Already present in Quattrocento art, the representation of the Virgin in Glory was especially honored after the Council of Trent. As Gérard Labrot states, “a desire for transcendence led artists to combine, even fuse, the image of the enthroned Madonna or the Madonna in a mandorla with that of the Assumption.” Although the dogma of the Assumption was not proclaimed until 1950, it has been tenacious among the faithful since the first centuries of the Church. It especially corresponds to the dictates of the Council of Trent which returned the role of intercession to the Virgin and reaffirmed the presence of the supernatural.
Here, the sculptor has depicted the Virgin on fluffy encompassing clouds. Her dynamic posture is balanced by the position of her hands which are crossed on her breast in contemplation. Her left knee is bent forward, the lower part of her leg disappears in the clouds. Her cloak, floating around her, accompanies this ascending motion dear to baroque aesthetics; it swirls around her body in broad undulating folds. Her sober expression with even features demonstrates the Virgin’s timeless beauty. Her neck is elongated, head turned and inclined, crowned with a light veil which slips back from her hair.
A Preparatory Work
This terracotta void of attributes is probably a preparatory work for a large scale free-standing sculpture intended to be executed in marble. As only the front part of the statue is handled in detail, one can suppose that the commission was intended to be placed over a votive altar. The finesse of the modeling, as well as the originality of the coppery patina on the Virgin and white patina on the clouds, contributes to the quality of the design.
Artistic Context: Genoa in the 1660’s
Our Virgin fits into the particular environment which developed in the Genoise School as of the 1660’s. Sculptors had a preference for marble as they had close ties with Carrarra and its Offitium Marmoris, founded to regulate its exportation. The city’s artistic climate was still marked by the passage of Pierre Puget, who had settled there in 1661 after the disgrace of his protector Fouquet. Recalled to France six years later by Colbert, Puget left sculptures in the city which were reminders of his style, grace and virtuosity. He also left students and collaborators who continued his work. The most famous among them were certainly Daniello Solaro and Filippo Parodi.
More specifically, our sculpture can be compared to that of Jacopo Antonio Ponzanelli who was first a student and then a collaborator of Filippo Parodi. Jacopo Antonio was a native of Carrara and came from a family of marble masons who owned their own business. The young artist was therefore probably trained in the workshop of his father, who was a decorative sculptor, before he was sent to Genoa to the studio of Parodi. In a time when the custom tended to be the transmission of the studio from father to son, this original fact attests to the open approach of the Ponzanelli. Jacopo Antonio soon became Parodi’s collaborator, and remained so until the latter’s death in 1702. The younger artist accompanied Parodi on his travels and thus was able to perfect his education in Rome by enriching his style with lessons learned from Bernini‘s example.
Ponzanelli distinguished himself with a supple, expressive, legible baroque style. In our sculpture, one can see his fashion of modeling floating draperies with accentuated undulating folds without any sharp angles. The same manner in which the cloak envelopes the body of our Virgin can be seen in the angel of the Funerary Monument to Bishop Stefano Spinola (Assunta Cathedral, Savona). The two faces are also of similar types. In addition, our Virgin can be compared to Parodi’s Glory of Saint Martha (Church of Saint Martha, Geneva) in terms of the saint’s arm movements and ecstatic pose as she floats on clouds.
F. GUELFI, R. SANTAMARIA, Jacopo Antonio Ponzanelli : scultore, architetto, decoratore : Carrara 1654 – Genova 1735, Fosdinovo : Associazione artistico culturale PerCorsi d’arte, 2011
G. LABROT, "La Vierge en gloire à la Contre-Réforme. Esquisse d’analyse fonctionnelle," Mélanges de l’Ecole française de Rome, Italie et Méditerrannée, 1994, n° 106 – 2, pp. 593 - 637