Grey Matters

Antonio Rizzo (Verona 1430-99 Venice)
Virgin and Child, ca. 1480
stone relief (pietra di Nanto)
25 1/5 x 19 inches
64 x 48.5 cm

Capturing the subtle interplay between line and three-dimensional form, Virgin and Child is an extraordinary refined low relief by Antonio Rizzo, a leading sculptor in 15th century Venice and the main competitor to Pietro Lombardo’s family workshop. Reliefs representing the Virgin and Child are usually associated with the Florentine Renaissance and models by artists such as Ghiberti and Donatello. The present work differs from these by the treatment of its shallow relief, set off against the background, the rounded faces, sharply delineated lips and arched brows, which are distinctive of a number of sculptures attributed to the artist.

The artist

Rizzo was born in Verona in the 1430s. While little documentation exists about his life, it is known that he was active mainly in Venice between 1465 – 98. His work includes the two marble statues of Adam and Eve on the further side of the Foscari Arch, opposite the Giants’ Staircase, in the courtyard of the Doges’ Palace in Venice (fig. 1). He also executed the tombs of Doge Niccolò Tron, in Santa Maria Gloriosa de’ Frari (fig. 2); of Doge Antonio Barbarigo, in the church of the Carità (between 1483-93); and of Giovanni Emo, in Santa Maria dei Servi (after 1483). At the end of his life he was forced to escape from Venice due to a financial scandal, an event that probably contributed to the fading of his reputation.

The use of pietra di Nanto, a stone from the Veneto, corroborates the attribution to Rizzo who executed several sculptures and architectural works in local stone instead of marble, such as the Page holding a shield with a coat of arm formerly part of the tomb of Doge Giovanni Emo (Musée du Louvre, Paris).

Fig. 1 Antonio Rizzo, Adam and Eve, 1476, column outside Doges Palace, Venice
Fig. 2 Antonio Rizzo, Tomb of Doge Niccolò Tron, Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari, Venice

In her extensive monograph on Rizzo, Markham Schulz supposes that he must have been in Florence yet in his review of the monograph Boucher suggests that the artist’s work is distinctly different from Florentine art. Rizzo’s vein of classicism could derive from the Venetian and Pavian schools, which also gave rise to artists such as Agostino di Duccio (1418-1481) with his distinctive linear style and Pietro Lombardo (1430-1515). A rare example of a low relief by Rizzo is on view at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (fig. 4).

Fig. 3 Antonio Rizzo, Angel Holding a Shield, ca. 1470, marble, 57 x 44 x 35 cm. Lent to the Metropolitan Museum of Art by the Hearn Family Trust.
Fig. 4 Antonio Rizzo, Virgin and Child, ca. 1465-70, marble, ⌀ 86 cm. The Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam BK-2016-101

Related examples

Schulz published a somewhat heterogeneous group of four reliefs with the Virgin and Child, including an example in the Rijksmuseum (fig. 4) in her monograph on Rizzo, published at a time when the present work was unbeknownst to her. The only documented one, a high relief on the altar of Saint Clement in Saint Mark’s Basilica, shows affinity with the present sculpture: the full cheeks, the design of the hair line near the temples, the way of rendering the drapery, which is thicker on the arms than over the body and forms meandering lines as it falls towards the frame. Schulz has examined this relief in person and endorses the attribution to Antonio Rizzo. ❖

Installation view of Grey Matters at Nicholas Hall, 2021
Madonna and Child, Antonio Rizzo

Private Collection, Switzerland, from 2001

Anne Markham Schulz, Antonio Rizzo, Sculptor and architect, Princeton, 1983

Brian Boucher, “An enigmatic sculptor-architect”, Apollo Magazine, October 1984, pp. 297-288

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