Bronzed beauty in city of Romeo and Juliet

The Jewish Chronicle - - LIFE -

Joseph De Le­vis & Com­pany By Charles Avery Philip Wil­son Pub­lish­ers, £40 Re­viewed by Ju­lia Weiner

IT IS nearly 50 years since Dr Charles Avery, for­mer Deputy Direc­tor of Sculp­ture at the V&A and then a direc­tor at Christies, first be­came in­ter­ested in the work of Joseph de Le­vis and Com­pany, a bronze foundry in Verona that pro­duced work in the 16th and 17th cen­turies. This new cat­a­logue raisonné in­cludes dis­cus­sion of all the 45 signed pieces by Joseph him­self (1552-c.1614) as well as pieces by his brother Santo and his sons and neph­ews who con­tin­ued his work.

While Joseph de Le­vis did not sign any works with overtly Jewish links, his suc­ces­sors pro­duced Chanukah lamps, and mor­tars dec­o­rated with Menorot and He­brew in­scrip­tions for use by medics.

The book of­fers fas­ci­nat­ing in­sights into Jewish life in a small town in Re­nais­sance Italy. But how Jewish was Joseph de Le­vis? In­ter­est­ingly, we have more con­crete ev­i­dence about his neph­ews and sons be­cause all but one of them were bap­tised, whereas Santo and Joseph were not (the book re­veals that be­fore be­com­ing bronze cast­ers, Santo was a cheese-maker and Joseph a silk weaver). And Avery points out that de Le­vis signed works as Joseph rather than the Ital­ian Giuseppe.

The broth­ers pro­duced a range of ob­jects, many for Chris­tian use, in­clud­ing bells for churches as far away as Genoa, Man­tua and Mi­lan. Joseph also made ta­ble bells which were, in the Re­nais­sance, “ad­juncts and sym­bols of power”, as can be seen from the in­clu­sion of one on the ta­ble be­side Pope Leo X in the fa­mous por­trait by Raphael. De Le­vis col­lab­o­rated with sculp­tor An­gelo de Rossi on a num­ber of pieces with fig­u­ra­tive el­e­ments in­clud­ing a pair of fire­dogs sur­mounted with sculp­tures of Jupiter and Venus which were ac­quired by the V&A in 1857 shortly af­ter its open­ing and which first aroused Avery’s in­ter­est in De Le­vis. Per­haps the most strik­ing of his sculp­tures is (from the Walker Gallery, Liver­pool) of a man with the bronze cast head in­serted into shoul­ders and a pedestal carved of red Verona mar­ble, in which, Avery ob­serves, the white veins of the mar­ble pro­vide “a sub­sti­tute for the im­i­ta­tions of bro­cade”. The finest piece in­cluded is a ewer, for­merly in the col­lec­tion of Adele de Roth­schild and sold at auc­tion for £276,000 in 2002.

Five of Joseph and Santo’s sons worked in the foundry, though one, Giovanni Bat­tista be­came a painter. A num­ber of Chanukah lamps have been at­trib­uted to this gen­er­a­tion, among them a beau­ti­ful ex­am­ple now in the Is­rael Mu­seum where three cherubs in­ter­twine to make up the back of the lamp. Along with mor­tars dec­o­rated with Menorot and He­brew script, one of which was com­mis­sioned by a Jewish doc­tor, this sug­gests the foundry be­gan to pro­duce work for the ex­pand­ing Jewish com­mu­nity of the city.

The plen­ti­fully il­lus­trated text is aca­demic in style but presents many in­ter­est­ing in­sights into the foundry’s work, in­clud­ing how bells were cast. Avery’s book is es­pe­cially wel­come since, as he says, be­cause the foundry spe­cialised in bells and mor­tars, it is “all too fre­quently re­garded as be­neath the no­tice of the his­to­rian of sculp­ture”.

Ju­lia Weiner is a his­tory of art lec­turer and the JC’s art critic

Chanukah lamp, Is­rael Mu­seum

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.