A work catalogued by Sotheby’s for its sale on 12 December last year as “a very fine and rare bronze fountain figure, perhaps Orpheus, probably German, Nuremberg?, second quarter sixteenth century” and bought by London dealer Danny Katz has turned out to be an Italian Renaissance sculpture. Katz suspected that an earlier Italian work lurked under its heavy black patination and his suspicions were justified during cleaning when a richer, brown surface was revealed. The figure has now been recognised as a late fifteenth-century masterpiece and it has aroused some excitement in the art world, but there is still perplexity as to its author. Opinions range from the circle of Mantegna to Antonio Lombardo or even a Milanese follower of Leonardo, but the absence of comparative material makes it difficult to pin the bronze down. Nor, for that matter, is the identity of the figure established since the youth has some features which resemble the sun-god Apollo and others more appropriate to the wine-god Bacchus. Museum professionals are agreed, however, that it is the work of a North Italian master in the last quarter of the fifteenth century and one of the few major bronzes to have survived from this period.
Originally appeared in The Art Newspaper as 'Circle of Mantegna? of Antonio Lombardo? or even of Leonardo?'