Boy with Thorn

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Boy with Thorn, also called Fedele (Fedelino) or Spinario, is a Greco-Roman Hellenistic bronze sculpture of a boy withdrawing a thorn from the sole of his foot, now in the Palazzo dei Conservatori, Rome. There is a Roman marble version of this subject from the Medici collections in a corridor of the Uffizi Gallery, Florence.[1]

Dornauszieher ("thorn puller") by Gustav Eberlein between 1879 and 1885. Alte Nationalgalerie, Berlin.

The sculpture was one of the very few Roman bronzes that was never lost to sight.[clarification needed] The work was standing outside the Lateran Palace when the Navarrese rabbi Benjamin of Tudela saw it in the 1160s and identified it as Absalom, who "was without blemish from the sole of his foot to the crown of his head."[2] It was noted around 1200 by the English visitor, Magister Gregorius, who noted in his De mirabilibus urbis Romae that it was ridiculously thought to be Priapus.[3] It must have been one of the sculptures transferred to the Palazzo dei Conservatori by Pope Sixtus IV in the 1470s, though it is not recorded there until 1499–1500.[4]

In the Early Renaissance, it was celebrated through being one of the first Roman sculptures to be copied. There are bronze reductions by Severo da Ravenna and Jacopo Buonaccolsi (called "L'Antico" for his refined, classicizing figures). Buonaccolsi made a copy for Isabella d'Este around 1501 that is now in the Galleria Estense, Modena.[5] He followed that work with an untraced pendant that perhaps reversed the pose. In 1500, Antonello Gagini made a full-size variant for a fountain in Messina, which is probably the bronze version that now resides in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

Roman marble c.25–50 AD, copy of lost 3rd century BC Hellenistic original of the type, from the Castellani collection, Rome. Said to have been found on the Esquiline. The base of the statue is worked as a rock, with a hole for a fountain pipe. (British Museum)[6]

In the sixteenth century, bronze copies made suitably magnificent ambassadorial gifts to the King of France and the King of Spain. Francis I of France was given a version by Ippolito II d'Este. The making of this copy was overseen by Giovanni Fancelli and Jacopo Sansovino, and the transaction effected by the courtly Benvenuto Cellini. It now is held in the Musée du Louvre. Philip II of Spain received a copy from Cardinal Giovanni Ricci. In the following century, Charles I of England had a bronze Spinario made by Hubert Le Sueur.[7]

Small bronze reductions were suitable for the less grand. A Still Life with 'Spinario' by Pieter Claesz, 1628, is conserved at the Rijksmuseum, and among the riches emblematic of the good life, it displays a small plaster model of the Spinario.[8] Later remakes, one such example can be seen in The Oliver Mansion, South Bend Indiana.

There were also marble copies. The Medici Roman marble seems to have been among the collection of antiquities assembled in the gardens at San Marco, Florence, which were the resort[clarification needed] of the humanists in the circle of Lorenzo il Magnifico, who opened his collection to young artists to study from. The young Michelangelo profited from this early exposure to antique sculpture.[clarification needed] and it has been discussed whether Masaccio was influenced by the Medici Spinario or by the bronze he saw in Rome in the 1420s.[9] However, Filippo Brunelleschi more certainly adapted the Spinario's pose for the left-hand attendant in 1401 for his bronze panel The Sacrifice of Isaac, which was his trial piece for the competition to design the doors of the Baptistery of San Giovanni.[clarification needed] [10]

The formerly popular title Il Fedele ("The faithful boy") derived from an anecdote invented to give this intimate and naturalistic study a more heroic civic setting: the faithful messenger, a mere shepherd boy, had delivered his message to the Roman Senate first, only then stopping to remove a painful thorn from his foot: the Roman Senate commemorated the event. Such a story was already deflated in Paolo Alessandro Maffei's Raccolta di statue antiche e moderni... of 1704.[11]

Taking into account Hellenistic marble variants that have been discovered, of which the best is the Thorn-Puller from the Castellani collection now in the British Museum,[12] none of which have the archaizing qualities of the bronze Spinario, recent scholarship has tended to credit this as a Roman bronze of the first century AD, with a head adapted from an archaic prototype.[13]


  1. ^ Phyllis P. Bober and R. Rubinstein, Renaissance Artists and Antique Sculpture: A Handbook of Sources, (London and Oxford) 1986, p. 235, no. 203.
  2. ^ Paul Borchardt, "The sculpture in front of the Lateran as described by Bejamin of Tudela and Magister Gregorius", Journal of Roman Studies, 26 (1936), pp. 68–70, noted in Haskell and Penny 1981:308 note 20.
  3. ^ Quoted by Roberto Weiss, The Renaissance Discovery of Classical Antiquity, 1969:7f.
  4. ^ Haskell and Penny 1981: 308.
  5. ^ Paolucci, A. I Gonzaga e l’Antico percorso di Palazzo Ducale a Mantova (Rome, 1988), p. 40, fig. 27.
  6. ^ British Museum Compass site: GR 1880.8-7.1 (Sculpture 1755)
  7. ^ Haskell and Penny 1981: 308
  8. ^ Rijksmuseum website illustration Archived 2008-02-15 at the Wayback Machine; it is also illustrated in Gardner's Art Through the Ages, II, ch. 24 fig. 55.
  9. ^ Richard Cocke, "Masaccio and the Spinario, Piero and the Pothos: Observations on the Reception of the Antique in Renaissance Painting", Zeitschrift für Kunstgeschichte, 43.1 (1980), pp. 21–32.
  10. ^ In the end Lorenzo Ghiberti's panels were chosen for the doors.
  11. ^ Haskell and Penny 1981: 308, note 22.
  12. ^ British Museum: Collection Highlights
  13. ^ Helbig, noted by Haskell and Penny 1981: 308, note 33.


  • Francis Haskell and Nicholas Penny, 1981. Taste and the Antique: The Lure of Classical Sculpture, 1500-1900. (Yale University Press) Catalogue number 78, pp 308–10.
  • Wolfgang Helbig, Führer durch die öffentlichen Sammlungen klassischer Altertümer in Rom 4th ed., Tübingen 1963–72, vol II, pp 266–68.

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