Published posthumously, Richard Tuttle’s excellent analysis of Giambologna’s Neptune Fountain in Bologna is insightful, well written, and beautifully illustrated. Its focus on a single monument, examined in the context of its city, makes it a useful tool not just for historians of art and architecture, but also for students of urban history, engineering, and patronage. Designed to be read in conjunction with a website that offers photographs from the book that can be enlarged for enhanced study, the volume affords a rich opportunity to experience this important monument. Still in manuscript form when Tuttle died in 2009, the book was brought to completion for publication by Nadja Aksamija and Francesco Ceccarelli; thanks are owed to them and also to Hester Diamond, John Landau, and Fabrizio Moretti who founded VISTAS, an organization devoted to the study of sculpture, which provided the website and supported the publication of the book.
Giambologna, the acknowledged giant of sixteenth-century Florentine art, has engendered numerous specialized studies. As the consummate court artist, his contributions to the history of art certainly include his large-scale marble sculptures, foremost among them the quintessential embodiment of mannerist sculpture, Rape of a Sabine in the Loggia dei Lanzi, Florence. He designed several large-scale bronzes as memorable civic monuments, led by the equestrian statue of Cosimo I de’Medici and the Bologna Fountain. For museum-goers, his often-replicated designs for small-scale sculptures, highly prized by his contemporaries, have been the subject of several noteworthy exhibitions over the last years. Most of his work, it should be noted, was collaborative. Yet few other publications on Giambologna offer such well-rounded discussion of the combined effort to produce a single work as Tuttle has achieved in this book.
The five chapters begin with a discussion of the patron of the fountain, Pier Donato Cesi, and his relationship to Bologna. The second chapter, the core of the publication, focuses on the design evolution for the fountain and the roles played by each collaborator, the painter/architect (and engineer) Tommaso Laureti and Giambologna himself. The third chapter illuminates the iconography, extracting valuable information from documents related to the donor and putting it in the context of other Cesi commissions. The fourth chapter explains the hydraulics and engineering, bringing the Fontana Vecchia and its design into the discussion. The last chapter focuses on the monument within its urban context and surrounding piazza. Also extremely valuable is the appendix of related documents, including contracts and correspondence, as well as portions of Laureti’s Fountain Handbook.
Much scholarship about Giambologna has already dealt with issues of fabricating the bronzes and of workshop practice. In contrast, Tuttle’s book offers no discussion of either casting or finishing the bronzes that adorn the fountain. Instead, Tuttle’s chapter on the evolution of the fountain clarifies the design contributions that each artist made to the finished work. The fountain is still quite often described as a work “by Giambologna.” Tuttle’s discussion should counter any lingering tendency to assume that Giambologna was the primary inventor. The author has flushed out Laureti’s role with documentary references that identify him as the initial designer, buttressed by the fact that when the design was developed enough so that materials could be ordered, Giambologna was still in Florence and therefore not yet involved. Tuttle includes a useful discussion of eight drawings, attributed to Laureti by Mariette already in the eighteenth century, as a series of meditations on fountain design that illuminate Laureti as the ideator of the fountain form.
The section of Chapter 2 where Tuttle elaborates Giambologna’s contribution to the design by outlining exactly how the sculptor adapted individual elements to the overall form, is one of the volume’s great achievements. Few descriptive analyses of Giambologna’s work are better than where Tuttle elaborates how the sculptor adapted bronzes to the architectural framework, and he enumerates each element that make up the ensemble. Tuttle gives real insight into Giambologna as a designer, an artist who had an incredible sense of form and movement. The author also provides the reader with a full understanding of Giambologna’s achievement in creating the figure of Neptune, of his genius in originating a powerful, meaningful pose successfully adapted to the whole. Tuttle’s attentive descriptions and powers of observation make this section a true pleasure to read. The following chapter on the meaning of the sculptural ensemble, primarily the significance of Neptune, relates the fountain to two other important sculptures commissioned by the Cesi, since all are interpreted in a manuscript that Cesi composed. This section builds upon some of Tuttle’s other published work, yet it is still a significant contribution to Giambologna studies.
Many readers will find the fourth chapter on hydraulic engineering to be one of the most important contributions of the book. For this reader, however, the argument could have been better correlated to the accompanying maps and diagrams, because of confusion among the various sections of water conduit being described. While the website adds beautiful high-resolution photographs of the fountain, it would have been useful to have some of these diagrams available for enlargement and greater scrutiny in order to facilitate the argument. Those diagrams are not always adequately labeled, and some terms are not explained. Discussion of the accompanying public fountain is also especially interesting and valuable. The photographs, on the whole, are excellent. It would also have helped to coordinate some photo views with the maps and diagrams, since the spectator’s location vis-à-vis the fountain is not always clear. The description in Chapter 2 of the corner elements at the level of the escutcheons was difficult to follow without a good photograph that matched the text (The one on the website (2.42) is not the one that appears in the book).
Judith W. Mann
Saint Louis Art Museum