Set of Four French White Marble Busts of the Continents
Late 17th/early 18th century
Depicting Europe, Asia, America and Africa
Each on a stepped square green marble plinth. .Height overall of Europe 39 3/4 inches (1.01 m), Asia 39 1/2 inches (1.0 m), America 34 3/4 inches (88.3 cm), Africa 33 1/2 inches (85.1 cm).Provenance:
Sotheby's, New York, Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Howard B. Keck, December 5, 1991, lot 135
The iconography of the Four Continents was codified in the Iconologia di Cesare Ripa Perugino ...: divisa in tre libri, by Cesare Ripa in 1593 and remained relatively unchanged by the 19th century. Ripa (circa 1560 - circa 1620), was an Italian iconographer who also worked for Cardinal Anton Maria Salviati as a cook and butler. His book was highly influential among European artists and craftsmen.
The Four Continents were a common European subject in the fine and decorative arts, often used for sculpture on the facades of buildings and in gardens. However, their popularity in the 17th and 18th centuries was probably as a consequence of the colonial power of Europe, rather than the earlier implied function of stressing the world-wide spread of Christendom. Consequently, Europe appears as the goddess Minerva, with a plumed helmet, wearing classicized clothes. Accordingly, each Continent's attributes tend to reflect the current world order with Asia, America and Africa depicted with the raw materials that provided Europe's great wealth.
The bust of Africa is relates to the head of a full-length statue at Versailles sculpted by Georges Sibrayque and finished by Jean Cornu between 1675 and 1682 in the Parterre d'Eau, designed for Louis XIV by Charles Le Brun as one of the four parts of the world. Sibrayque and Cornu were amongst the many artists, including Gaspard Marsy, a relative of Sirbrayque, who created sculptures under the guidance of Le Brun; see Francois Souchal, French Sculptors in the 17th and 18th Centuries, Oxford, 1977 and 1987, vol. I, p. 113 and vol. III, p. 272. The designs of the remaining three busts correspond to similar representations of late 17th century French examples of the Continents.
Additional Notes & Condition Report
Bust of Europe: plumed ornament of helmet reattached and now with gap between, losses and chips, especially to front, repaired 5 inch x 5 inch break to bottom of plume of headdress, and with later glue and dirt, staining, grime, chips and pitting throughout, losses and repaired breaks to back of bust at base, and now with infilling with plaster, losses and infilling to back left corner of green marble plinth.
Bust of Asia: camel headdress reattached and with chips and cement showing, nose with noticeable repaired break above nostrils, back of bust with losses at center, remnants of adhesive label at top center of back, staining, grime, chips and pitting throughout.
Bust of America: sheaf of arrows reattached and now with later plaster showing at top, chips to bared shoulder at center, repaired 1 inch break to bottom center of bust and with inpainting, repaired breaks to plinth at base, staining, grime, chips and pitting throughout
Bust of Africa: repaired break and infilling to four links to top of left shoulder, now with infilling and inpainting, chips to bunched garment at front between breasts, 1 inch chip to left side of drapery at back, repaired break and infilling with plaster to back of bust above plinth, chips to plinth, restorations to front left corner and with inpainting and center of base, staining, grime, chips and pitting throughout.
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