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Farnese Bull, on modern base of porphyry

Susini Antonio

d. Florence 1624)

The bronze statuette is a copy of the monumental marble group known as the “Toro Farnese” or “Farnese Bull”, found in Rome in 1546 and frequently copied by artists in the following centuries. It depicted the torment of Dirce, taken from Euripides’ Antiope: Amphion and Zethus, sons of Zeus and Antiope, punish their stepmother Dirce to avenge the abuse she inflicted on their real mother. The fulcrum of the animated composition is the raging bull, which one of the two men tries to hold by the horns while the other ties Dirce up with a rope. Behind them the mother Antiope watches the scene, below a dog and a male figure, personification of the spirit of Mount Kithairon, where the episode was set. In the elaborate rocky base are numerous animal figures: a ram, another dog, two wild boars, an eagle holding a snake in its talons, a lion attacking a horse and a bear attacking a bull.

The author of the small bronze statue is the Tuscan Antonio Susini, who created it in 1613. This work shows the accuracy and technical skill that led him to collaborate with Giambologna as a foundryman.

Object details

height 47 cm

Scipione Borghese collection, before 1625; Inventario Fidecommissario Borghese, 1833, A, p. 14; Purchased by the State 1902.


Between the legs of the figure with the rope: “ANT.II SUSINII FLOR.I: OPUS/ A D MDCXIII”

  • 1940 Firenze, Palazzo Strozzi
  • 1978 Vienna, Kunsthistorisches Museum
Conservation and Diagnostic
  • 2008 - 2009 E.M. Conservazione + Arch. S.r.l.


The small and lively bronze group depicts an episode from Euripides’ tragedy: the torture of Dirce, at the hands of her stepsons Amphion and Zethus, who intended to avenge their mother for her abuse. On Mount Kithairon, evoked in the base by the rocks on which the genius loci and numerous other animals involved in predation are portrayed, the queen of Thebes is being tied by two men to a wild bull that will tear her body apart.

This is a copy of the so-called “Farnese Bull”, a Hellenistic marble group long exhibited in the courtyard of Palazzo Farnese in Rome and now in the Archaeological Museum in Naples. Attributed to Apollonius and Tauriskos of Tralles, it was found in 1546 in the Baths of Caracalla, and was the subject of numerous replicas between the 16th and 17th centuries.

The definition in the modelling is exquisite and executed with an impeccable technique. The bronze statuette is a perfect replica of the original, except for the necessary simplification of some decorative details due to its small size. In some points on the surface, there are still traces of the original gilding described by Manilli (1650, p. 108), which is also present in a specimen in the Museo Capodimonte (Capobianco 1995, p. 43).

The work is signed and dated under the figure with the rope by Antonio Susini, a Tuscan sculptor specialised in the execution of the bronze statues: small statues reproducing famous works of art, mainly antique, in great demand by collectors between the 16th and 17th centuries. This form of production, small bronzes made with the lost-wax technique, initially gained momentum in the Florence of Lorenzo de’ Medici. There, in around 1475, Antonio del Pollaiolo had executed the Hercules and Antaeus now in the Museo del Bargello. This technique reached its heights in the second half of the 16th century with Giambologna, of whom Susini was a collaborator.

We do not know how the group came to be in the Villa Pinciana, where it is first mentioned by Crulli in 1625 (c. 50 v) and is later described by Manilli (1650, p. 108-109) in Room 9 on an ebony pedestal with lapis lazuli and jaspers, now lost. In 1700 it was mentioned in Room 2 (Rossini, p. 99). There is another copy of the group by Susini, also dated 1613, conserved in the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg.

The Borghese possessed a small bronze, by the same artist, of the Farnese Hercules, sold in 1892 with other family possessions not bound by the Fideicommissum.

Sonja Felici

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  • F. Capobianco, scheda in La Collezione Farnese di Capodimonte. I bronzetti, catalogo della mostra (Mamiano di Traversetolo, Fondazione Magnani Rocca, 1995), a cura di L. Ambrosio, F. Capobianco, Napoli 1995, p. 43, cat. 32.
  • Guida alla Galleria Borghese, a cura di K. Herrmann Fiore, Roma 1997, pp. 41-44.
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  • S. Bellesi, Il primato nella lavorazione del bronzo a Firenze nel Seicento e Settecento: protagonisti, opere e orientamenti stilistici, in Plasmato dal fuoco. La scultura in bronzo nella Firenze degli ultimi Medici, catalogo della mostra (Firenze, Gallerie degli Uffizi, Palazzo Pitti - Tesoro dei Granduchi, 2019-2020), a cura di E.D. Schmidt, S. Bellesi, R. Gennaioli, Firenze 2019, pp. 21-64.
  • Scheda di catalogo 12/01008662, Pellizzari S., 1983; aggiornamento Felici S.