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I Volpini, una famiglia di scultori tra Lombardia e Baviera (secoli XVII-XVIII).

Pietro Delpero. I Volpini, una famiglia di scultori tra Lombardia e Baviera (secoli XVII-XVIII).

Annali dell'Istituto storico italo-germanico in Trento Monografie 44. Bologna: Societa editrice il Mulino, 2006. 286 pp. index. append. illus. bibl. [euro]20. ISBN: 88-15-10732-0.

This text examines the peripatetic careers of the Volpini, Lombard sculptors active in northern Italy and southern Germany from the 1660s to 1720s. It considers how traveling artists spread traditions and innovations, creating transnational styles for cosmopolitan patrons. Specifically, this well-documented study explores how intersections between Baroque and Rococo sculpture were catalyzed by Giovanni Battista Volpini, active primarily in Lombardy, and by his son Giuseppe, active in Franconia and at the Nymphenburg and Schleissheim palaces in Munich, where he worked for Elector Maximilian II Emanuel, leader of Bavaria and the Spanish Netherlands in the late 1600s and early 1700s.

Chapter 1 summarizes literature on Giovanni Battista and Giuseppe Volpini. Chapter 2 unfolds the central argument about itinerant sculptors conflating styles by explaining that, after the Thirty Years' War and a boom in Catholicism, southern German sites attracted international sculptors, particularly Lombards. This chapter introduces Giovanni Battista Volpini through descriptions of his work at the Milanese duomo from 1662 to 1680, the Certosa di Pavia, Arese family palaces throughout Lombardy, and at sacri monti in Varallo and Domodossola.

Chapter 3 has central importance but is perhaps overly ambitious. It establishes patronage contexts for Giuseppe Volpini--the court of Maximilian II in Bavaria and Margrave Wilhelm Friedrich in Franconia--in addition to describing sculptors' workshop structures and Giuseppe's Franconian sculpture. The chapter details Maximilian's place in European politics, e.g., his Hungarian victory over the Ottomans (1687-88), his marriages to imperial and Polish royalty, and his 1691 appointment as governor of the Spanish Netherlands. His role in conflicts over the Spanish throne are primary, from when Spanish King Charles II named Maximilian's son his heir in 1697, thereby embroiling Maximilian in the War of Spanish Succession (1701-14). Maximilian sided with Louis XIV against the empire, hoping to retain Netherlandish rule (which he prized over Bavaria), but defeats led to his exile near Versailles until peace and his begrudging return to Bavaria in 1715. The historical narrative and Maximilian's translocations between Munich, Brussels, and France are well told as we read why Maximilian was drawn into the French cultural orbit; there is also engaging reasoning about why Maximilian's artistic patronage blossomed when he returned, chastened, to Munich, and the appearance of an absolutist monarch at Nymphenburg and Schleissheim palaces belied thwarted ambitions. However, the chapter suffers from an overly broad scope and organizational weaknesses. For instance, discussion of Volpini's sculpture for Wilhelm Friedrich in Franconia interrupts the connections between the discussions of Maximilian II and Volpini's Bavarian work for him in chapters 4 and 5.

These chapters address the sculptures Volpini made for Maximilian's court between its return to Munich in 1715 and Volpini's death in 1729. They contain the book's most thorough analyses and stress the confluence of European styles. Chapter 4 primarily addresses Volpini's marble sculptures (including Minerva, Hercules, river gods, and Caesar busts) for the park at Nymphenburg, built as an Italian summer palace for Maximilian's Savoyard mother, and an international artistic center with French, German, Italian, and Netherlandish sculptors and architects. The author suggests how the garden sculptures support Maximilian's iconographies of power and manifest French and Italian artistic traditions. Chapter 5 focuses on Volpini's stucco and terracotta work (ca. 1720-26) in the Salle des colonnes and Sala terrena at Schleissheim. Analysis of these reliefs (including female heads, marine subjects, putti, and decorative ribbons) posits a blending of Parisian and Lombard styles that opened an avenue for Rococo art in Germany. The chapter suggests that Volpini's Schleissheim reliefs influenced Johann Baptist Zimmermann, who decorated upstairs rooms. Hence an Italian artist's hybrid forms shaped a Teutonic style led by Zimmermann from the 1720s. An appendix with thirty-six entries thoroughly catalogues Giuseppe Volpini's sculpture in Franconia and in Bavaria.

This study benefits from its methodological approach and well-apportioned historical and patronal information, but is undermined by photographs' quality and number. Formal analyses suggest intriguing stylistic conflations--well-justified given the cosmopolitan milieu of patron and artist--but summary descriptions and stylistic references might have developed into more thorough exegeses. Structural issues also problematize this valuable study: historical information is repeated; significant theses might have developed better if stated earlier and more clearly in each section; and, especially given the appendix's focus, sections on Giovanni Battista Volpini and on Giuseppe's work in Franconia seen secondary. Nonetheless, the book is an effective contribution to studies of multi faceted styles catalyzed by cosmopolitan itinerant artists and patrons.


State University of New York, F. I. T.
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Author:Drogin, David J.
Publication:Renaissance Quarterly
Article Type:Book review
Date:Mar 22, 2008
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