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The Goat Amalthea with the Infant Jupiter and a Faun

Attributed to Bernini Gian Lorenzo

(Naples 1598 - Rome 1680)

This sculpture group depicts the goat Amalthea lying on the ground with her head turned to the little Jupiter. Crowned with a wreath of vines, the young god milks the goat. The animal’s gaze draws the viewer’s attention toward Jupiter, understood to be the protagonist of the work; he in turn looks back at her. Behind Amalthea a small faun, identified as Pan, drinks milk from a bowl.

The first certain mention of The Goat Amalthea in connection with Villa Pinciana dates to 1615, when Giovanni Battista Soria was paid for the base on which the work is displayed. The sculpture was cited by Manilli in 1650 without an indication of the artist; subsequent sources and critics likewise regarded it as an anonymous work until 1926, when Longhi confirmed Joachim von Sandrart’s 1675 attribution to Gian Lorenzo Bernini. The sculpture has been regarded as an precocious example of the artist’s extraordinary talents, even though some critics do not consider it an autograph work. Scholars have noted an allegorical significance in the choice of subject, which allegedly refers to the cornucopia connected to the goat Amalthea: according to this interpretation, the work was meant to suggest a return to the Golden Age, signalled by pontificate of Paul V of the Borghese family.


Object details

Inventory
CXVIII
Location
Date
before 1615
Classification
Period
Medium
marble
Dimensions
height 45 cm
Provenance

Cardinal Scipione Borghese, documented in 1615 (Faldi 1954, p. 25, no. 30); Inventario Fidecommissario Borghese, 1833, C, p.48; purchased by Italian state, 1902.

Exhibitions
  • 1998 Roma, Galleria Borghese
  • 1999 Roma, Palazzo Venezia
  • 2017-2018 Roma, Galleria Borghese
Conservation and Diagnostic
  • 1997 C.B.C. Coop. a.r.l.

Commentary

The dating and attribution of the group depicting the goat Amalthea has been the object of long-standing controversy among scholars, which continues into the present. The work certainly figured in the collection of Scipione Borghese in 1615, the year in which Giovanni Battista Soria was paid for the wooden base which once supported it (Faldi 1954, p. 25). Joachim von Sandrart was the first scholar to propose an attribution to Gian Lorenzo Bernini in 1675 (1925 ed., p. 188), yet it wasn’t until 1926 that Roberto Longhi made the connection to the The Goat Amalthea (1926, p. 65). The absence of payment receipts for the group in the Borghese documents has led some critics to propose that the work was donated to Scipione as a sample of the very young sculptor’s extraordinary technical abilities, and was therefore not directly commissioned by the cardinal (Pierguidi, in Bernini e gli allievi, 2008, p. 123, cat. 2). On the other hand, some scholars still do not believe that the work is by Bernini (Bacchi 2017, p. 26, n. 26).

The subject of the sculpture group is a well-known one from ancient mythology: because a prophecy had predicted that one of his children would kill him, Cronus threatened to devour his newborn son Jupiter, who was only saved when his mother Rhea removed him to Crete. Here he was raised by Amalthea, who at first was identified as either a nymph or the daughter of King Melisseus and later as the goat who nursed Jupiter. Ovid combined the original myth with the legend of the goat’s horn, the cornucopia with miraculous powers, which Jupiter gave as a present to his nurses, the nymphs Adrasteia and Ida. In 1624, The Goat Amalthea was included in a decorative programme celebrating the new Golden Age experienced by the Borghese family; the locus of this project was the frescoed vault of the loggia depicting Giovanni Lanfranco’s Counsel of the Gods  (D'Onofrio 1967, pp. 218-25).

The subject of the work is quite rare in sculpture. Bernini’s interpretation is fanciful: he represents Jupiter milking the goat to feed both himself and the faun. Here he resorts to the classical technique of invenzione, which consisted of presenting a known theme through a new and surprising approach (Preimesberger, in Bernini scultore, 1998, p. 47).

Bernini’s great ability to distinguish and mimetically characterise different surfaces is already evident in this work. This is the first sculpture of his which shows a well-known trait of his entire oeuvre, namely the lack of finishing of parts which he believed would not be visible to viewers. In addition, we also note several details that reveal uncertainties on the part of the young artist, such as in the horns and tails of the goat and the edge of the bowl: Bernini corrected these by attaching pieces with rosin (Coliva 2002, p. 17).

The crown of vine leaves and the presence of Pan – who also drinks Amalthea’s milk – alludes to Jupiter’s extremely sensual nature, enriching the subject with an innovative moralising significance, in accordance with a practice that reappears in Apollo and Daphne (Preimesberger 1989, pp. 118ff., 122ff.). Allusions to the five senses are also present in certain details of the group: that of sight in the playful exchange of gazes between the figures, that of hearing in the goat’s open mouth and small bell around her neck, that of taste in Pan’s expression as he sips the milk, and that of touch in the action of milking and in the natural rendering of the goat’s skin (Preimesberger, in Bernini scultore, 1998, p. 45).

Although the work depicts a subject which was rarely represented in ancient art, it betrays the study of past models, to which Gian Lorenzo was certainly exposed in his father’s workshop. Here the influence of Hellenistic motifs is apparent, in particular in the intimate, playful gazes exchanged by the two putti (Minozzi, in I Borghese, 2011, p. 390).

Initially positioned in the Lanfranco Loggia on the first floor, the work was moved to Room 3 during the rearrangement of the collections carried out by the architect Antonio Asprucci in the late 18th century; here it was displayed with other small sculptures with Bacchic subjects. Following the sale of several ancient marbles to Napoleon, it returned to the Lanfranco Loggia in the 19th century. For several years it occupied the Entrance Hall; it was brought back to the Loggia in 1997.




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