Colnaghi Foundation Journal 02 - Page 55

Love, lies, and litigation: the saga of Alessandro Vittoria’s Saint John the Baptist
Love, lies, and litigation: the saga of Alessandro Vittoria’s Saint John the Baptist
sixty-six, and for fifteen years the documentary record
for the statuette falls silent.15 While it has been known
for some time from Lorenzo Finocchi Ghersi’s research
that litigation had arisen between San Geremia and
Vittoria at some point before mid-May 1565, the
events leading up to Vittoria gaining custody of the
statuette were unknown.16 Thanks to the present
author’s discovery of three documents dating to April
1565 in the Venetian state archives, new light can now
be shed on the saga.
been commissioned by the late Angelo Maria Priuli,
when he had been a procurator of San Geremia,
especially since Priuli had paid Vittoria the agreed
fee of ten ducats, citing as proof an entry in the
nobleman’s account books. The chapter proceeded to
inform Vittoria that this evidence would be presented
to the Giustizia Vecchia, to which, they declared,
Vittoria had falsely complained.21 Therefore, they
continued, should Vittoria persist in claiming that he
had only ever received two ducats, he was doing so in
vain, and he was absolutely forbidden from giving the
statuette to anyone else, since it legally belonged to
their church.
It transpires that, on or shortly before 3 April 1565,
Vittoria responded to a (as yet untraced) complaint
levelled against him by the parish priest of San
Geremia and one of its lay procurators, Girolamo
da Pozzo.17 In his autograph statement, Vittoria first
outlined the circumstances of the commission. These
details are virtually identical to those recorded in his
aforementioned account book, with the important
addition that Priuli had provided the marble for the
statuette. Vittoria stated that he had carved the Baptist,
in accordance with the contract, but that after the
death of the patron, the statuette had remained in his
possession without him having been paid the balance
of the final eight ducats. He then issued the church
with an ultimatum:
Fig. 3 / Giovanni Battista
Moroni, Portrait of
Alessandro Vittoria, ca.
1552-1553, oil on canvas,
87.5 x 70 cm, Vienna,
Kunsthistorisches Museum,
Fig. 4 / Jacopo Sansovino
and assistants, Sacristy Door,
1546-1569, bronze, Venice,
San Marco.
Fig. 5 / Alessandro Vittoria(?),
River God, ca. 1550, Istrian
stone, right spandrel of
the bay third from the
Campanile, Venice, Marciana
Library, Piazzetta.
The agreed price for the statuette was ten ducats upon
its satisfactory completion. The down payment of two
ducats had been witnessed by one Salvador tagliapietra,
presumably the stonemason of the same name who also
worked regularly for Sansovino.11
The patron, Angelo Maria Priuli (1504-1551), was a
lay procurator of San Geremia, a parish church in the
district or sestiere of Cannaregio (figs. 6 & 7).12 It is not
clear whether the Baptist was personally-financed by
Priuli, perhaps to commemorate his time in office, or
whether it was commissioned by him on behalf of the
church chapter.13 San Geremia was the parish church
of Priuli, who lived with his family in a nearby palace
on the Cannaregio canal, and so it is hardly surprising
that he should have been involved in its administration
and the upkeep and decoration of its fabric.14 Less
than a year later, on 4 February 1551, Priuli died aged
And because it’s not right for me to hang
on to the said figure permanently so that
no-one gets to look at it: I am therefore
making it known to you, Magnificent
Mr Girolamo da Pozzo, Procurator of
the aforesaid church and also to you,
Reverend Parish Priest, that should you
want the aforesaid figure, you should
come and collect it, paying me the sum
that such a work of art deserves within
ten days. Otherwise, should the said
deadline expire, I declare that I mean
to keep the above-mentioned money for
myself as is right and proper, and that I
will dispose of the said figure as I see fit
as my own property, in the event that,
by the said deadline, you have not made
any resolution.18
A note appended by the notary in Latin recorded
that, on 3 April 1565, copies of Vittoria’s response
had been delivered to both the parish priest of San
Geremia and to the lay procurator, Girolamo da
Four days later, on 14 April, Vittoria responded in an
equally indignant and forthright fashion:
The parish priest and his clerical colleagues responded
quickly to Vittoria’s complaint.19 On 10 April, one
Paolo Fontana, an officer of the Sopragastaldo
delivered their written response.20 The notary
recorded that Fontana went to Vittoria’s house and,
finding the sculptor not at home, spoke first to an
unnamed apprentice and then to the sculptor’s wife.
She read the church’s reply and kept it in order
to hand it over to Vittoria on his return. In this
document, the chapter of San Geremia responded
vehemently to Vittoria’s “false and deceitful”
complaint, declaring that he had no right to give the
marble Saint John to anyone, considering that it had


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