no self-respecting European amateur could afford to ignore.

Over the eighteenth century, British collectors and institutions had constituted such vast fortunes, that they could probably hope to purchase most of the best masterpieces on the continent.10 A century later, in 1879, the great art historian Jacob Burckhardt visited the South Kensington Museum. Overwhelmed by the size and the quality of the collections, he declared that it was no longer possible to be a specialist of Italian art without having visited Great Britain.11

Michelangelo’s works were as much in demand as those by Raphael, even if the sculptor was considered a somewhat perverse genius who seemed to have reveled in breaking all the rules of art. However, this characteristic endeared him to nineteenth-century artists; he became a true emblem of Freedom and Bravura, and as such he was much admired. He was hailed as a hero of the romantic rebellion, precisely because he had taken great liberties with the artistic canon bequeathed by Greek antiquity.12

It was, however, much less easy to purchase works by Michelangelo than by Raphael. Marbles by the Florentine sculptor proved to be in very short supply in Great Britain. From the seventeenth century onwards, his sculptures were much sought after among discerning collectors. Every piece that could be moved and sold was deemed to be of interest. Somehow, despite the very considerable financial means at the disposal of British collectors at the time, Lady Luck did not seem to be smiling on Britain. In 1629, however, King Charles I acquired part of the Gonzaga collection from Mantua; it included Michelangelo’s Sleeping Cupid.13 This was a famous piece, since Vasari, in his Vite, had stated that an unscrupulous dealer sold this marble to Cardinal Riario shortly after it was completed.14 The prelate was told that the statue was a genuine antique sculpture; Riario believed this tale, until he learned that a young contemporary artist, Michelangelo, was in fact the artist responsible for the work. In 1573, while the Cupid was still in the Gonzaga collection in Mantua, it was shown to a French diplomat, Jacques Auguste de Thou, along with an antique Cupid purported to be the model used by the young Michelangelo.15 The Duke Gonzaga hoped thereby to underline the fact that Michelangelo’s production was as perfect as the most venerated antiques. This was totally in keeping with Vasari’s theory and defense of modern art.

Vasari maintained that the Humanists’ rediscovery of Antiquity was not imputable merely to a circle of scholarly Florentine philologists; he claimed that artists had also been closely involved in this process. The artists too could bring Ancient Greek and Roman art back to life, in the true spirit of the Renaissance or rebirth, by transcending the centuries that separated the Ancients from the Moderns. Vasari explained how modern artists could emulate and match ancient artists by citing the example of the young Michelangelo, whom Lorenzo de Medici had allowed to study some antiques in his collection. Some of Lorenzo’s best statues were placed in what was later – and inappropriately – called the ‘Accademia del Giardino’. When Michelangelo was a young man, this ‘Accademia’ was a rather informal gathering of artists, working together in a garden belonging to the Medici family, in which some antique specimens were displayed for their use.16  From the late sixteenth century onwards, the ‘Accademia del Giardino’ became a mythical establishment; its supposed existence served to explain the pre-eminence of Florentine sculpture in Italy at the time of Lorenzo di Medici. It was also cited as a venerable forerunner to the Accademia del Disegno, the art school that was actually founded much later, on January 13, 1563. When Michelangelo died, only a year after the foundation of the Accademia, Vasari was entrusted with the organization of the funeral ceremony. Vasari emphasized the ‘Accademia del Giardino’ episode in Michelangelo’s early artistic life.17 In other words, the Sleeping Cupid was felt to be of great significance both in Michelangelo’s life, and in the historiography of a crucial period of the Italian Renaissance. The acquisition of such an important object would be a great feat and triumph.

King Charles I was well aware of the value of the Sleeping Cupid, and he insisted that the marble should be placed in his palace at Whitehall. However, in 1698 a fire damaged the palace, and the famous statue disappeared, much to the dismay of amateurs.18 It was not until the end of the eighteenth century that another Michelangelo went on sale, prompting the hope that it could be acquired in Great Britain. A great British collector, John Lyde-Browne, managed to get hold of this object: it was a superb unfinished sculpture, a crouching boy that had been intended for the Medici chapel in San Lorenzo. Lyde-Browne installed the marble in his country house, Warren House near Wimbledon. Only a few years later, in 1785, Lyde-Browne was flirting with bankruptcy, and had to sell his beloved Michelangelo to the Russian Tsarina Catherine the Great. The magnificent sculpture left Great Britain for good; it is now in the Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg. Lyde-Browne described this piece in his catalogue in the following terms: “an unfinished statue of a boy removing a thorn from his foot, a celebrated work by Michelangelo. The boy is naked and has superbly rendered anatomy. It is believed that the statue was formerly in the Villa Medici.”19

By the time when public museums were being established in large numbers in Europe, the search for movable masterpieces of the Renaissance had become even more intense. At the beginning of the nineteenth century, Napoleon I was filling the Louvre with masterpieces; at this same period, Great Britain had very little to offer as far as public art museums were concerned. In the Louvre, foreign tourists could admire several major paintings by Raphael, but also a pair of superb marbles by Michelangelo, the two Slaves that had been created to adorn the funeral monument of Pope Julius II in Rome (San Pietro in Vincoli).20 As a young student in Paris, Robinson visited the Louvre, and must have spent several hours admiring the two Slaves.21

It was not until 1822 that Sir George Beaumont purchased a capital work by Michelangelo and had it transported to London. Beaumont bought the Tondo Taddei, a marble bas-relief, from a French artist, Jean-Baptiste Wicar; in 1830, he bequeathed this masterpiece to a British institution – not to the British Museum, but to the Royal Academy, for the benefit of its students.22 Today, it is still to be found there. The figure of the infant Christ depicted in the tondo shows that Michelangelo drew some of his inspiration for this work from the ancient Cupid belonging to the Medici family, that he had already used as a model for his Sleeping Cupid

Ten years later, when the splendid collection of drawings gathered by Sir Thomas Lawrence was dispersed, the University of Oxford decided to purchase a group of major sheets by Raphael and by Michelangelo. The purchase was a considerable coup for the British, at last giving them a slight edge over their French competitors. Robinson had first-hand knowledge of this group of drawings since he published the first catalogue raisonné of this collection of Raphaels and Michelangelos in 1870.23

Originals and copies at the South Kensington Museum
Fig. 3: Domenico Ghirlandaio, Sacra conversazione degli Ingesuati. 1484–1486. Tempera on wood. 190×200 cm. Florence, Uffizi.

From the beginning of his activity at the South Kensington museum, Robinson was confronted by a very important dilemma. The museum was set up in the aim of improving the aesthetic quality of British manufacturing production at that time. The first director, Henry Cole, was adamant that the South Kensington museum should be open to all the actors involved in industrial production, from industrialists to designers and to craftsmen. In his view, the museum should resemble a large encyclopedia of beautiful forms; to this end, it should also house a large collection of plaster casts and of facsimiles.24 However, some of his curators believed that only original works of art could provide suitable models – in their opinion, copies should be banished from the museum. In 1857, a major crisis tested their opinion on the issue. Sir Charles Eastlake, the director of the National Gallery in London, purchased Domenico Ghirlandaio’s Madonna, Christ surrounded by saints from the Church of San Giovanni della calza in Florence (Ill. 3).25 Ghirlandaio was an important painter, and was one of Michelangelo’s masters. The panel was packed, ready for shipping to London; but at the last minute the Great Duke of Tuscany, Leopold II of Habsburg-Lorraine, stepped in and refused to grant an export license for the painting. The panel was seized by the government and donated to the Uffizi, where it is still on show today. Eastlake complained to the British government, provoking a diplomatic row between Great Britain and Tuscany. The Grand Duke felt that he had to soften the blow and so he presented Queen Victoria with a gift: a modern plaster cast after Michelangelo’s David (Ill. 4)! The cast arrived in the newly founded South Kensington museum in 1857. Henry Cole was delighted by this outcome, convinced that a copy made after a famous masterpiece was an adequate substitute for an original marble created by a Renaissance master. Robinson was not convinced: for him, only original artworks were suitable. The conflict between Robinson and Cole over such issues was to escalate over the years, until Robinson resigned from his post at the South Kensington Museum in 1869.

Fig. 4: Plaster cast of Michelangelo’s David by Clemente Papi, 1856, Height: 541.5cm Plaster cast, painted plaster, after Michelangelo. Cast by Clemente Papi, Florence, c. 1856. Victoria & Albert Museum, London.

Robinson was thus determined to find original sculptures by Michelangelo. He had already done rather well for the museum – and could refer to this fact. He had, after all, identified some Michelangelos – twelve in all – in the small collection of terracottas and wax figures that had been sold by an old Florentine family, the Gherardinis. The whole group had been bought en bloc by the South Kensington Museum in 1854.26 The move was brilliant, and Robinson was entitled to be proud, all the more so because the French Government had tried but had been unable to purchase these important pieces for the Louvre.27

The new Michelangelo: a Cupid coming from nowhere

Robinson was so emboldened by his first victory that when he purchased a group of art works from the Gigli collection in 1861, he was willing to offer the very substantial sum of one thousand pounds for a Cupid attributed to Michelangelo (Ill. 2).28 Admittedly, this marble did not quite look the part. It belonged to Ottavio Gigli, an agent for the great collector Marchese Giampietro Campana, and a great Italian patriot of the Risorgimento. Gigli’s own collection had been formed in the view of underlining Italy’s eminent role in the reform of the arts from the fifth to the sixteenth centuries. The idea was not new, but Gigli wanted to prove that the “Rinascita” was a foreshadowing of the Risorgimento itself. When Gigli purchased the Cupid, the marble was duly authenticated by two well-known Florentine sculptors, Giovanni Dupre and Emilio Santarelli, who had discovered the marble. According to the certificate that they provided, the statue had been found in the cellar of a building situated in the Rucellai gardens. The two sculptors subsequently embellished their account, claiming that they had identified the statue instantaneously. On seeing it, they explained, they had immediately turned to each other and exclaimed: “It is HE”.29 The experience – in their account at least – equated to an epiphany, one that was so powerful, that it required no further explanation. There is no doubt that Santarelli, a strictly neo-classical sculptor, was a great admirer of Michelangelo, especially of the younger artist who remained close to his antique models – he himself executed a portrait of Michelangelo in neo-classical style (!) for the façade of the Uffizi gallery. The marble was installed in 1840. 

Fig. 5: Line engraving of the so-called Cupid by Michelangelo. Ex.: John Charles Robinson: South Kensington Museum. Italian Sculpture of the Middle-Ages and Period of the Revival of the Arts. London 1862, inv. N°7560, pp. 133–136, illustration.

         Robinson did not question the shortcomings of Santarelli’s and Dupre’s epiphanic expertise (“It is HE”). Instead, he eagerly endorsed their swift, or hasty, verdict (Ill. 5).30 In a way, their ’discovery’ suited him. Santarelli restored the missing arm of the statue, and turned the marble into a Cupid. Thanks to Robinson, Great Britain was, at last, the proud owner of an important Cupid by Michelangelo.

For Robinson, this new Cupid was ideal, because it looked almost like an antique statuette. Robinson was tempted to date the marble to the beginning of Michelangelo’s career, not long after the young genius had just completed his studies in the ‘Accademia del Giardino’. Furthermore, the Rucellai gardens, where the statue was found on Marchese Stiozzi’s property, had been a meeting place for the Platonic Academy founded by Marsilio Ficino; after his death, Francesco Zanoli Cattani, Ficino’s principal disciple, had decided to house the meetings of the Academy in the Orti Oricellari, graciously put at the disposal of the academicians by their owner, Bernardo Rucellai. The rebirth of ancient philosophy, and the rebirth of antique art seemed to be closely connected in the biography of the young Michelangelo, as well as in the biography of the new Cupid. The narrative reinforced Robinson’s feeling: this was an authentic relic, bearing witness to a miraculous conjunction between the world of literature and the world of art.

         What fascinated Robinson in his newly discovered Cupid, was nothing less than the magical resurrection by a modern artist of a dead body, namely the body of ancient art, which had suddenly been brought back to life. In his famous book Artistic Theory in Italy (1940) Anthony Blunt opposes two visions of the antique revival: one is philological and mathematical, characteristic of an artist and humanist such as Leon Battista Alberti; the other is closer to that of Francesco Colonna, as expounded in his Hypnerotomachia Polifili (1499).31 In his erudite novel, Colonna shows that the nostalgia for antiquity is a perfect analogon for Polifilus’ love for Polia. Love sustains Polifilus in his quest for the rediscovery of antiquity. At the end of the novel, Polifilus is killed, but Polia, whom he has worshipped for so long, gives him a kiss, and brings him back to life. At about the time when Robinson purchased the Cupid, Jacob Burckhardt published his famous Cultur der Renaissance in Italien (1860). One passage in this book casts a new light on Burckhardt’s almost magical vision of Historical discourse – that the historian could by his or her words aspire to resurrect a dead body. In his essay, Burckhardt refers to a strange episode that occurred in Rome during the fifteenth century.32 The episode is narrated in a letter that the humanist Bartolomeo Fonzio wrote to the Florentine banker Francesco Sassetti in 1485.33 An excavation was being carried out on the famous Via Appia. The diggers found the grave of a young Roman lady, and lifted up the slab. Inside, the body of a young lady was superbly preserved. Her sheer beauty and freshness enthralled all the Romans who came to witness the miracle. Fonzio’s letter is known through an illuminated manuscript which is now held in the Bodleian library in Oxford. A drawing represents this perfect, intact body, which seemed to have defied all the laws of time.34 Burckhardt interpreted this miracle as evidence that a whole generation of men and women were ready to believe that the Ancients were absolute models of perfection, and that these perfect bodies could be resurrected by the combined efforts of archaeologists, modern philologists, and modern artists. 

In conclusion, I should like to reflect on the circumstances that attributed great value to a statue that we now consider a mediocre marble of the Renaissance, probably carved by a second-rate Florentine artist. 

First of all, extraordinary powers were conferred on this statue, within a very particular context, that of the intense competition raging between France and Great Britain – a struggle for the most glorious remains of antiquity and of the Renaissance. In his book Romantic falsehood and novelistic truth, literary historian René Girard presents the idea that desire is always mimetic.35 Between a desiring subject and an object, one can identify a model or a mediator, external or internal. An example of an internal mediator is a neighbor who arouses our jealousy. During the nineteenth century, British curators were preoccupied by their belief that France possessed far superior museums and state collections. The resulting competition led, in the second half of the nineteenth century, to a veritable flurry of acquisitions, carried out in an attempt to counter this perceived imbalance. Every great masterpiece bought for Great Britain was hailed as a national response to a treasure purchased by the French for the Louvre. When in 1798, the banker John Julius Angerstein bought Sebastiano del Piombo’s Raising of Lazarus, it was seen as a riposte to Napoleon’s spoliation of Raphael’s Transfiguration in 1796. Both paintings had been commissioned by Cardinal Giuliano de’ Medici in order to pit Sebastiano (Michelangelo’s pupil) and Raphael (Michelangelo’s rival) against each other. 

         The second conclusion that can be drawn from this story is that during the second half of the nineteenth century photography became a radically new tool, which was rapidly put at the disposal of art historians. A new ability to produce good images of art works quickly and relatively cheaply gave birth to a dream: documenting the whole corpus of an artistic genius through photographs. Queen Victoria’s husband, Prince Albert, started a collection of photographs after all the known works by Raphael; it was undertaken at great cost, with the help of the Prince’s librarian, Carl Ruland.36 Robinson soon developed a great interest in photographs after art works, and favored the use of photographic illustrations whenever he could for his own publications. The extensive use of such tools was not anodyne. In the century when Charles Darwin published his Origin of Species (1859), such collections of images contributed to building up an art-historical illusion – that it would be possible to visualize the full, organic development of forms in a single artist’s corpus, as well as in the whole history of art. One could call this illusion a kinetic/historical vision of forms. The task of the connoisseur was to reconstruct the missing segments of this organic development, by putting his own imagination to good use. From time to time, a newly discovered statue or painting seemed to correspond perfectly to his or her mental representations of one of the missing segments. At the time, the purpose of art history was to reconstruct the movement of artistic forms, from primitivism to perfection – whether these pure forms ever took shape in a material artwork or not.

Above all, the nineteenth-century rediscovery of the Italian Renaissance resembles the dream of a dream. Burckhardt was fascinated by Bartolomeo Fonzio’s letter to Francesco Sassetti because it bore witness to the almost erotic resurrection of a dead past in the best tradition of Francesco Colonna’s Hypnerotomachia Polifili. But this historical miracle legitimized entirely another miracle, performed on the same model – that of the Resurrection of the Renaissance by the nineteenth century. In that sense, and according to Girard’s categories, even Burckhardt and Sir John Charles Robinson’s visions of the Renaissance were mimetic: they tried to conjure up the magical powers used by men in earlier times.

Pascal Griener: Making it up. How a ‘masterpiece’ by Michelangelo was made out in the Nineteenth century. In: Tina Asmussen, Eva Brugger, Maike Christadler, Anja Rathmann-Lutz, Anna Reimann, Carla Roth, Sarah-Maria Schober, Ina Serif (eds.): Materialized Histories. Eine Festschrift 2.0, 14/09/2021, https://mhistories.hypotheses.org/?p=4662.


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Pascal Griener (2021, 14. September). Making it up. Materialized Histories. Abgerufen am 24. Juni 2024, von https://doi.org/10.58079/rf46

  1. I have much enjoyed reading one of Susanna’s latest productions, which intersects in many ways with my present research: eds Susanna Burghartz, Lucas Burkart, Christine Göttler: Sites of Mediation. Connected Histories of Places, Processes, and Objects in Europe and Beyond, 1450-1650. Leiden 2016. []
  2. Pascal Griener, L’histoire des collections. In: Revue de l’Art 200/2 (2018), pp. 67–74. []
  3. Maureen McCue: British Romanticism and the Reception of Italian Old Master Art, 1793–1840. London 2016. []
  4. Jonathan Conlin: Collecting and Connoisseurship in England, 1840–1900: The case of J.C. Robinson. In: Inge Reist (ed.): British Models of Art Collecting and the American response. Aldershot 2014, pp. 133–143; Helen Davies: John Charles Robinson’s work at the South Kensington Museum, Part I. The creation of the collection of Italian Renaissance objects at the Museum of Ornamental Art and the South Kensington Museum, 1853–62. In: Journal of the History of Collections 10/2 (1998), pp. 169–188, and Part II. From 1863 to 1867: consolidation and conflict. In: Journal of the History of Collections 11/1, (1999), pp. 95–115; Kerri A. Pfister: A network among scholars: Allan Marquand, Sir John Charles Robinson, Wilhelm Bode, and Wilhelm Reinhold Valentiner. In: Lynn Catterson (ed.): Florence, Berlin and Beyond: Late Nineteenth-Century Art Markets and their Social Networks, Leiden 2020, pp. 423–454; Joanna Smalcerz: Smuggling the Renaissance. The illicit export of artworks out of Italy, 1861–1909. Leiden/Boston 2020. []
  5. Ulrike Wolff-Thomsen: Die Wachsbüste einer Flora in der Berliner Skulpturengalerie und das System Wilhelm Bode. Leonardo da Vinci oder Richard Cockle Lucas?, Kiel 2006, and Virginia Napoleone: Between Florence & Berlin. The international market in post-unification Rome. In Lynn Catterson: Florence, Berlin and Beyond. Late Nineteenth-Century Art Markets and their Social Networks. Leiden 2020, pp. 181–208. []
  6. On Bode’s purchase of a St John the Baptist attributed to Michelangelo in 1879, see Anna Maria Voci, Wilhelm Bode e il falso Michelangelo. In: Marburger Jahrbuch für Kunstwissenschaft 37 (2010), pp. 265–278. []
  7. Wilhelm von Bode: “Die einzige plastische Arbeit Michelangelo’s, welche meines Wissens in diesem Jahrhundert zum Ankaufe gekommen, ist der bogenspannende Cupido im South Kensington Museum: 52 wurde beim Ankauf der Sammlung Gigli-Campana englischerseits zu etwa 40–50.000 Mark, von den italienischen Experten aber auf mehr als das Doppelte geschätzt […] Ich brauche wohl kaum zu erwähnen, daß unser Museum bisher kein Werk des Michelangelo aufzuweisen hat, weder eine plastische Arbeit, noch ein Gemälde, noch selbst eine Zeichnung.”
    Gutachten, den Ankauf einer Marmorstatue Johannes des Täufers von Michelangelo betreffend. Zentralarchiv der Staatlichen Museen zu Berlin (SMB-ZA, I/SKS 20, ff. 110r–113v). []
  8. Now in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, Inv. 7560-1861. []
  9. Costanza Caraffa (ed.): Photo Archives and the Photographic Memory of Art History. Munich 2011. []
  10. Susanna Avery-Quash, Christian Huemer (eds.): London and the emergence of a European art market, 1780–1820. Los Angeles 2019; Arthur MacGregor: Aristocrats and others collectors of influence in eighteenth-century England, in: Inge Reist (ed.): British models of art collecting and the American response. Farnham 2014, pp. 73–85. []
  11. Letter by Jacob Burckhardt to Robert Grüniger, London, August 10, [1879]. In: Jacob Burckhardt: Briefe, ed. by Max Burckhardt. Basel 1949–1994, VII n°822, p. 63; Pascal Griener: Pour une histoire du regard: l’expérience du musée au XIXe siècle. Paris 2017. (La Chaire du Louvre), chapter I. []
  12. Mehdi Korchane, Alain Bonnet, Laure de Margerie (eds.): Michel-Ange au siècle de Carpeaux. Milan 2012; Sara Vitacca: Un mythe à l’œuvre: La réception de Michel-Ange entre 1875 et 1914, PhD diss. Université de Paris 1 Panthéon Sorbonne 2018; Michael H. Duffy: Michelangelo and the Sublime in Romantic Art Criticism. In: Journal of the History of Ideas 56/2 (1995), pp. 217–238; Robert L. Mode: Reproduction and Reception: New Perspectives on Michelangelo and Raphael in Eighteenth- and Nineteenth-century Britain. London, 2000; Lene Østermark-Johansen: Sweetness and Strength: The Reception of Michelangelo in Late Victorian England. London 2019. []
  13. The model used by Michelangelo is a sleeping Cupid now in the Uffizi, Florence; Phyllis Pray Bober, Ruth Rubinstein: Renaissance artists & antique sculpture. A Handbook of Sources. New York 2010, cat. 51, pp. 98–99; Jane Kingsley-Smith: Cupid in Early Modern Literature and Culture. Cambridge 2010, pp. 11–13. Michelangelo’s Sleeping Cupid is described by Ascanio Condivi: Vita di Michelagnolo Buonarroti. Rome 1553, fol. 10r–10v. Another Cupid made for the banker Jacopo Galli was thought to be lost for centuries, but was discovered recently in the entrance hall of the French Cultural Embassy in New York; it is now on loan to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Inv. N° L. 2009.40. []
  14. Giorgio Vasari: Le Vite de’ più eccellenti pittori scultori e architettori, 1550 e 1568, ed. by Rosanna Bettarini, Paola Barocchi. Florence, 1966–1987, 11 vols., VI, pp. 14–15. []
  15. Claude Bernard Petitot:Mémoires de Marguerite de Valois, reine de France et de Navarre. Mémoires de Jacques-Auguste de Thou. Paris 1823, pp. 240–241; Jacques Auguste de Thou visited (1573) the collection of Isabella d’Este in Ferrara, and requested the permission to see the Cupid by Michelangelo; it was then exhibited next to an antique Cupid (whose surface was partially stained by earth), in order to suggest a paragone between antique and modern sculptors. []
  16. Caroline Elam: Lorenzo de’ Medici’s Sculpture Garden, in: Mitteilungen des Kunsthistorischen Institutes in Florenz 36/1–2 (1992), pp. 41–84; Zygmunt Waźbiński: L’Accademia medicea del Disegno a Firenze nel Cinquecento. Idea e istituzione, 2 vols. Florence 1987. []
  17. On Michelangelo’s death and funeral ceremony, see Rudolf & Margot Wittkower (eds.): The Divine Michelangelo. The Florentine Academy’s Homage on His Death in 1564. A Facsimile Edition of Esequie Del Divino Michelangelo Buonarroti, Florence 1564. London 1964. []
  18. This work was created in c. 1495 and was sold to cardinal Riario. On this art work, see the correspondence between Isabella d’Este and Antonio Maria della Mirandola. In: Karl Frey: Michelagniolo Buonarroti. Quellen und Forschungen zu seiner Geschichte und Kunst. I. Berlin 1907, pp. 134–137, and the letter by Isabella, June 30 1502. In: Johannes Gaye: Carteggio inedito d’artisti dei secoli XIV, XV, XVI. Vol. II. Florence 1840, pp. 53–54; the sleeping cupid was given to Isabella d’Este. It was purchased with the Gonzaga collection and became part of the collections of King Charles I in 1634; Paul F. Norton: The Lost Sleeping Cupid of Michelangelo. In: The Art Bulletin 39/4 (1957), pp. 251–257; Paul Joannides: Michelangelo’s «Cupid»: A Correction. In:The Burlington Magazine145 (2003), pp. 579–580; Ruth Rubinstein: Michelangelo’s Lost Sleeping Cupid and Fetti’s Vertumnus and Pomona. In: Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes 49 (1986), pp. 257–259. []
  19. Catologo [sic] dei più scelti e preziosi marmi, che si conservano nella Galleria del Sir Lyde Browne Cavaliere Inglese a Wimbledon nella Contea di Surry; raccolti con gran spesa nel corso di trent’anni, molti dei quali si ammiravano prima nelle più celebri gallerie di Roma. London 1779, n° 20. Olga Neverov: The Lyde Browne Collection and the History of Ancient Sculpture in the Hermitage Museum. In:American Journal of Archaeology 88/1 (1984), pp. 33–42; Joan Coutu: Then and Now: Collecting and Classicism in Eighteenth-Century England. Montreal 2015; Adolf Michaelis: Ancient Marbles in Great Britain. Cambridge 1884, pp. 88–89; Ilaria Bignamini, Clare Hornsby: Digging and dealing in eighteenth-century Rome. New Haven 2010; Ilaria Bignamini, Archives and Excavations. Essays on the History of Archaeological Excavations in Rome and Southern Italy from the Renaissance to the Nineteenth Century. Rome 2004; Hanns Gross: Rome in the Age of Enlightenment: The Post-Tridentine Syndrome and the Ancien Régime. Cambridge 2004; Viccy Coltman: Classical Sculpture and the Culture of Collecting in Britain since 1760. Oxford 2009, p. 146, footnote. []
  20. See the description of the two Slaves, in: Henri Barbet de Jouy: Musée Impérial du Louvre. Description des sculptures modernes. Paris 1856, n°28, 29, pp. 17–18. During the 1850s and 1860s, they were exhibited in the Salle Jean de Bologne, Departement of sculpture of the Middle Ages and of the Renaissance (Cour carrée, south wing, east part, ground floor). See Geneviève Bresc-Bautier, Guillaume Fonkenell, Françoise Mardrus (eds.): Histoire du Louvre II. Paris 2016, p. 148. []
  21. Geneviève Bresc–Bautier: Exposer la sculpture au Louvre au temps de Rodin, 1860–1914. In: Cahiers de l’École du Louvre 8 (2016), pp. 29–40, p. 32, https://doi.org/10.4000/cel.337 [20.06.2021]; Sophie Martin, Véronique Milande, Nathalie Bondil: Léon de Laborde (1807–1869): De la galerie d’Angoulême au département des Sculptures. In: Geneviève Bresc-Bautier, Michèle Lafabrie (eds.): Un combat pour la sculpture: Louis Courajod (1841–1896), historien et conservateur. Paris 2003, pp. 22–27. []
  22. Acquired from the artist and dealer Jean François Wicar by Sir George Beaumont (1822), and bequeathed by him to the Royal Academy, London (transferred in 1830); Matthew C. Potter: The Concept of the ‘Master’ in Art Education in Britain and Ireland, 1770 to the Present. London 2017; Franca Falletti (ed.): L’Accademia, Michelangelo, l’Ottocento. Livorno 1997, p. 53; Alison Cole: Michelangelo: The Taddei Tondo. London 2017. []
  23. John Charles Robinson: A Critical Account Of The Drawings By Michel Angelo And Raffaello In The University Galleries. Oxford 1870. []
  24. Elizabeth Bonython: The great exhibitor. The life and work of Henry Cole. London 2003. []
  25. Claire Thomas: “Not to embellish the gallery of some affluent nation”: The Eastlakes, Nationhood, and the Purchase of Italian Art for the National Gallery, London. In: Australasian Journal of Victorian Studies 20 (2015), pp. 28–41; Charles Eastlake, Meeting of the Trustees, 12 November 1854. In: Charles Eastlake: The travel Notebooks of Sir Charles Eastlake. London 2011, vol. 2, pp. 99–100; John Hale: England and the Italian Renaissance: The Growth of Interest in Its History and Art [1st ed 1954]. Oxford 2005. []
  26. Sir John Charles Robinson: Catalogue of a Collection of Models in Wax and Terracotta by various Ancient Italian Masters, known as the Gherardini collection. London 1854, pp. 2–7; Rumy Hilloowala: Leonardo and the Provenance of the Gherardini Ecorchés. In: Arte Lombarda 62/2 (1982), pp. 161–168. []
  27. Meghan Callahan: Sacred Space in the modern museum: Researching and redisplaying the Santa Chiara Chapel in the V&A Medieval & renaissance galleries. In: V&A Online Journal 5 (2013), pp. 1–23; Donata Levi: Between Fine Art and Manufacture. The beginnings of Italian medieval and renaissance sculpture at the South Kensington Museum. In: Cinzia Sicca, Alison Yarrington (eds.): The Lustrous Trade. Material culture and the history of sculpture in England and Italy, c. 1700–c.1860. London 2000, pp. 211–221; Christopher Whitehead: “Enjoyment for the Thousands”. Sculpture as Fine and Ornemental Art at South Kensington, 1852–1862. In: The Lustrous Trade, pp. 222–239; Donata Levi: “Let Agents be sent to all the cities of Italy”: British Public Museums and the Italian Art Market in the Mid-Nineteenth Century. In: John Law, Lene Ostermark-Johansen (eds.): Victorian and Edwardian responses to the Italian Renaissance. Aldershot 2005, pp. 33–54; Aviva Briefel: The Deceivers. Art Forgery and Identity in the Nineteenth Century. Ithaca/London 2006; Malcom Baker, Brenda Richardson (eds.): A Grand Design. The art of the Victoria and Albert Museum. London 1997; Julius Bryant (ed.): Art and Design for All: The Victoria and Albert Museum. London 2014; Anthony Burton (ed.): Vision & Accident. The story of the Victoria and Albert Museum. London 1999; Bruce Robertson: The South Kensington Museum in context: an alternative history. In: Museum & Society 2/1 (2004), pp. 1–14. []
  28. Cf. Whitney Kerr-Lewis, La collection Gigli-Campana au Victoria and Albert Museum. In: Françoise Gaultier, Laurent Haumesser (eds.): Un rêve d’Italie. La collection du marquis Campana. Exhibition catalogue, Musée du Louvre. Paris 2018–2019, pp. 503–506. []
  29. Charles Heath Wilson: Life and Works of Michelangelo Buonarroti. [2d ed.] London 1881, pp. 33–34. []
  30. John Charles Robinson: South Kensington Museum. Italian Sculpture of the Middle-Ages and Period of the Revival of the Arts. London 1862, inv. N°7560, pp. 133–136; Robinson publishes the two expertise by the two artists; the documents do not put forward any serious argument over the authenticity of the sculpture. But Robinson’s attribution was accepted by international scholars, see for example the review of Robinson’s catalogue (1862) in: Le Cabinet de l’Amateur 1861–1862. Paris 1863, pp. 50–51; Charles Blanc: L’oeuvre et la vie de Michel-Ange, peintre, sculpteur, architecte. Paris 1876, p. 237 (with reproduction of the sculpture). []
  31. Anthony Blunt: Artistic Theory in Italy 1450–1600 (1940). Oxford 1962, pp. 57–58. []
  32. Jacob Burckhardt: Die Cultur der Renaissance in Italien. Ein Versuch. Basel 1860, p. 183. This story fascinated Henry Thode: Die römische Leiche vom Jahre 1485. Ein Beitrag zur Geschichte der Renaissance. In: Mitteilungen des Instituts für Österreichische Geschichtsforschung 4 (1883), pp. 75–91. []
  33. Christophe Imbert: La Belle qui sort du tombeau. Une figure de la Renaissance en Italie et en France. In : Réforme, Humanisme, Renaissance 75 (2012), pp. 145–157; Fritz Saxl: The Classical Inscription in Renaissance Art and Politics. Bartholomaeus Fontius: Liber monumentorum Romanae Urbis. In: Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes 4/1–2 (1940), pp. 19–40; Christian Hülsen: Die Auffindung der römischen Leiche vom Jahre 1485. In:Mittheilungen des Instituts für Oesterreichische Geschichtsforschung4 (1883), pp. 433–489; Karl Gielhow: Die Hieroglyphenkunde des Humanismus in der Allegorie der Renaissance. In: Jahrbuch der Kunsthistorischen Sammlungen des Allerhöchsten Kaiserhauses 32 (1915), pp. 1–233, footnote 2, p. 66. []
  34. Codex Ashmolensis, Oxford, Bodleian Library, Ms lat. misc d 85, fol. 161v. []
  35. René Girard: Mensonge romantique et vérité Romanesque. Paris 1961. []
  36. Jennifer Montagu, The Ruland/Raphael Collection. In: Helene E. Roberts (ed.), Art History through the Camera’s Lens. Amsterdam 1995, pp. 37–57. []

Von Pascal Griener

Studied at the EHESS, Paris under Louis Marin, and in Oxford under Francis Hakell. Publications on the history of collections, historiography of art, cultural history of the gaze. Latest book: Pour une histoire du regard. L'expérience du musée au XIXème siècle. Paris: Musée du Louvre, 2017 (La Chaire du Louvre)

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