834 A PAIR OF PAINTED STUCCO GROTESQUE PEDESTALS POSSIBLY FROM THE VILLA DI VIGNAMAGGIO Probably Tuscan. 17th Century. Measurements: Height: 56 1/2” (144cm); Width: 19” (48cm); Depth: 13” (33cm) Including stand: Width: 21 1/2″ (54.5cm); Depth: 16″ (42.5cm); Height: 66 1/2″ (169cm)
Of painted stucco. Each bowfronted top with moulded edge, the massive scrolled supports with gaping grotesque masks with tongue and dart headdresses and plaited beards flanked by festoons of fruit above tapering guilloches and an acanthus leaf on an integral stepped concave-sided plinth.
The present pedestals are composed of massive scrolled supports with gaping grotesque masks, a device that falls in line with the work of Baroque sculptors Gianlorenzo Bernini and Alessandro Algardi, who also used grimacing faces as decorative devices in their own drawings and sculpture. They are executed in stucco, a malleable material “obedient to the pressure of the hurrying hand, [which] lent itself admirably to the inventive caprice of the artist and to the leafy richness of the decorative style” and whose “volutes, scrolls, leaves, cartouches, and figures both grotesque and naturalistic were lavished”1 in both indoor and outdoor decorative schemes.
A related early 17th century pedestal is illustrated in Odom’s History of Italian Furniture, Volume II (figure 1)2. The downward tapering shaft of this wooden example, like the present pedestals, is of a form that was introduced in the early 16th century. The decoration derives from the Renaissance, though the grotesque head “gives the whole a later character.”3 The grotesque form of decoration first became popular during the Renaissance, and in the following centuries the eccentric interpretations of human and mythical forms were used to adorn villas and loggie of a similarly impressive nature.
The present pair is nearly identical to stucco versions formerly in the Villa di Vignamaggio, a Tuscan villa dating to the 14th century, owned by the Gherardini family. It has been rumored that the grounds of the villa inspired the landscape for Leonardo da Vinci’s La Gioconda (the Mona Lisa), and that Anton Maria Gherardini’s daughter, Mona Lisa, served as the model. It is possible that the present pair and the Vignamaggio examples were part of a series made for the villa as quasi-architectural elements to support a series of busts.
The Vignamaggio pedestals are illustrated in Giovanni Pratesi’s book, Scultura Fiorentina, supporting sculptures of Jupiter and Juno by Italian artist Giuseppe Piamontini (figure 2). Piamontini, who was influenced by Bernini and Algardi, was actively commissioned in the late 17th and early 18th centuries by the Grand Ducal family, especially Prince Ferdinand.
1. Odom, William M. A History of Italian Furniture from the Fourteenth to the Early Nineteenth Centuries. Garden City: Doubleday, Page & Company; 1918. 36.
2. Ibid. 14.
3. Ibid. 68.