Author Topic: Epic Discovery! Major Update. Dante Appears!  (Read 4071 times)

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Offline constanius

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Epic Discovery! Major Update. Dante Appears!
« on: December 05, 2015, 05:39:10 PM »
Where to begin? When in doubt, from the start is always a good option.

I purchased this via eBay, a plaque/medal mounted in a 8 x 8-inch mahogany wood frame. It shows the poet Ludovico Ariosto (1474–1533) and is signed by Domenico Ambrogi (1600–1678 or later); here are two of the vendor's pictures.

I have taken some of my own pictures which help to show the quality of the piece.

I was surprised to find no entry in Forrer's Bio........ for Domenico Ambrogi, but searching the web I came across this auction result for a medal depicting another poet, Torquato Tasso (1544–1595):

This includes a reference, Voltolina 1020, and the statement that it appears to be the only medal made by Ambrogi.

I sent pictures of both the Ariosto and Tasso medals to Philip Attwood of the British Museum, who is an expert on Italian medals. He was away for a week, and during that week I had an idea. Since Ambrogi had produced two plaques depicting Italian renaissance poets, perhaps he had made others. This turned out to be a fruitful line of research, as I found the following auction result of an ex-Michael Hall collection 'roundel.' It is not attributed but to my eyes it appeared to be another by Ambrogi.

I could see something below the bust, so I enlarged the photograph and compared it to the signature on mine... and eureka! The last 'O' in Domenico and the capital 'A' of Ambrogi are just about visible.

Since Philip would not have seen the previous email yet, I sent the pictures of the signatures and auction, stating, "I hope this is news to you, though you probably already know all about these medals.".

His reply:

"Thanks, Pat. No – we seem to have no medals by Ambrogi, nor do I have information on him, so this is interesting stuff.

Best wishes


I have since tried to contact by email Piero Voltolina, whose reference was used for the Tasso auction, to confirm whether that was indeed the only previous known plaque by Ambrogi, who was chiefly an architectural painter of frescoes and quadratura plus an engraver of plates for printing pictures, or whether he was aware of these other two.

It is strange that Michael Hall, one of the greatest private collectors of Renaissance and Baroque medals, owned the one of Petrarca (Petrarch) but did not attribute it to Ambrogi. The signature is, however, very indistinct and unlike me he had no other to compare it to.

In conclusion, unless Voltolina replies to say that he was already aware of the newly attributed plaques, my investigations have resulted in:
• the discovery of a plaque of Ariosto by Ambrogi
• the attribution of another of Petrarca to Ambrogi,
• the discovery as a result of a small series of plaques featuring Renaissance poets by Ambrogi.
Finally, here is a little more information on Domenico Ambrogi, otherwise called Menichino Del Brizio. According to Malvasia, the painter acquired his alternative name as a result of his being the scholar of Francesco Brizio. He was a native of Bologna, and distinguished himself as a painter of history, both in oil and in fresco. He also excelled in representing landscapes, perspective and architectural views, and was much employed in the churches and palaces at Bologna mainly for his quadratura. In S. Giacomo Maggiore is a picture by Ambrogi of the Guardian Angel, and in the Nunziata at S. Francesco, one with a glory of angels. In 1653, he published some woodcuts, from his own designs, printed in chiaroscuro, including one representing a woman holding two flambeaux and a serpent in a triumphal chariot, conducted by Neptune.

Unlike poets & musicians, who normally had a patron, painters of quadratura & frescoes normally were commisioned for a specific project, such as to decorate churches, villas , palaces etc by various people.  Ambrogi did work for, among others, the Marquis de' Buoi, the Marquis Malvezzi, the Marquis Rangoni of Modena and the Duke of Modena. None of the literature that I am aware of even mentions his medallic work, except of course Piero Voltolina's La storia di Venezia attraverso le medaglie.  It is possible that someone did commission him to make the plaques of the three poets, or perhaps it was his own pet project. In Bologna he frescoed a room with the histories of Rinaldo, from Tasso, in the house of the poet Cesare Rinaldi, which could have inspired the idea to produced his first plaque. Ariosto had also used the character Rinaldo in his poetry and of course Petrarch seemed to be the inspiration for the renaissance with his discovery of the works of Cicero & his own poetry & writings.

It is strange that all the records, untill 1998 with the release of Voltolina's opus, are so silent on his metallic work.
« Last Edit: December 06, 2015, 10:37:28 AM by FosseWay »


Offline FosseWay

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Re: Epic Discovery! Major Update. Dante Appears!
« Reply #1 on: December 06, 2015, 10:41:15 AM »
I had a reply, soon after I sent my email to Piero Voltolina, from his widow Meri informing me that he had passed away 10 years ago.  I had delayed posting that information while we were corresponding, back and forth, over the next few days.
Meri was kind to enough to check her late husband's work and informed me that he was unaware of any other plaque/medal by Ambrogi. Further to that, she was still in possession of Ambrogi's Tasso and sent me a picture of it. I gave her the link to this post, partly so she could see what the other Ambrogi plaques were auctioned for. She subsequently offered to sell it to me saying she would be happy if an important part of her husband's collection went to a passionate collector & gave me permission to use the picture here.

We agreed on a price which we were both happy with, and I also purchased from Meri a copy of Piero Voltolina's three-volume work La storia di Venezia attraverso le medaglie. 
The picture helped to confirm what I suspected: that the Petrarca, the Tasso and my Ariosto were all copper, either darkened with time or deliberately. The Petrarca has a heavy green patina, my Ariosto shows copper highlights through the blackening and a slight tinge of green in places, while Voltolina’s Tasso is clearly copper and been cleaned.
So it is almost certain that I have discovered a small series of medallic plaques by Ambrogi. Perhaps there are others to be found?

Here is a picture of the medal and its illustration in the book. Voltolina makes clear that this is the solitary medal he knew by Ambrogi and he could find no previous reference to it.

Offline FosseWay

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Re: Epic Discovery! Major Update. Dante Appears!
« Reply #2 on: December 06, 2015, 10:49:35 AM »
Finally, I provide some more information on possible sources that Ambrogi could have used.

This link has some interesting statues of Italian poets which relate to the medals, but which came first, the chicken or the egg? There is no information on the sculptor to help.
Michele Torresani, a graduate of the University of Parma with a thesis on the poet Giorgio Caproni, who wrote the blog, replied to my request for any info re the statues:

"... congratulations for your discovery about Domenico Ambrogi. Unfortunately, I do not know the sculptor of the four busts. The medals by Ambrogi of Ariosto and Petrarch are clearly the source used by the sculptor of the two busts. Instead, the bust of Tasso must have been inspired by another source, the two being too different faces, Their clothing and the cutting of beards. I guess the existence of a medal by Ambrogi of Dante."

I will let the pictures tell the story regarding Dante.

There was no signature visible on the vendor's picture, but I took a gamble, being 95% sure it was by Ambrogi, and snapped it up as the size 156mm, style and Dante being the obvious choice of another in the series made that an almost certainty. Once I got the Dante in hand I could find no trace of the signature but comparing it to the others I am convinced it is by Ambrogi.  I sent pictures to Philip Attwood at the British Museum and he replied "I'm sure you are right".

Editor's note: This thread has been compiled from a number of posts in the original thread, which is here. All of the above text and information is constanius' work, despite the apparent authorship given alongside the second and subsequent posts.