FLORENCE AND THE CASTING FROM THE ORIGINAL MOLDS
Massimiliano Soldani Benzi, a Florentine, in November 1703 wrote to Prince Johann Adam Andrea I of Liechtenstein: So much money is spent and so much blood is shed in the war, that one can much more willingly sacrifice some expenses, in works of this fate, which they serve for eternity. The prince had in fact purchased from Soldani Benzi some posthumous bronze castings taken from negative molds made on the originals that were in the Medici collection, including the Medici Venus, the Dancing Faun, and the Michelangelo’s Bacchus. (Picture 1, 2, 3)
In addition to the prince of Liechtenstein, the other lucky owner of similar large size “eternal works” created by Soldani Benzi was John Churchill first duke of Marlborough.(Picture 3 A)
For his huge new castle at Blenheim Palace, Soldani executed four posthumous bronze castings from the same original negative molds: the Medici Venus, the Dancing Faun, the Arrotino and the Wrestlers. (Picture 4)
Only the posthumous Soldani’s bronze castings of antique works, with their reference to eternity, found a place in the great noble collections of the eighteenth century.
Soldani Benzi was the director of the Medici’s Mint, and was credited to the Court of the Grand Dukes of Florence. That was why the Emperor’s Financial Adviser and the Generalissimo of the Queen of England turned to him.
The interest of the two illustrious personalities in the posthumous lost wax casting of bronze of antique works, rigorously taken from the negative molds made by Soldani on the originals, comes from the impossibility of getting hold of the originals kept in the Vatican or in the Uffizi in Florence; since they were considered an essential must, the collector or prince attentive to decorum had to resort to posthumous castings. And it was also a source of pride to belong to the small circle of Princes who had received the permission of the Grand Duke Cosimo III (Picture 5) to have these castings made in their original size. The negative molds, called then, and also today, the “Forme”, were complex to make and could damage the original masterpieces, and for this reason permission was often not given. Grand Duke Cosimo III was therefore very cautious and stingy in granting such permits: in 1707 and 1708 he gave partial authorization to Giovan Battista Foggini (First Sculptor and Architect of the Serenissima Medici House)(Picture 6) for Johann Wilhelm von Pfalz-Neuburg, other permits for the “Roi Soleil” Louis XIV and for the Senator of the city of Genoa, Stefano da Passano. To be executed only by Foggini, an expert negative molds maker. Just as, in more recent times, the authorization to make negative molds on the originals was given only to those who were in the trade and had undoubtedly demonstrated their skills in this regard, such as the caster Ferdinando Marinelli Sr. of Florence. (Picture 7)
As Grand Duke Cosimo II had previously done for Giambologna’s works, Cosimo III also used these posthumous castings as instruments of political strategies. With these permits he managed to increase the importance and notoriety of his collection, but he scrupulously checked that his masterpieces were created in a faithful and perfect way, preventing serial and low quality reproductions.
Soldani was proud of its exclusive posthumous bronze castings that required a huge diplomatic and financial commitment. At the beginning of the modern age, the collections of posthumous classical works were notoriously a symbol of prestige, a sign of superiority in the context of European Courts. The high ecclesiastical hierarchies and the aristocracy used posthumous classical masterpieces to show off and challenge each other chivalrously.
These posthumous works were so valued and researched that the Medici had made some for themselves to demonstrate the evident symbol of prestige that they represented: the first official Guide of the Uffizi, the Ragguaglio of 1759 by Giuseppe Bianchi, reports that in the small room called Cabinet of Etruscan vases there were:
…the Venus, the Faun, the Fight, the bronze Arrotino, copied from the ancient marble ones that are preserved in the Tribuna, as mentioned above, work of the famous metal smelter of our time Massimiliano Soldani Fiorentino…
And in the Universal Biographical Dictionary of Passigli of 1840 it is said that:
In the bronze room of said Gallery [the Uffizi] there are also the Medici Venus, the Faun, the Fight and the Arrotino of the Bronze Tribune.
In 1872 these bronzes were granted by the Uffizi Gallery to the Roman headquarters of the Ministry of Economy and Finance where they are still exhibited. (Picture 8)