About this lot
a late 16th or early 17th century Florentine bronze model of a strutting ostrich, on a later rococo base 30cm high (38cm high, including base) Provenance: Acquired in Paris in 1765/6 for ‘7 louis d’or’ (see Literature, Walpole, Paris Journals) by Horace Walpole (1717-97) 3rd Baron Walpole of Walpole and 4th & last Earl of Orford, for Strawberry Hill, Inherited with Strawberry Hill by his cousin and goddaughter, Anne Seymour Damer (1748-1828), Inherited with Strawberry Hill by John, 6th Earl Waldegrave (1785-1835) grandson of Horace Walpole’s sister, Maria, Countess Waldegrave (d.1807), Thence to George, 7th Earl Waldegrave (1816-1846), His sale, George Robins, on the premises at Strawberry Hill, 25th April 1842 and the twenty-three following days, Twenty- Third Day’s sale, May 20th, Lot 87 (catalogue page 235) when bought by John Dunn-Gardner (1811-1903) in his then name of ‘Earl of Leicester’ for £50.8s, Thence by family descent to the present owner. Literature: Horace Walpole, A Description of the Villa of Horace Walpole, 1774, p.72; Horace Walpole, Journals of Lord Orford's Journeys to Paris, etc, Volume 7, 1765-66, p.403.
Footnote: The 1774 publication, A Description of the Villa of Horace Walpole, an inventory detailing the contents of Strawberry Hill House, references the present lot on page 72, describing it as “an ostrich, very spirited”, and recording its location, nestled between a bronze model of an Ibis and a bronze copy of the Laocoön Group, on the windowsill of the villa’s first floor Gallery. The writer of the publication, the acclaimed antiquarian, politician, and art historian, Horace Walpole, 4th Earl of Orford (1717-1797), had acquired his “spirited” ostrich some years earlier, between 1765 and 1766, whilst visiting Paris, where, according to page 403 of volume 7 of his Paris Journals, he purchased the model for the price of "7 louis d’or". Commencing from April 25th, 1842, 45 years after Walpole’s death, the “Great Sale” of the contents of Strawberry Hill was held at the renowned villa by George Robins Auctioneers under the instruction of George, 7th Earl Waldegrave, Walpole’s great-nephew and, at that time, the custodian of Strawberry Hill. An annotated copy of the auction catalogue reveals that Lot 87 of the 23rd day of the 24-day sale, “a fine antique bronze of an Ostrich, very spirited in effect, on a bronze scroll stand” was purchased by the Earl of Leicester for the sum of fifty pounds and eight shillings, in addition to several other lots, including Lot 86, “the renowned marble eagle”, illustrated on the frontispiece of the George Robins' sale catalogue. Whilst the annotation referring to the Earl of Leicester would appear to allude to Thomas Coke of Holkham, 1st Earl of Leicester (1754-1842) - indeed this is the erroneous assumption that scholars have previously laboured under - recent discoveries suggest that the “Earl of Leicester” is in fact John Dunn-Gardner (1811-1903). Politician and wealthy landowner, John Dunn-Gardner was the son of Sarah Dunn-Gardner, the Marchioness Townshend, and the eldest legal son and heir apparent of George, Marquess Townshend, though his natural father is believed to have been John Margetts, a brewer from St Ives, Cambridgeshire. In 1823, John Dunn-Gardner had started utilising the courtesy title 'Earl of Leicester', but from 1843, following the passing of a private Act of Parliament, which declared the children of Marchioness Townshend by John Margetts officially illegitimate, Dunn-Gardner was prohibited from using this title, and was instead forced to assume the surname of his mother. The supposition that the Earl of Leicester referred to in the Strawberry Hill catalogue was in fact John Dunn-Gardner, rather than Thomas Coke of Holkham, is further fortified by a sale notice published on the 15th March, 1854, by the Morning Chronicle London advertising the sale of ‘The Property of J.D. Gardner, Esq., Removed from his late Residence, Bottisham Hall, Cambridgeshire’, to be held at Christie’s on March 25th, 1854. The notice references both the bronze ostrich and the marble eagle purchased by the Earl of Leicester at the Strawberry Hill sale twelve years prior. By the time of the publication of the sale catalogue, however, it appears that Dunn-Gardner had decided to retain the bronze ostrich in his private collection, where it has remained within the family until now. Being one of only three known versions of the model, the present lot is exceptionally rare, both in terms of its provenance and the scarcity of the model itself. Though all attributed to the workshop of Giambologna (1529-1608), each of the impeccably chased models demonstrate subtle and intriguing deviations in both the nuances of the modelling and even in the scholarship surrounding the exact hand that produced them. The liveliest and most dynamic of the three models was first recorded in 1689 and was previously owned by Adolphe Thiers, the President of France between 1871 and 1873 and Prime Minister in 1836, 1840, and 1848. Part of the French Royal Collection during the mid-19th century, the model was bequeathed, in 1881, by Thiers’ estate to the Musée du Louvre, where it currently resides. The second, and most restrained of the three models, was purchased by antiques dealer Alfred Spero on behalf of Lieutenant Colonel the Honourable Mildmay Thomas Boscawen, for the sum of £260, at the E.L. Paget sale held by Sotheby’s, London, in October 1949. A discerning connoisseur of Renaissance and Baroque bronzes, Boscawen began lending his objects from his sizeable collection to the Fitzwilliam Museum from 1946, though it was not until 1997, many years after his death in 1958, that the strutting ostrich came to form part of the Fitzwilliam Museum’s permanent collection, upon the bequest of his sister, the Honourable Mrs Pamela Sherek. Though the differences between the three models may not be immediately obvious, through close comparison an evolution of form appears to emerge, thus suggesting a probable sequence of production. The most exuberant of the three, and therefore likely the most mature of the models, the Louvre ostrich emphasises its vivacity through the wildly exaggerated sway of its sinuous ‘S’ shaped neck and the dramatic eruption of its flamboyant tail feathers at the base of the body. The Fitzwilliam model, meanwhile, probably the earliest of the three, whilst still spirited and finely modelled, demonstrates pared down plumage and a tempered sway of the neck. The present lot appears to fit in between the Louvre and the Fitzwilliam model in both form and lineage. Citing his impressionistically modelled bronze birds created for the grotto in the garden of the Medici Villa at Castello, near Florence, in 1567, historic scholarship has attributed the ostriches to Giambologna. Indeed, other bronze models of ostriches attributed to Giambologna include an example in the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna, and in the Hermitage, St Petersburg. While these examples demonstrate that the ostrich was a popular subject during the period and was clearly part of Giambologna’s oeuvre, the Austrian and Russian examples lack the drama, potency and spontaneity of movement demonstrated by the three models previously discussed. Although some sources still attribute the models to Giambologna, in recent years the scholarship has begun to diverge, with some experts now attributing the work to Giambologna’s student, and heir to his studio, Pietro Tacca (1577-1640). This pivot is in part due to the stylistic similarity observed in Tacca’s delineation of the tails of his bronze horses to the dynamic and vivacious rendering of the ostriches’ plumage. We are grateful to Dr Charles Avery, Dr Silvia Davoli and Dr Victoria Avery FSA for their assistance in compiling this entry.
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