The deeply unpopular Baccio Bandinelli
Never seen on the market until now, a drawing by the Cinquecento sculptor illustrates a major project for Prince Doria – and the talent of an artist whom his contemporaries loved to hate.
Baccio Bandinelli (1488-1560), Project for a colossal sculpture of Admiral Andrea Doria as Neptune, pen and brown ink, black chalk, 42.7 x 28.6 cm.
Separating the man from the artist is a difficult exercise even today, and one 16th century Italians clearly found impossible. The creator of numerous celebrated commissions and official sculptor to the Medici court, the arrogant Baccio Bandinelli attracted a great deal of opprobrium from his contemporaries. His pupil Vasari, for instance, hardly treated him with kid gloves in his Lives. Following the mysterious destruction of a cartoon by Michelangelo, an act Bandinelli was suspected of committing, he wrote "He was unanimously considered envious and false, and with good reason." Judged "incapable of working in a team," the artist was notorious for his conceitedness and incessant quarrelling with his colleagues, including Michelangelo and Benvenuto Cellini. He frequently tried to steal projects from them through the protection of Duke Alessandro de' Medici and Pope Clement VII. After an apprenticeship in the workshop of his father, the goldsmith Michele di Viviano de Brandini, Bandinelli's talents were soon noticed by the painter Girolamo del Buda and one Leonardo da Vinci, who was impressed by the young Baccio's drawings.
A sculptor with a deft pencil
As he had always wanted, Bandinelli turned to sculpture and began studying with Giovanni Francesco Rustici, a friend of Leonardo's. His career quickly burgeoned, and when Michelangelo left for Rome in 1537, he became the leading sculptor in Florence. In fact, his Hercules and Cacus still holds its own with David in the Piazza della Signoria. Despite his many criticisms, Vasari devoted a whole chapter to him in Book VIII, and conceded him some praise, describing him as a "great draughtsman": a quality clear to see in the large collection of drawings now in the Musée du Louvre, and this work soon being sold in Le Havre. Coming from the former collection of one of the great Florentine families, the Martelli (the inscription in red at the top of the drawing is the inventory number), it was unknown to everyone until now. It must have had a decidedly eventful history to end up in the album of a Normandy family. Passed down through several generations, this was really an album amicorum, containing several engravings and drawings from different periods. But Bandinelli's drawing stood out particularly from the other works, largely from the 19th century and of lesser quality. This was perhaps why it was lucky enough to escape being scribbled on by the many children in the family, who used this collection as a fabulous creative starting point!
A project for the Genoese Republic
This drawing belonged to a project for a colossal sculpture in honour of the Genoese condottiere and admiral Andrea Doria (1466-1560), represented as Neptune, god of the sea. Bandinelli received this commission from the Genoese Republic in 1528. At that point he had been in exile for a year after the expulsion of his protectors, the Medici, by the new and short-lived Florentine Republic, which had arisen through the war against Charles V. Until now, there were two extant drawings connected with this project: one, in the Musée du Louvre, is a sketch for the monument's pedestal; the other, in the British Museum, shows the admiral nude in the guise of Neptune. The drawing here shows the prince in his battle armour, a trident in his left hand, trampling a sea monster while a prisoner kneels at his feet, though his position is similar to the British work. In the end the glorious monument never came to anything – though, again according to Vasari, Bandinelli certainly pocketed the five hundred florins paid in advance and began working on an imposing block of Carrara marble. But, absorbed by other commissions, the sculptor fell behind in the work, while complaining about the prince's impatience and incurring the anger of Doria, who threatened to "send him to the galleys" if his statue failed to live up to his expectations. In the end, Bandinelli "prudently abandoned the work as it was and returned to Florence". A leopard can't change its spots...