A posthumous publication: Frank Martin’s “Camillo Rusconi: ein Bildhauer des Spätbarock in Rom” (2019)
Frank Martin, Camillo Rusconi: ein Bildhauer des Spätbarock in Rom, Birgit Laschke-Hubert und Stefan Nehlig, eds, (Italienische Forschungen des Kunsthistorischen Institutes in Florenz – Max-Planck-Institut, Ser. 4, vol. 12), Berlin, Deutscher Kunstverlag, 2019.
When recently I took Frank Martin’s posthumously published book off the shelf at the Warburg Institute I was pursuing issues relating to eighteenth-century Italian sculpture, in particular the making and use of models. But the book attracted me also on a personal level. Frank Martin died unexpectedly at the age of 53 in 2014. I knew him well from periods when we had worked at the same institutions, in 1993 at the Kunsthistorisches Institut in Florence, where he was a postdoctoral fellow, and again in 1996 at the Warburg Institute, where he held a three-month Frances Yates Fellowship. Frank had written his PhD on the stained glass windows in the upper church of San Francesco at Assisi, and when I first met him at the Kunsthistorisches Institut in Florence he was taking this forward with a related book project. This was to provide a catalogue of these windows, including for the first time the recently produced detailed photographs of the windows. Both catalogue and photographs would enable future researchers to undertake research on these windows which are particularly significant as they were designed and made by craftsmen from north of the alps in a church where eventually they would appear side by side with some the most famous Italian mural paintings as part of a single iconographic programme. It was these publications that qualified Frank Martin for his later post as Head of the Potsdam based German branch of the Corpus Vitrearum, the international body concerned with the preservation and cataloguing of stained glass windows. However, when he took up this appointment Frank had also ventured into the study of three-dimensional imagery. In 1995 he had started work on a catalogue raisonné of Camillo Rusconi (1658-1728) with the declared aim to prepare the ground for a reassessment of this understudied artist. Trained by Alessandro Algardi’s student and Bernini’s collaborator Ercole Ferrata, Rusconi was an eminent figure of the late Roman Baroque and had his break through when he was commissioned with four of the twelve apostle statues for the nave of S Giovanni in Laterano. Frank Martin submitted his catalogue of Rusconi as a professorial dissertation at the University of Jena in 2001 and completed the typescript for the book in 2005. Until his death in 2014, he updated references to the literature, but it was only in 2019 that the book, edited by Birgit Laschke-Hubert and Stefan Nehlig, appeared.
Like Frank’s earlier work, the volume is a mine of information, gathering facts and sources on Rusconi and his life and oeuvre. Where the sculptor contributed to wider projects, their history is exhaustively illuminated, any relating source material listed. There is little interpretation or illumination of wider historical context and as he provided and sorted the material and documentary evidence for others, Frank apparently never felt the need to signal the relevance of his findings. Rusconi made many copies after the antique, often for British patrons, a topic Frank investigated while at the Warburg and discussed in a separate article. In the book, however, there is no mention of the Grand Tour. Equally, one of Rusconi’s late works, a relief for the altar of San Francesco Regis, today in the Iglesia de la Descalzas in Madrid, was commissioned for a different church in that city. Frank reveals the history of this ensemble up to the present, but there is no discussion why Spanish patrons may have commissioned a Roman sculptor. It was the author’s declared aim to provide a basis for future research and in my case the book certainly fulfilled its mission, not only with regard to Rusconi, but also in relation to the vast project that marked his major breakthrough, the series of over-life size figures of the apostles for the nave of S. Giovanni in Laterano to which Rusconi provided four in all. True to his format, Frank discusses the entire commission from its beginnings under Borromini in the seventeenth century to its completion in the 1730s, provides also a vast number of published and unpublished archival sources, in relation to each individual sculpture. This includes bills by the artists and visitations by patrons and the supervising clergy, but also payments to scaffolders, painters and bricklayers who contributed to the making and moving of small and full-scale models, marble blocks and the final sculptures. It was this section that was of particular relevance for my own research on the use and status of models in plaster in early modern Europe. The twelve Roman apostles were made in parallel with a similar group of large-scale sculptures in Paris for the Eglise du Dome in the Hopital des Invalides. Both programmes were devised by a single artist, Girardon in Paris and Carlo Maratta in Rome, but then developed by a number of different sculptors. However, while in Paris the state machinery of Louis XIV required plaster casts of the full-scale models to be delivered to the church (most of which accidentally remained in situ for more than five decades as the programme stalled), in Rome, the Pope Clement XI also demanded full-scale plaster models to be erected in church, but what appears clear from the documents is that, following local working patterns, these were formed by hand and later removed to the sculptors’ workshops. A note by Cardinal Benedetto Pamphilij of 1717 is of great interest for the perception of models. He suggests that Rusconi’s four full-scale models could be installed as works of art in their own right in the church of S Maria degli Angeli. He also observes that models themselves were nowadays valued and that they might increase in value after their author’s death. Frank Martin’s book does not raise or highlight any of these issues, how could it? But it provides a strong introduction to the life and work Rusconi and mainly does what it set out to do: it supports research and new lines of enquiry in what ultimately is still an understudied area.