The parcel-gilt and silvered bronze roundel, depicting Mars, Venus, Cupid and Vulcan, is attributed to Gian Marco Cavalli (c.1454-1508), goldsmith, sculptor, engraver and medallist who worked for the Gonzaga court in Mantua in the northern Italian region of Lombardy.
It is believed to date to c.1500 and is both the largest and one of the most technically sophisticated examples of a bronze roundel known from the early Renaissance.
The Met has acquired it from a UK dealer for £20.4m (including VAT).
The roundel had previously sold at Christie’s in December 2003 for £6.95m (including buyer’s premium) and was owned by the buyer and their family until 2019 when it was sold to the UK dealer who then sold it on to the Met on the provision an export licence was granted.
However, the export was temporarily stopped while the UK government sought a buyer to keep it in the UK (it had been in the UK since at least the early 18th century) and pay the £17m plus £3.4m VAT required (as reported in ATG No 2496).
However, no buyer came forward and at the end of last year it was agreed it could be exported and the Met’s acquisition was completed.
James David Draper (1943-2019), the Met’s former curator emeritus of European sculpture, had attempted to buy the roundel for the museum in 2003, but another buyer was successful at the Christie’s auction.
At the time, Draper wrote: “This is the most thrilling Renaissance bronze to appear on the market in ages.” He spent his 45-year career at The Met, building the collections of 15th and 16th century Italian and 18th and 19th century French sculpture before retiring in 2014.
The purchase of the roundel was made possible in major part through a bequest from Draper, as well as from Alejandro Santo Domingo and Michel David-Weill along with other trustees on The Met’s acquisitions committee.
Max Hollein, the Met’s Marina Kellen French director, said: “It is a truly transformational acquisition for our collection of Italian Renaissance sculpture. We look forward to further studying and displaying this magnificent work, one that establishes Cavalli as one of the ingenious creators of the Gonzaga court style.”
Cavalli collaborated for over 30 years with Andrea Mantegna (1430/31–1506), the principal painter to the Gonzaga court in Mantua, and with Antico (c. 1460-1528), the family’s principal sculptor. The attribution to Cavalli was not certain until further study in 2003.
The roundel may have been made for Isabella d’Este, Marchioness of Mantua (1474-1539).
The relief, an allegory celebrating harmony, shows Venus, goddess of love, subduing belligerent Mars, god of war, and all others under her power.
The roundel’s symbolism expands upon the tradition of comparing Isabella d’Este to Venus, most famously depicted in the Parnassus (1497 in the Louvre) painted by Andrea Mantegna for Isabella’s study room in the Ducal Palace.
The roundel will be on display from March.