Bronzes that never were?

By Alexis Culotta

Bronzes that never were? 10 November 1510 marks the date that Sienese banker Agostino Chigi made his initial deposit of 25 ducats to Cesarino Rossetti, a popular Perugian goldsmith to create two substantial bronze tondi (each measuring 4 Roman palmi in diameter) after designs by Raphael. This important document is one of the earliest instances connecting Raphael to Chigi’s growing network of artistic patronage as well as the first of many projects that Chigi would assign to Raphael over the course of the subsequent decade while developing his visually decadent Villa Farnesina

Unfortunately, there is no further documentation on the progress of either the drawings or the bronzes (save for a brief mention in a Chigi inventory of 1525 that mentions two nondescript “medagliole di bronzo”), so speculation persists as to whether Raphael indeed completed the intended designs and also if they were eventually cast in bronze. John Shearman, in his landmark compendium Raphael in Early Modern Sources (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2003), summarizes the long history of the interpretation of the November 10 contract and concludes by linking three bronze tondi now in Milan’s Abbey at Chiaravalle. These tondi, depicting Christ in Limbo, Doubting Thomas, and Christ Appearing to the Apostles respectively, bear a near exact match to the initially proposed tondo dimensions and also share compositional elements with documented sketches by Raphael.


Raphael, Self-Portrait, c. 1506. Oil on canvas. Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence. 

Raphael, Doubting Thomas. Pen and ink on paper. The Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge. 

(Left) Possibly Lorenzetto (after Raphael), Christ in Limbo, c. 1512-1513. Bronze. As illustrated in Roger Jones and Nicholas Penny, Raphael (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1983), fig. 116. 

(Right) Raphael, Study for Christ for The Descent into Limbo. Pen and ink over indications with the stylus. Musée des Beaux Arts, Lille (439). As illustrated in Jones and Penny (fig. 117) and Paul Joannides, The Drawings of Raphael (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1983), no. 314. 

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