VITTORIA, Alessandro
(b. 1525, Trento, d. 1608, Venezia


Bronze, 98 x 62 cm
Art Institute, Chicago

This masterpiece of Renaissance relief sculpture by the Venetian artist Alessandro Vittoria was commissioned in 1580 by Hans Fugger, a member of a noted Augsburg banking family, to decorate an altarpiece for the chapel of his family's castle in Kirchheim, Swabia. Here Vittoria translated into bronze the flickering light and colourful palette of the great Venetian painters of the period; his composition is specifically adapted from altarpieces by Titian.

Working in wax (from which the finished relief was then cast in bronze), Vittoria manipulated the relief's form and edges to catch the light. The result is a highly animated surface in which everything - figures, drapery, clouds, and sky - seems to move with excitement, heightening the drama between the sharply turned, startled Virgin and the powerful figure of Gabriel, who has suddenly descended from heaven to announce that she will be the mother of Christ. Fully sculpted in the round, the archangel's arm points to the smallest feature in the scene: the dove, representing the Holy Ghost of the Christian Trinity.

The plasticity and depth of the relief, the dramatic movement, and the handling of detail make this one of the artist's finest creations.