The Spirit of Baroque Masters Expressed in Ivory

On 11 March 2021, by Caroline Legrand

This work, remarkably carved in the thickness of an ivory plaque, shows the death of Saint Francis Xavier. It is neither signed nor attributed, but exemplifies the Baroque movement of the Roman school championed by Pietro da Cortona and Bernini.

Rome, The Death of St. Francis Xavier, carved ivory plaque, low-relief and high-relief, 12.4 x 18.1 x 1.9 cm (4.9 x 7.1 x 0.74 in)
Estimate: €20,000/25,000

We must probably turn to the north to find the hand that made such brilliant play with high- and very low-reliefs, created balance between the positive and negative spaces, creased the drapes, treated the anatomical details with such extreme refinement, especially the hands and feet, and captured the suffering on the face of the Jesuit missionary, who died in 1552 on Shangchuan Island off the coast of China.

Could the sculptor be Francis Van Bossuit (1635-1692), or Balthasar Permoser (1651-1732)? The former studied in Brussels and Antwerp, then moved to Italy in around 1655-1660 and became a member of the Dutch artists' guild in Rome. He is considered the leading ivory master of this period, even though he was not alone in producing this type of small work. The latter, famous for not only his monumental sculptures but also his intimate works, studied in Salzburg and then Vienna before going to Italy in 1676. He entered the service of Cosimo III de' Medici and joined the studio of Giovanni Battista Foggini. Bossuit and Permoser probably met in the Eternal City. What is certain is that this panel was directly based on a painting made by Giovan Battista Gaulli, aka Baciccio (1639-1709), for the chapel dedicated to Saint Francis in the church of Sant'Andrea al Quirinale in Rome.

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