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Giovanni Bastianini, Girolamo Benivieni

Girolamo Benivieni, 1863

After Giovanni Bastianini (1830 - 1868)

RA Collection: Art

Giovanni Bastianini (1830-1868) was a thirteen-year-old stonecutter in the quarries of Fiesole when he came to the attention of the printer Francesco Inghiram, who sent him to Florence to study sculpture under Pio Fedi and Girolamo Torrini.

After observing his masters at work and studying the sculpture of Della Robbia and Donatello, Bastianini began modelling clay and carving small pieces of marble. In 1848 the antiquarian Giovanni Freppa contracted him to make sculptures in the manner of Renaissance masters, which he unscrupulously sold as authentic Renaissance "discoveries".

Bastianini aspired to become an independent sculptor in his own right. However the repercussions of his faked terracotta bust of the sixteenth century poet Girolamo Benivieni (1453-1542) were said to have brought him "bitterness, despair and death".

In 1863 Bastianini executed the bust for Freppa who sold it to the art-collector de Nolivos for 700 francs. Two years later it was exhibited to great acclaim at the Exposition Rétrospective, Paris. When de Nolivos sold his collection at the Hotel Drouot in 1867, Comte Niuwerkerke, director of the Louvre, purchased the "Benivieni" bust as the work of Lorenzo di Credi for a hugely inflated 13,600 francs. The sculpture was displayed prominently in the Louvre alongside the work of Michelangelo, Benvenuto Cellini and da Settignano.

Before long a rumour spread that the bust was not a Renaissance original. The Louvre appealed to Freppa for verification but he openly admitted that it was indeed a modern work. He denied selling it to de Nolivos as a Renaissance piece. The model for the head of "Benivieni" was revealed to be an elderly Florentine tobacconist named Giuseppe Bonaiuti.

The controversy surrounding the affair caused Girolamo Bastianini tremendous stress and he died in 1868 aged 38. His bust of "Girolamo Benivieni" remains in the Louvre collection.

Object details

Girolamo Benivieni
After Giovanni Bastianini (1830 - 1868)
Object type
Sculpture Cast
Plaster cast, 19th century

480 mm x 205 mm x 260 mm, Weight: 4.95 kg

Royal Academy of Arts
Object number
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