The relationship between an artist and his patron can be nurturing, or antagonistic. How these two opposing emotions come into play truly comes down to one deciding factor, payment. But for Giovanni Francesco Rustici, sculptor and painter during the Renaissance, his livelihood did not hinge on the whim of his contractor, for this artist had his own wealth and did not appreciate being dependant on the whim of those that chose to hire him.
An exhibition at the Museo Bargello in Florence brings to life this long ignored artist who was patronized by Cardinal Giuliano de Medici and friend of Leonardo da Vinci. One of the great sculptors of his day, Rustici’s body of work became obscured by the small output and is now widely scattered in museums throughout Europe. The centerpieces of this showing are three bronze statues that have stood at the entrance to the Baptistery of San Giovanni in Florence, Italy since 1509. After undergoing extensive restoration, these figures will now be moved inside to preserve their antiquity.
However his work was not valued by the council that had contracted his talent. According to Vasari, a chronicler of the times, Rustici found it “strange that Baccio d’Agnolo, a worker in wood, should have value above the labors of a statuary” proclaiming the council ‘a herd of oxen.’ They responded ‘that he was a swollen bladder of pride and arrogance.’ Payment was reduced and Giovanni had to sell some of his farmland to complete the bronzes for the baptistery.
Following this clash of emotion, Rustici withdrew from public commissions to his house in Sapienza. Taking solace in his menagerie of animals, a tame porcupine, raven, bald eagle and a fish pond with grass snakes, he continued to work. “You must first think, then make sketches, and after that designs, which you must put aside for months, without looking at them, and then, choosing the best, put them into execution.” He produced in collaboration with Leonardo on several projects, their influence on each other evident in the comparative body of work shown at this exhibition.
After the expulsion of the Medici from Florence in 1528, he moved to France taking a commission from King Francis I, who died shortly thereafter while Rustici was working on a life-size statue of a bronze horse for the king. The heir, King Henry, took away his pension and rented the palace where he was living to Piero Strozzi. But this being Rustici’s friend, sent him to an abbey and paid for his care. He died in obscurity a few short years later. The giant bronze horse, his last effort, was destroyed during the French Revolution.
Giovanni Francesco ‘worked by inclination, when the mind and will are drawn to it, not by necessity, from morning to night.’
View the exhibition catalog from the Bargello Museum.