We The Italians | Italian art: The rediscovered apostles

Italian art: The rediscovered apostles

Italian art: The rediscovered apostles

  • WTI Magazine #139 May 22, 2021
  • 82

Lost on the antiques market at the beginning of the 20th century, two magnificent 17th century bronze sculptures, which belonged to the Prince-Bishop of Trento, have returned to the museum collections of the Buonconsiglio Castle in the capital of Trentino Alto Adige.

In order to show the two statues to the public, an exhibition was also prepared, entitled Gli apostoli ritrovati: Capolavori dall’antica residenza dei Principi vescovi (The rediscovered apostles: masterpieces from the ancient residence of the Princes Bishops) and curated by Giuseppe Sava. It was to be open to the public until April 5, 2021 in the hall of the Torrion da Basso at the Buonconsiglio Castle, but with the temporary closure of the museum it will be virtually visible thanks to a review of short videos made by the museum curators and visible on the social channels of the museum

The exhibition, organized by the museum with the help of the Soprintendenza per i Beni Culturali, tells the fascinating story of a lucky find of two magnificent seventeenth-century sculptures in gilded bronze most likely commissioned by the prince-bishop and until 1803 kept in the residence of the prince-bishop at the Castello del Buonconsiglio. It was in 1803 that Count Simone Consolati acquired the two small bronzes and brought them to Fontanasanta, after which, in the 20th century, they were sold and put on the antiques market. They were recently found in the Milanese antiques market by the Buonconsiglio Castle thanks to an inspection by art historian Giuseppe Sava and acquired for the museum collections.

Before that, however, in 1875, on the occasion of an important exhibition held in Trento, eight gilded bronze statuettes from the collection of Villa Consolati were exhibited. This was one of the most significant art collections in the province where some of the most important pieces of art history in Trentino, once kept in the residence of the prince-bishop, had come together after the spoliation of the 19th century. Thanks to the willingness of the family, the superintendent Giuseppe Gerola in the early years of the twentieth century was able to recover a good part of them and allow the relocation at the Buonconsiglio Castle. However, the two small bronzes that are now back at Buonconsiglio were missing.

According to Giuseppe Sava, the author of the two bronzes could be Nicolò Roccatagliata, who worked for Prince-Bishop Madruzzo in the first years of the 17th century. The comparison in the exhibition with some of the artist's works, starting with a beautiful processional cross, almost unpublished, conserved in Trentino and commissioned to the artist by the community of Nago, will enhance in the best way the acquisition of the bronzes to the museum patrimony.

The identification is incontrovertible (they are the apostles Paul and Philip, recognizable at both ends from a historical photo that is in the photographic archives of the museum) and allows us to recover two elements of a prestigious series that until now was considered lost. 

Among the recovered works, there is also a remarkable cabinet made of semi-precious stones, immortalized in a painting of the beginning of the 20th century by Annunziata Consolati, where some gilded bronze statuettes are shown. A contemporary photographic testimony belonging to the photographic archives of the museum shows the same statuettes placed on spool bases presumably in ebonized wood. After this period, however, every trace of them was lost.