GIOVANNI ANGELO MONTORSOLI
Triton riding a Seahorse
marble bas-relief, diameter 70 cm
This bizarre tondo, attributable to the fantastical and visionary world of a rather mature mannerism, depicts a sinewy Triton, “herald of the sea”, while he strongly blows in a spiral-shaped seashell. The demigod rides a Seahorse, a hybrid sea creature with monstrous features but, at the same time, depicted as a docile and devoted animal.
Giancarlo Gentilini attributed the sculpture to Giovanni Angelo Montorsoli, a talented sculptor who collaborated with Michelangelo on the construction of the Sagrestia Nuova, in San Lorenzo, and thence exported the great maestro’s style to the city of Genoa (1539-1547) and Messina (1547-1557). In the Sicilian city, the artist, also know for the restoration of the Hellenistic sculpture group the Laocoon with the completion of its missing arm (1532), created some of his most renowned works, Orion’s Fountain and the following Neptune’s Fountain, the latter of which was made before the works with the same theme by Giambologna and Ammannati, in Bologna and in Florence.
Montorsoli’s figurative universe – the scholar remarks – is often populated, as in our tondo, by “mythological, fantastical and monstrous creatures, with excessive poses, furrowed faces and wide-open jaws, powerful and athletic bodies, wrapped in serpentine spirals”. Gentilini recalls, for example, the monstrous figures of Scylla and Charybdis of the monument in Messina dedicated to the god of the sea and the fauns found in the relief depicting Arcadia, in Jacopo Sannazzaro’s tomb in Santa Maria del Parto, in Naples, as well as a tile in Orion’s Fountain in Messina, made between 1547 and 1551. This tile in particular “shows an identical compositional manner, consisting of a twisted body from which muscular spirals with fin-shaped endings unfold, lifted upwards as to frame the image”, making it a believable argument for dating this work around the half of the century.