Antonio Susini was the most gifted of all of the assistants who worked for Giambologna (1529–1608), the greatest mannerist sculptor working in late sixteenth-century Florence. His bronzes were collected by kings and cardinals as well as artists on both sides of the Alps. In the foreground of Willem van Haecht’s (1593–1637) celebrated Gallery of Cornelis van Geest (Private collection, Scotland) the collectors gather round a table covered with Susini bronzes. Giambologna, or Jean de Boulogne, was the principal sculptor at the court of Ferdinando I de’ Medici, and owing to the extraordinary popularity of his works, as well as the laborious process of actually producing them, he established a workshop which functioned with almost industrial efficiency. Pietro Francavilla (1548–1615) helped Giambologna with carving the large marbles such as the Rape of the Sabines, while Antonio Susini who was introduced to Giambologna by an important patron, Jacopo Salviati in the 1580s, produced the vast majority of Giambologna’s bronzes, most notably the small bronzes which were collectibles and made very good diplomatic gifts.
The small bronzes which Susini’s foundry cast so expertly were made using the lost wax technique. The rough casts were chiseled, chased and filed by Antonio Susini and then varnished. Susini was given by Giambologna the models from which he made his molds. Susini is thought to have re-finished some of the models himself, especially those with draperies, to make them easier to cast. Antonio Susini produced superb casts of complicated models, one of the most challenging being Nessus and Dejanira. He often used a golden-colored bronze alloy and his finishes are characterized by their refined finish, the crisp, channeled folds which almost seem to be carved in wood, the brush-like filing and the detailed carving in the cold metal of details such as the hair. He would apply a warm, reddish varnish which over time can darken to brown or almost black.
Antonio Susini was so highly valued that Giambologna took him with him to Rome to look at the antiquities which were being discovered and restored. One sculpture they saw was the Lion attacking a Horse on the Capitoline on which Susini, based a small bronze. He signed it Ant-/Susi/ni Opus to signify that he had both designed and made the bronze. Its pendant, an original Lion attacking a Bull was invented by Giambologna and therefore signed differently Ant-/Susi/ni. F.. Bronzes, even if the original model was invented by Giambologna are listed in inventories as early as 1609 as being by Susini; so, clearly the close relationship between the two artists was well understood. An addition, Susini was commissioned directly to produce sculptures such as the Virgin and Child (Houston Museum of Art, Texas) and a series of Evangelists and Angels commissioned in 1596 for the Certosa di Galluzzo. In 1600, Susini moved from Giambologna’s workshop on Borgo Pinti to his own, around the corner, on via de’Pilastri. Antonio Susini was succeeded by his nephew Gian Francesco (1585–1653) whose main rival was another bronze maker, Pietro Tacca (1577–1640).
Top Auction Results for Antonio Susini
Lion attacking a horse and a bull
Sold for £441,500 ($658,463)
London, Christie’s, 7 December 1993, Important European Sculpture & W.O.A., lot 108
A Pair of Angels
Sold for $657,000
New York, Christie’s, 26 October 1994, French Furniture, European W.O.A. & Porcelain From Tully Collection, lot 21
Sold for £157,250 ($252,854)
London, Sotheby’s, 8 July 2009, The Barbara Piasecka Johnson Collection: Renaissance & Baroque Masterworks, lot 13