Giovanni Francesco Susini (Florence, 1585 – 17 October 1653) was a Mannerist Florentine sculptor in bronze and marble, who grew up in Giambologna’s workshop. A theme of Giambologna’s in which Susini excelled was the dynamic and age-old theme of animals in combat, for which Hellenistic prototypes.
One of the typical subjects of Giambologna, later also distinguished by Susini, is the ancient theme of the fighting animals, inspired by Hellenistic prototypes, which the artists had been able to admire thanks to copies of the Roman era.
Susini was born in Florence, and trained in the workshop of Giambologna. Since his work continued to propose the typical style of Giambologna, his works began to be exchanged for those of the master already at the end of the XVII century. His uncle, Antonio Susini, was the principal bronze-caster of Giambologna, and the young Francesco received early training as a junior member of Giambologna’s workshop. A trip to Rome in 1624-26 gave him first-hand experience of classical antique, 16th century, and the emerging Baroque statuary, latter exemplified by Bernini’s youthful Apollo and Daphne, but his own Mannerist style was already matured. He made wax copies of the recently discovered Borghese Hermaphroditus for casting upon his return to Florence. His bronze reduction of the Laocoön is likely based on the copy of it in Florence.
As a sculptor, Susini is known for some public commissions, such as the Fontana del Carciofo (“Artichoke Fountain”, 1641), that stands centered with the piano nobile windows of the Palazzo Pitti’s garden façade. The model for this final ensemble, according to the chronicler of artists Filippo Baldinucci, had been completed and approved in 1639; but like many productions for the Medici Grand Dukes, the fountain was a team project with a complicated history. For example, some of the putti had already been sculpted by Susini and assistants by 1621.
His first independent Medici commission was a bronze bas-relief for a chapel altar in 1614. Medici patronage required teamwork: the sculptor Orazio Mochi (died 1625) was given the challenge—unlikely to have been the sculptor’s choice— of turning a genre subject suited to painting, two players at the roughouse game of Sacchomazzone, into a sculpture for the Boboli Gardens. Assisted at first by Romolo Ferrucci del Tadda (died 1621), Susini reduced the subject to a small bronze, and set it on a small oval plinth to emphasize the tour-de-force of wildly thrashing figures. Other Susini sculptures contribute to the over-all effect of the Boboli Gardens: Cupid Breaking a Heart with a Hammer and Cupid Shooting an Arrow are part of the elaborate allegorical scheme of the “Island Basin” (the Vasca dell’Isola) located on the secondary axis. In 1615, he created the two acquasantiere of bronze on the columns in front of the main entrance of Santissima Annunziata.
Susini signed a few of his works. A signed Bacchus is located at the Louvre. They feature some of his bronze statuettes signed:
Elena’s Jail, signed and dated 1627, is at J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles
Venus burns the Arrows of Love, signed IO. FR. SUSINI-FLOR. F. MDC. XXXIX and Venus punishes Love IO. FR. SUSINI FLOR. FAC. M. DC. XXXVIIII, delivered both by André Le Nôtre to his patron Louis XIV of France in 1693 and suicidal Gallo, all exhibited at the Louvre
David with the head of Goliath at the Liechtenstein Museum in Vienna is signed FRAN.SVSINI F ..
Susini always worked in the family bronze foundry. According to Baldinucci, Giovanni and Antonio Susini continued to use Giambologna’s models even after the death of the master by making for their clients finely worked bronze sculptures. Like those of Giambologna, even Susini’s original designs tend to include two or three figures combined in a complex but balanced composition designed to be appreciated from different points of view. Many of his works, thanks to their small size, could easily be transported and sold outside of Tuscany.
Susini continued to operate the family bronze foundry. According to Baldinucci, Giovanni and Antonio Susini continued to use Giambologna’s models after the elder master’s death to cast finely finished bronze sculptures for discerning patrons. Like Giambologna, Susini’s own designs characteristically employ two or three figures in complicated, balanced relationships meant to be appreciated from multiple viewpoints, as represented by the Abduction of Helen (Dresden and Getty Museum), two versions of Venus and Love (Louvre), David with the Head of Goliath (Liechtenstein collection, Vaduz) an analogue of the Ludovisi Mars in Rome, or Venus and Adonis provide characteristic examples of Susini’s finely cast and finished table sculptures, meant to be appreciated at close range and admired from all sides. Most of his output of small bronzes could be profitably sold and transported to buyers outside of Tuscany.
Lion Attacking a Horse by Giovanni Francesco Susinifirst quarter of 17th century
The tabletop bronze of a lion attacking a horse exhibits a dramatic life and death struggle typical of the intense emotionalism of early Baroque sculpture. Both the bronze and its pendant, Lion Attacking a Bull, feature a wild beast, the ferocious lion, attacking a domesticated animal and forcing it to collapse. The artist delighted in the power of the animals, whose muscular contortions express their physical struggle and psychological anguish. In Lion Attacking a Horse, the artist emphasized the brutality of the kill, using a circular composition to focus attention on the lion’s claws tearing through the horse’s hide. Animal subjects were extremely popular in the early 1600s and a genre for which the sculptor, Giambologna, was well known. Lion Attacking a Horse is based on a fragmentary antique statue now in the Palazzo dei Conservatori, Rome. Many casts of the Lion Attacking a Horse are extant; the Museum’s bronze is among the highest in quality of those that survive.
Susini, Pietro Francavilla, and Pietro Tacca were contemporaries and pupils of Giambologna. Tacca is considered Giambologna’s main pupil, and he worked mainly on larger bronzes.