Why the "art experts" believe the models are Fakes

Source:"Michelangelo Models", Paul LeBrooy, Creelman & Drummond, Vancouver, Canda, 1972, pp 124-127.

Opinions: Authorities who consider the models in the von Praun Collection to be copies of lost original models by Michelangelo or direct copies of original works by Michelangelo

Ernst Steinmann, in his 1907 Das Geheimnis der Medicigraber Michelangelos says: "The

scarcity of the Bozzetti (models) in London and Florence which can be attributed to

Michelangelo must restrain us from considering the terracottas of the Haehnel

Collection as original works of the Master." The models in London to which Steinmann

is referring are the wax models from the Gherardini Collection in the Victoria and

Albert Museum. Steinmann's judgment has no credible foundation, however, as the

numerous models in London from the Gherardini Collection have long since lost their

former attribution to Michelangelo. Steinmann, in his 1924 "Michelangelo-Modelle",

states that the terracotta models from the von Praun Collection are copies of lost

originals by Michelangelo, but he admits to some difficulty in deciding to whom they

should be attributed on account of the high quality of the workmanship and its

similarity to that of Michelangelo. He also expresses great admiration for the

workmanship displayed in the models, but at the same time admits that he never saw

the terracottas themselves and that his judgment is based solely on photographs of

the models.

Fritz Burger, in his 1907 Studien zu Michelangelo, believes the models to be copies

of lost originals by Michelangelo and he suggests that the copyist (perhaps Tribolo)

may have seen Michelangelo's models when he was working in the Sacristy of the Medici

Chapel in Florence. Dr. Burger's theory has no supporters, and it seems highly

unlikely that any copyist would have had access to the Sacristy of the Medici Chapel.

Burger's and Steinmann's opinions concerning the models were completely dis- counted

by Henry Thode's authoritative writings of 1913. Steinmann himself acknowledged Henry

Thode's pre-eminence in a subject which so many authorities on Michelangelo have

ignored, primarily because of its specialized nature and the personal examinations

and studies required of this form of Michelangelo's remarkable creative ability. As

Steinmann wrote in his 1924 article on models by Michelangelo:

"In the sixth volume of the critical supplements (which can never be praised enough)

to his work on Michelangelo, Thode has put together at least a part of the

terracottas which have been ascribed to Michelangelo in the past centuries."

A.E. Brinckmann, in his one-page article titled "Terrakotten Michelangelos (?)"

published in 1925, considers the models in the Haehnel Collection to be miserable

16th century copies of Michelangelo's powerful artistic style. He gives no reasons

for his opinion, however, except to state that the only authentic models by

Michelangelo are to be found in the Casa Buonarroti, Florence, and in the Gherardini

Collection of the Victoria and Albert Museum. As in the case of Steinmann he did not

see the originals themselves and bases his 1925 judgment solely on the forty

photographic plates published by Meier-Graefe in the previous year.

Brinckmann's negative opinion of 1925 is perhaps due to the fact that two years

previously he had published {Barock-Bozzetti, 1923, Vol. I, pp. 28-39) what he

considered to be a complete list of the few surviving authentic models by

Michelangelo, and this list did not include the models in the Haehnel Collection.

Brinckmann has erroneously stated that a clay model in the Musee Bonat, Bayonne,

France, was an original model by Michelangelo ("Belvedere", XI, 1927, p. 155) whereas

it is actually a copy, and as already stated the wax sketches from the Gherardini

Collection in the Victoria and Albert Museum, which were accepted by him in 1923 and

again in 1925 as being by the hand of Michelangelo, have since that time definitely

lost that attribution. As in the case of Brinckmann's article "Terrakotten

Michelangelos (?)", because of possible loss of prestige, it is a human and perhaps

understandable failing of art authorities that once an authority gives his opinion as

to the genuiness or non-genuiness of a piece of art, seldom, if ever, will he later

reverse that opinion, particularly if it has previously appeared in print. With

particular reference to Michelangelo models, Ludwig Goldscheider is an exception to

the general rule. In his 1957 Michelangelo's Bozzetti for Statues in the Medici

Chapel he says that all the models in the Haehnel Collection are copies, whereas five

years later in his 1962 publication A Survey of Michelangelo's Models in Wax and Clay

he shows such nobility of character that he reverses his previously printed opinion.

One aspect to be derived from Goldscheider's 1962 authentication should be commented

on; if in the Haehnel von Praun Collection there are, as Gold- scheider believes, at

least six models which are from the hand of Michelangelo, then it cannot be said with

certainty that none of the other models in the Collection merits the same authentic

certification—if even just one model is acceptable, then there is strong in dication

that all or a majority can be accepted, especially as all models in the Collection

have the same remarkable provenance.

With reference to the Haehnel Collection, in correspondence dated May 14, 1962, with

the author of this volume, the art historian Dr. Hans Huth, then head of the

Renaissance Department of The Art Institute of Chicago, wrote:

"I would say that opinions of Messrs. Stein mann and Burger would be of no great

importance. Brinckmann's opinion would seem valuable only if he had seen the

originals. I have, by the •way, known all three men."

The only small model that Bernard Berenson accepted as being by the hand of

Michelangelo, is the dark red wax model for "The Young Boboli Giant" from the

Gherardini Collection in the Victoria and Albert Museum, but most authorities of

today call it a copy. Sir John Pope-Hennessy says, however, that the balance of

probability is that it is by Michelangelo. This 61/2 inch high wax model has been

varnished and its surface is blotchy and discoloured. Broken parts of it have been

repaired. Berenson does not refer to the Haehnel-von Praun Collection of models by

Michelangelo and it is very doubtful that he ever saw it.

Charles de Tolnay, the excellent and very authoritative writer of a number of volumes

on Michelangelo, in his The Medici Chapel, Vol. Ill, 1948, note 9, p. 155, states in

a two-line reference that the models in the Haehnel Collection are copies, but makes

no other comment except to quote Steinmann {Geheimnis, Leipzig, 1907, p. 83) as the

basis for his opinion.

It is astonishing how carelessly art authorities have dealt with models by

Michelangelo, not excluding even those very few art historians who have a thorough

knowledge of the many other aspects of Michelangelo's remarkable creative ability. As

an example of this unconcern, de Tolnay, in note 8, p. 155 of his The Medici Chapel,


"Terracotta Models of the Allegories, mid- sixteenth century, Formerly Collection

Ruland, Weimar, later Collection Percy Strauss, New York, Cf. Thode, Kr. U., i, p.

486, and Steinmann, Geheimnis, p. 85 (illus.)."

The one and only model by Michelangelo that was in the Percy Strauss Collection in

New York was the model of the "Day" and this is now in the Museum of Fine Arts in

Houston, Texas, as part of a substantial donation of art by Percy Strauss and his

wife to that museum. The small model of the "Day" (twelve and one-half inches long)

in Houston comes from the von Praun Collection and it was one of the models from the

Haehnel Collection which were sold at Christie's in 1938. The statuette of a "Nude

Youth" (Fig. 159), in the Casa Buonarroti, which de Tolnay discusses at great length

in his Vol. 1, fig. 286, on Michelangelo, he identifies as "terracotta" whereas it is

quite obviously made of wax. A further example of what appears to be de Tolnay's

disinterest in researching models directly relating to Michelangelo's works is found

in note 7, p. 155 of his The Medici Chapel, in which he says that the model of the

"Night" from the Tribolo series is now in the Victoria and Albert Museum, and that

this model was in the mid-sixteenth century the property of Vasari and preserved in

his house in Arrezzo. De Tolnay is referring to a larger, rather than small sized,

terracotta statuette of the "Dawn" (eighteen inches long) which was purchased by the

Victoria and Albert Museum from the Gherardini Collection, and mistakenly describes

the statuette as a copy of the "Night". De Tolnay also assumes that it formed part of

a set of four medium-sized terracotta copies (twenty-four inches long) of the four

"Phases of the Day" in the Medici Chapel, stated by Vasari to have been made by

Tribolo (an early student of Michelangelo), of which the "Dawn", the "Day" and the

"Evening" are now in the Museo Nazionale, Florence. It should be noted that this last

mistake was not made by Thode (Michelangelo, IV, Berlin, 1908, p. 485) and that he

says the aforesaid model of the "Dawn" in the Victoria and Albert Museum (from the

Gherardini Collection) can- not be ascribed to a known hand.

Until de Tolnay's appointment in 1962 as Director of the Casa Buonarroti in Florence,

he believed that there existed in the world only two small models (Figs. 7 and 10)

which were actually by the hand of Michelangelo, in addition to the full-scale model

(Fig. 134) for the "River God" (in the Casa Buonarroti since its removal from the

Florence Accademia in 1965). This large model has been generally accepted as being by

Michelangelo only within the past sixty- five years; it had previously been

attributed to Ammanati. De Tolnay's opinion on the Haehnel-von Praun Collection is

based on Ernest Steinmann's, which is no longer considered reliable. Steinmann was a

very poor authority on Michelangelo's models—he reproduced in Geheimnis der

Medicigrdber Michelangelo as works of the Master, the models in Edinburgh which are

now considered to be fakes, and a number of others which are also definitely false.

It appears that since de Tolnay's appointment as Director of the Casa Buonarroti he

has become more expansive and now believes the authenticity of at least six small

models, all in the Casa Buonarroti, one of which is a crucifix in wood (Fig. 172)

which is approximately five inches high. The 1970 catalogue of the Casa Buonarroti

Museum classifies the six small models as being by Michelangelo with an additional

three models described as being only attributed to him. It should be noted, however,

that one of the three models (Fig. 159) attributed to Michelangelo in the catalogue

has in the past been classified by de Tolnay (see Addendum) as an authentic model by


John Pope-Hennessy, one of today's finest art historians, in his Catalogue of Italian

Sculpture in the Victoria and Albert Museum, p. 426, Vol. 2, says that the model for

the right arm of Christ in the "Pieta" in St. Peter's, Rome, and the model for the

right hand of "Moses" (both from the von Praun Collection and both now in the

Victoria and Albert Museum) are casts from reduced versions of the "Pieta" and the

"Moses", and were there no reason to suppose that they came from the von Praun

Collection a more recent origin might be presumed. He further states that the

terracotta models in the Victoria and Albert Museum for the "Dawn" and for the

"Night" (formerly in the Haehnel von Praun Collection) are derived from the Medici

Tombs, modelled directly, or from bronzes or other reductions, and that they possibly

date from the sixteenth century. There are four small models from the von Praun

Collection, as well as the plaquette, "Hercules and Atlas", which Henry Thode doubted

were made by the hand of Michelangelo ("Michelangelos Tonmodelle aus der

Haehnel'schen Sammlung"), These four models were "The Right Hand of Moses", (Fig.

108), now in the Victoria and Albert Museum; "A Left Foot" (Fig. 56); "A Slender

Right Leg" (Fig. 131), and "A Slender Left Leg (Fig. 140), both of which Thode

considered to have been made for a crucifix. The two last-named models are now in the

Vancouver Collection. With regard to the plaquette (Fig. 168), Thode says:

"I cannot believe that a plaque in terracotta which is rounded at the top and which

shows two nude men of a Herculean stature, holding a great ball with violent effort

and surrounded by gar- ments, also comes from Michelangelo. The muscles are too

strong and too unpleasant — exaggerated in the manner ofBandinelli. Burger is

reminded of the sketch of Atlas bearing the world that Michelangelo made for

Prederico Ginori, yet he showed there Atlas bearing the world, whereas here is shown

Hercules taking the world over from Atlas (if this is shown at all) and the sketch

was made for a model which cannot be said for the terracotta."

Professor George Lehnert in his 1913 opinion on the Haehnel Collection, Expert

Opinion on Models by Michelangelo, ascribed the possible use of casts to far too many

models in the Collection and failed to note that where clay models by Michelangelo

were to be fired and turned into terracotta, it was in most cases simply a matter of

slicing a clay model, while in its leather-hard state, into halves or even into

several parts for hollowing-out purposes. When the two halves or parts are joined

together prior to firing, it is normal for a faint seam to be detectable in many

cases after the firing, as in the case of a number of the hollow models in the

Haehnel-von Praun Collection. It is to be noted, however, that Thode did not make the

same error as did Lehnert with regard to the use of casts, and where he detected

faint seams in the models, he stated in his 1913 article:

"The models are scrupulously built expressions out of a genuine form (double form of

front and back halves pressed against each other, compare the seams still

recognizable at No. 21). The openings to be found repeatedly in the back served the

purpose to avoid, if possible, changes during the processes of burning, when the clay

may have been contracted."