You still have time to see the most provocative show of the season, an exhibition that rouses not by being sensational, but rather by deeply questioning and reexamining the past. The Frick Collection is presenting "Andrea Riccio: Renaissance Master of Bronze," exploring this forgotten 16th-century master’s small bronze figures, reliefs, and luxury decorative objects. He’s probably the only major Renaissance artist not to have had a solo exhibition before now. The show is on view Oct. 15, 2008-Jan. 18, 2009.
Born in Trent and moving with his family to Padua in his youth, Riccio (1470-1532) trained in his family’s workshop as a goldsmith. He turned to sculpture in his late 20s, modeling wax for bronzes and terra cotta. Two fragments of once life-size terra cotta figures are among the roughly 30 pieces from public and private collections in this important show.
Riccio’s fame rests on his Paschal Candelabrum in Padua’s Basilica del Santo. The 17 bronze reliefs and 16 statuettes rise nine levels above its marble base. This monumental piece doesn’t leave Padua, but you’ll find Riccio’s crisp modeling of figures and complex iconography well-represented in his smaller creations, like his Shouting Horseman.
Reflecting his love of antiquity, The Shouting Horseman wears Roman-inspired armor, a muscled breastplate decorated with grotesques and a harpy. The figure turns as his horse lifts one foot, ready to charge into battle. It’s a thrilling statuette, both horse and rider bristling with life.
Yet Riccio could use his skills on sexy, pagan subjects with equally affecting results. His Satyr and Satyress, with the pair seated side by side and the female satyr throwing a suggestive thigh over the satyr’s leg while he caresses her face, manages to be affectionate and sensual all at once.
Two pieces, one small and one larger, astonished me. The smaller of the two is the Frick’s own oil lamp and the inspiration for the show. Delicately balanced on four tiny scrolls, the lamp is covered with low-relief carvings of mythological hybrid creatures while vines meander over its surface and into the air. The form is Roman in origin, but the inventive decoration scheme is all Riccio’s own. In fact, every oil lamp on display is amazing.
The larger work is the wall plaque, Saint Martin and the Beggar. The relief is so high that the cut cloak that Saint Martin offers to share with the beggar is suspended in air along with his sword. Talk about drama! You can almost hear the rip of the cloth dying away.
The lead curator, Frick curator and Renaissance expert Denise Allen, with Peta Motture, senior curator of sculpture and project chief curator of the Medieval and Renaissance galleries at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, have also assembled the first Riccio monograph since the 1920s, which begins the job of sorting out which works really are by Riccio, which by his workshop or others.
Like all the most stimulating exhibitions, this one left me craving for more. I wanted to immediately look again at other Renaissance bronzes, and the Frick Collection’s rich holdings of Riccio’s contemporaries, like Antico and Severo da Ravenna, provided plenty of opportunities.
N.F. KARLINS is a New York critic and art historian.