Pier Jacopo Alari Bonacolsi

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Pier Jacopo Alari Bonacolsi (c. 1460–1528), called "L'Antico" by his contemporaries for the refined interpretation of the Antique they recognized in his work, was a 16th-century North Italian sculptor, known for his finely detailed small bronzes all'Antica—coolly classicizing, often with gilded details, and silver-inlaid eyes, a refinement that is found in some classical and Hellenistic Greek bronzes.

There is very little documentation of Bonacolsi, in spite of the aristocratic name he bore, that of the signori of Mantua who preceded the Gonzaga until 1328. Born probably in Gazzuolo, near Mantua, he may have been trained as a goldsmith, like his only rival in Mantua, Andrea Riccio. He found patronage among the Gonzaga, at first in the court that gathered at Gazzuolo around the natural son and favorite of the marquis of Mantua, Ludovico Gonzaga, Gianfrancesco, and his wife Antonia del Balzo, whose wedding in 1479 was commemorated in a pair of medallions by Bonacolsi. Gianfrancesco had recently come into possession of the fief, and a refined court gathered round the young couple, of personalities both intellectual and artistic: Ludovico Ariosto, Bernardo Tasso, Matteo Bandello, Baldassare Castiglione and l'Antico. At Gazzuolo the parish church became the burial place of the Gonzaga: there Pico della Mirandola is also interred.

Bonacolsi found patrons after 1490 above all in the brilliant court at Mantua of Isabella d'Este, who married Francesco II Gonzaga in that year. In Mantua one of Renaissance Italy's finest collections of Roman sculptures and antiquities was to be found. Bonacolsi made many small reductions of Roman sculptures as well as improvising upon the themes and styles of Antiquity. His well-knit cleanly defined torsos recall the art of Andrea Mantegna, the giant artistic personality of contemporary Mantua.

Meleager, part-gilded bronze with silver-inlaid eyes, presaging the elegant and androgynous aesthetic of Mannerism (Victoria and Albert Museum)

His bronzes were remarkable for their extremely fine facture, meticulously cast and finely cleaned and finished. His black patination is characteristic.. He was the first sculptor to realize the value of casting replicas of his bronzes by preserving his refined wax originals. His cool, refined, slightly precious works were designed for close appreciation in the privacy of a courtly studiolo.

Bonacolsi also worked as a restorer. On one of the marble horses of the Dioscuri on the Quirinal in Rome his signature is discreetly inscribed. His trip to Rome, where he was able to study the Apollo Belvedere at firsthand, is his only known venture outside Mantua.

He died at Gazzuolo in 1528.

Venus Caritas, Venus as spiritual love (Walters Art Museum)

Representative works[edit]

Further reading[edit]

  • Manfred Leithe-Jasper, 1986. Renaissance Master Bronzes from the Collection of the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna (London: Scala Publications) General background to Renaissance bronzes.

External links[edit]