Colnaghi Foundation Journal 02 - Page 67

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
This article is based on a paper given at the
“Renaissance Encounters” symposium at St John’s
College, University of Cambridge on 28 June 2013,
held in honour of Professor Deborah Howard.
Sincere thanks go to the staff of the Archivio di Stato
di Venezia (hereafter ASV), the Archivio storico del
Patriarcato di Venezia (hereafter ASPV) and the
Biblioteca del Museo Correr, Venice. I am most
grateful to Victoria Avery for kindly reading earlier
drafts of this article, and for her excellent photography.
The findings presented here form part of my doctoral
thesis “The Business of Sculpture in Venice, 1525–
1625” (University of Cambridge, 2016), the research
for which was generously funded by the Arts and
Humanities Research Council of Great Britain; the
Kettle’s Yard History of Art Travel Fund, University
of Cambridge; and the Gladys Krieble Delmas
Foundation, New York. This article is dedicated to
Deborah Howard with love, gratitude and admiration.
Much has been written on Vittoria’s life and work.
The most thorough examinations remain Manfred
Leithe-Jasper, “Alessandro Vittoria: Beiträge zu einer
Analyse des Stils seiner figürlichen Plastiken unter
Berücksichtigung der Beziehungen zur Gleichzeitigen
Malerei in Venedig” (PhD diss., University of Vienna,
1963); Victoria Avery, “The Early Works of Alessandro
Vittoria” (PhD diss., 3 vols., University of Cambridge,
1996); Lorenzo Finocchi Ghersi, Alessandro Vittoria:
Architettura, scultura e decorazione nella Venezia del tardo
Rinascimento (Udine: Forum, 1998); Thomas Martin,
Alessandro Vittoria and the Portrait Bust in Renaissance Venice
(Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1998); and Andrea Bacchi,
Lia Camerlengo and Manfred Leithe-Jasper, eds., “La
bellissima maniera”: Alessandro Vittoria e la scultura veneta del
Cinquecento, exh. cat. (Trent: Castello del Buonconsiglio,
The Baptist has been completely covered up and
hidden from view for some years now, following an act
of vandalism and so it was not possible to undertake
new photography for the present article. For further
discussion of its current state, see below, and note 67.
See appendix II (online), doc. 9. For a full transcription
of the will, see Victoria Avery, “Documenti sulla vita
e le opere di Alessandro Vittoria (c. 1525-1608),”
Studi Trentini di Scienze Storiche, Sezione Prima, 78/1,
Supplemento (1999): pp. 344-346, doc. 147. All
translations are my own.
For a record of the statuette’s transfer to San Zaccaria,
see appendix II (online), doc. 11. Published in full
Avery, “Documenti,” pp. 355-361, doc. 158.
See most recently Emma Jones, “The Business of
Sculpture in Venice, 1525–1615” (PhD diss., 3 vols.,
University of Cambridge, 2016), I, pp. 158-159; and
III, pp. 33-40, no. 3, with full bibliography.
Vittoria recorded his arrival date in Venice from
Trent in his personal records, for which see ASV: San
Zaccaria, busta 18, Commissaria Vittoria I, fol. 107v;
published Avery, “Documenti,” p. 183, doc. 1.
For the singing gallery payment, see Bruce Boucher,
The Sculpture of Jacopo Sansovino, 2 vols. (New Haven and
London: Yale University Press, 1991), I, p. 194, doc.
90; for the Sacristy Door wax models, p. 201, doc. 112.
Avery, “Documenti,” p. 183, doc. 4.
Avery, “Documenti,” p. 184, doc. 5(i). See also
appendix II (online), doc. 1.
Appendix II (online), doc. 1.Two Venetian feet equates
to ca. 69 cm. The actual height of the Saint John is 65
Salvador quondam Vettor tagliapietra has been traced
at various intervals in the archival record, including
his employment by Sansovino on the Fabbriche Nuove
at Rialto in 1556, on the Podocataro Tomb in San
Sebastiano in 1557, and his appointment by Sansovino
as one of his executors in his 1568 will. See Boucher,
Jacopo Sansovino, I, p. 125.
San Geremia as it was at the time of Priuli’s
commission no longer exists: it was later completely
rebuilt from the mid-eighteenth century and was only
completed in 1871. For a brief description of the
church as it was in the sixteenth century, see Francesco
Sansovino, Venetia città nobilissima et singolare (Venice:
Giacomo Sansovino, 1581), p. 53v. For an overview of
its history, see Umberto Franzoi and Dina di Stefano,
Le chiese di Venezia (Venice: Alfieri, 1975), pp. 104-106.
Lay procurators were essential to the successful
running of parish and monastic churches in Venice.
Elected by the chapter, they assisted, for example, in
the maintenance of the fabric and the management
of any investments and church-owned properties.
For lay procurators as patrons of art in Venice, see
Allison Sherman, “‘Soli Deo honor et gloria?’ Cittadino
Lay Procurator Patronage and the Art of Identity
Formation in Renaissance Venice,” in Art, Architecture
and Identity in Venice and its Territories, 1450–1750, eds.
Nebahat Avcioglu and Emma Jones (Farnham and
Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2013).
For further discussion of this branch of the Priuli
family and their nearby palace, see Valeria Farinati,
“Architettura e committenza nel primo Settecento
veneziano: l’intervento di Andrea Tirali in palazzo
Priuli Manfrin a Cannaregio (1724–1731),” Annali di
architettura 3 (1991).
For Priuli’s death record, see ASV: Provveditori alla
Sanità, busta 795, “Necrologio” 1550–1552, n.p.,
under date.
See appendix II (online), doc. 2. Partially-cited Finocchi
Ghersi, Alessandro Vittoria, p. 38. First published in full in
Avery “Documenti,” p. 184, doc. 5(iii).
Appendix I, doc. 1.
Appendix I, doc. 1, from “Et perche” to “rissolutione
Appendix I, doc. 2.
The Sopragastaldo was a magistracy charged with
implementing civil sentences. For further discussion,
see Andrea Da Mosto, L’Archivio di Stato di Venezia:
Indice generale, storico, descrittivo ed analitico, 2 vols. (Rome:
Biblioteca d’Arte Editrice, 1937), I, p. 102.
For the Giustizia Vecchia, see below.
22. Appendix I, doc. 3, from “La pocco cortese scrittura”
to “quanto si mostrera esserli costato.”
23. Avery “Documenti,” p. 184, doc. 5(iii). See also
appendix II (online), doc. 2.
24. Appendix II (online), doc. 2, from “Pretendendo il
Reverendo Capitolo” to “di sua mano.”
25. Appendix II (online), doc. 2, from “Et all’incontro” to
“Anzolo Maria di Priuli.”
26. Appendix II (online), doc. 2, from “essendo sopra di
cio” to “quietation perpetua.”
27. Avery “Documenti,” p. 184, doc. 5(ii). See also
appendix II (online), doc. 3.
28. For the Trevisan visitation records, see ASPV: Archivio
Segreto, Visite Pastorali, 1560-1590, “Trevisan.”
29. Very few Cinquecento records survive for San
Geremia, and of those that do, none is relevant to this
commission. See ASPV: Parrocchia di Santi Geremia e
Lucia di Venezia.
30. For the supply of marble and stone to sculptors by
patrons, including the practice of recycling pieces for
use in other projects, see Emma Jones, “The Sculptural
Stones of Venice: the Selection, Supply and Cost of
Marble and Stone in Sixteenth-Century Venice,” in
Making and Moving Sculpture in Early Modern Italy, ed.
Kelley Helmstutler Di Dio (Farnham and Burlington,
VT: Ashgate, 2015), pp. 117-119; and Jones,
“Business,” vol. 1, pp. 90-93.
31. Jones, “Sculptural Stones,” pp. 119-120; and Jones,
“Business,” I, pp. 94-95.
32. Given that Salvador tagliapietra witnessed the contract
between Priuli and Vittoria, might he have sold the
marble to the patron, if Priuli did not already have a
piece to hand? Until further links between Salvador
and Priuli can be established beyond the 1550 payment
document (appendix II (online), doc. 1), this must
remain a mere suggestion. For the rebuilding of the
family’s palace in the Cinquecento, see Farinati,
“Architettura,” pp. 119-120.
33. For litigation and legal redress in sculpture commissions
in sixteenth- and early seventeenth-century Venice, see
Jones, “Business,” I, pp. 151-160.
34. See Susan Connell, The Employment of Sculptors and
Stonemasons in Venice in the Fifteenth Century (New York
and London: Garland, 1988), pp. 208-221, for the
processes and use of arbitration in the sphere of
fifteenth-century sculptors and stonemasons; and
Jones, “Business,” I, pp. 156-157 for the same in the
sixteenth century.
35. See Jones, “Business,” I, p. 157.
36. Appendix I, doc. 3.
37. That the Giustizia Vecchia knew about the dispute is
confirmed by the church chapter’s declaration that
Vittoria had already complained to the magistracy in
their “protestatio” of 10 April 1565. See appendix I,
doc. 2.
38. Avery “Documenti,” p. 184, doc. 5(iii). See also
appendix II (online), doc. 2, “et essendo sopra di cio
esse parti in controversia alla Giustitia Vecchia.”
39. See James Shaw, The Justice of Venice: Authorities and
Liberties in the Urban Economy, 1550–1700 (Oxford:
Oxford University Press, 2006), pp. 22-44.
Shaw, Justice, pp. 18-19.
Shaw, Justice, p. 14.
Regrettably, few of the Giustizia Vecchia’s sixteenthcentury records have survived, and it has not proved
possible to find the magistracy’s own documents
regarding this case.
Avery “Documenti,” p. 184, doc. 5(iii). See also
appendix II (online), doc. 2, “per fugger le lite et spese.”
For Vittoria’s extensive, surviving personal records,
see ASV: San Zaccaria, busta 18, Commissaria
Vittoria I and II; and San Zaccaria, busta 19,
Commissaria Vittoria. First published by Riccardo
Predelli, “Le memorie e le carte di Alessandro
Vittoria,” Archivio Trentino 23 (1908). For the documents
collated differently (in date order and then grouped
by commission or personal matter), see Avery,
For the Feminoni, see Leithe-Jasper, “Alessandro
Vittoria,” pp. 64-66; Avery, “Early Works,” I, pp.
110-114; II, pp. 420-421, no. 25; and Finocchi Ghersi,
Alessandro Vittoria, pp. 95-96. For the Grimani chapel,
see Leithe-Jasper, “Alessandro Vittoria,” p. 123; Avery,
“Early Works,” I, pp. 147-152; II, pp. 454-456, no. 51;
Finocchi Ghersi, Alessandro Vittoria, pp. 142-153; and
Martin, Alessandro Vittoria, pp. 52-3, 109-110, no. 10. For
the Montefeltro Altar, see Leithe-Jasper, “Alessandro
Vittoria,” pp. 112-18; Avery, “Early Works,” I, pp. 152158; II, pp. 458-60, no. 53; Finocchi Ghersi, Alessandro
Vittoria, pp. 133-141; and Bacchi, Camerlengo, and
Leithe-Jasper, “Bellissima maniera,” pp. 314-318, no. 66,
entry by Sandro Sponza.
From 1553 to 1569, Vittoria lived and worked in a
rented space in Ca’ Gritti, in Calle della Pietà, in the
sestiere of Castello. See Victoria Avery, “The House
of Alessandro Vittoria Reconstructed,” The Sculpture
Journal 5 (2001): pp. 9, 22, n. 8. He would go on to
purchase a large property with garden in the same
street in spring 1569, which he repurposed into a
large home-cum-workshop. For his employment
of apprentices and assistants, see Victoria Avery,
“La bottega di Alessandro Vittoria,” in Bacchi,
Camerlengo, and Leithe-Jasper, “La bellissima maniera”,
pp. 127-139; and Jones, “Business,” I, pp. 134-135,
For Vittoria’s record of purchasing the Parmigianino
(now Vienna, Kunsthistorisches Museum, inv. 286), see
Avery, “Documenti,” p. 219, doc. 44 (14 January 1561),
and for the purported Michelangelo (whereabouts
unknown), see p. 222, doc. 51 (20 April 1563). For his
art collection in general, see Victoria Avery, “Alessandro
Vittoria Collezionista,” in Bacchi, Camerlengo and
Leithe-Jasper “La bellissima maniera”, pp. 141-157; and
Avery, “House,” as above.
Leithe-Jasper, “Alessandro Vittoria,” p. 11.
Victoria Avery, “Alessandro Vittoria: the Michelangelo
of Venice?” in Reactions to the Master: Michelangelo’s
Effect on Art and Artists in the Sixteenth Century, eds.
Francis Ames-Lewis and Paul Joannides (Aldershot
and Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2003), p. 167. In his
life of Michelangelo, Vasari recorded that the Battle
relief remained in the late sculptor’s house, while the
Madonna was highly cherished by his nephew Leonardo,
who later gifted it to Cosimo de’ Medici: Giorgio
Vasari, Delle vite de’ piu eccellente pittori, scultori er architettori
(Florence: Giunti, 1568), p. 719.
See appendix II (online), docs. 4-10. For further
discussion of Vittoria’s wills and the Saint John, see
Avery, “Early Works,” II, pp. 392-394, no. 2. See also
Finocchi Ghersi, Alessandro Vittoria, pp. 39-40.
See appendix II (online), doc. 4, from “et il resto del
tempo” to end. Published in full Avery, “Documenti,”
pp. 231-232, doc. 60.
See appendix II (online), docs. 5 and 6 respectively.
Published in full Avery, “Documenti,” pp. 241-243,
doc. 77, and pp. 280-281, doc. 96 respectively.
See appendix II (online), doc. 7. Published in full Avery,
“Documenti,” pp. 311-312, doc. 121.
Alternatively, the commission could have been awarded
to Vittoria because of an already existing friendship
with Agazi, to whom Gatto also appears to have been
close. For this commission, of which only certain
elements survive, see Emma Jones, “Priestly patronage
in Late Renaissance Venice: Antonio Gatto’s cappella
maggiore in San Polo,” in Carvings, Casts and Collectors: The
Art of Renaissance Sculpture, eds. Peta Motture, Emma
Jones, Dimitrios Zikos (London: V&A Publications,
2013); and Jones, “Business,” I, passim; and III, pp.
66-80, no. 7.
The bust was last recorded in July 1830 and its current
location is unknown. See Jones, “Priestly patronage,”
pp. 225 and 234, n. 59; and Jones, “Business,” III, p.
80, no. 7, doc. 7.8.
That Agazi did fulfil his executorial duties and ensure
the project’s completion is confirmed by a statement to
this effect included in a now lost inscription on Gatto’s
funerary monument, which was recorded in 1830 by
Emmanuele Cicogna. See Jones, “Business,” III, pp.
66-67, no. 7.
For a full transcription of this will, see Avery,
“Documenti,” pp. 339-341, doc. 141.
Although the formal concession between San Zaccaria
and Vittoria was not drawn up until 3 August 1602, the
eighth will records that the rights had been discussed
and voted on by the convent chapter in Vittoria’s
favour on 5 November 1601. For a full transcription
of the will, see Avery, “Documenti,” pp. 344-346,
doc. 147, and for the notarized concession, pp. 346347, doc. 148(i). For the concession of spaces to third
parties in Venetian ecclesiastical buildings generally, see
Jones, “Business,” I, pp. 43-48. For Vittoria’s funerary
monument, see Avery, “Early Works,” II, pp. 565-569,
no. 110; Finocchi Ghersi, Alessandro Vittoria, pp. 182188; and Avery, “Alessandro Vittoria,” pp. 170-177.
See Avery, “Documenti,” p. 352, doc. 155.
See appendix II (online), docs. 4 (second will), 5 (third
will), 6 (fourth will), 8 (sixth will), and 9 (eighth will).
61. “Item lasso d’essere sepellito a frati minori a pie della
capella della natione fiorentina acanto la porta di detta
chiesia dove el Santo Giovanni di mia propria mano
sulla pila de’ Giustiniani.” See Boucher, Jacopo Sansovino,
I, p. 234, doc. 256, discussed p. 156. Sansovino was,
in fact, eventually buried in San Geminiano, the
now-destroyed church that once faced the basilica in
Piazza San Marco. In June 1570, only five months
before his death, he and his son, Francesco, were
awarded the rights to the Chapel of the Crucifix. See
Boucher, Jacopo Sansovino, I, pp. 232-233, doc. 254.
For Vittoria’s emulation of Sansovino with regard to
their respective Baptist figures and burial wishes, see, for
example, Avery, “Early Works,” II, pp. 392-393, no. 2;
and Finocchi Ghersi, Alessandro Vittoria, p. 43.
62. For Sansovino’s Saint John, see Boucher, Jacopo Sansovino,
I, pp. 47-49, 125-126; II, pp. 323-324, no. 13.
63. See appendix II (online), doc. 11. Published in full
Avery, “Documenti,” pp. 355-361, doc. 158. The
terracotta Saint Zacharias is now lost and was later
replaced by a marble copy on the pendant holy-water
stoup. For further discussion, see Finocchi Ghersi,
Alessandro Vittoria, pp. 44-46.
64. See appendix II (online), doc. 10. Published in full
Avery, “Documenti,” pp. 352-354, doc. 155.
65. While my examination of the surviving archival records
for San Zaccaria in both the ASV and ASPV has thus
far come to nought, Finocchi Ghersi, Alessandro Vittoria,
p. 46, suggested that the placement of the statuettes
on the altar is unlikely ever to have happened, as the
disparity in their respective materials would have been
aesthetically displeasing.
66. Giannantonio Moschini, Guida per la città di Venezia
all’amico delle belle arti opera di Giannantonio Moschini, 2 vols.
(Venice: Alvisopoli, 1815), I, p. 104. The first mention
of the Zacharias in San Zaccaria occurs on 10 July 1821,
when it was noted during a Pastoral Visitation under
the aegis of Patriarch Ladislao Pirker: see Finocchi
Ghersi, Alessandro Vittoria, p. 46, n. 45.
67. Prior to the damage, the right upper arm had been
cracked and reattached at an unknown date. The left
hand, left leg, and parts of the drapery were damaged.
The inscription was worn and certain parts almost
illegible. The marble was suffering from problems
caused by moisture absorption, unsurprising given its
long-term placement on a holy-water stoup.


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