Menelaus supporting the body of Patroclus

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thumb, Florence]] The marble sculpture usually given the rather arbitrary title Menelaus supporting the body of Patroclus (also known as Pasquino Group) due to its apparent representation of an episode in the Iliad, has had a complicated artistic and social history that illustrates the degree to which free improvisatory restorations were made to fragments of ancient Roman sculpture during the 16th and 17th centuries.

The nucleus of Roman sculpture that has been so imaginatively completed initially comprised the headless torsos of a man in armor supporting a heroically nude dying comrade; the group was made in the late 1st century CE, a Roman copy freely reproducing a Hellenistic Pergamene original of the mid-3rd century BCE. Another version of the composition, though so dismembered and battered that the relationship is scarcely recognizable at first glance, is the so-called "Pasquin", the most famous of the talking statues of Rome. It was set up on a pedestal in 1501.

The sculpture now under the Loggia dei Lanzi in Piazza della Signoria, Florence, (illustration, right) is one of two restored versions of this subject that passed into the hands of Cosimo I, Grand Duke of Tuscany. (The other is in a subsidiary courtyard of Palazzo Pitti. Its history is briefly summarised below.) thumb" fragment still shows the warrior's eroded hand on the limp torso]] The illustrated sculpture was purchased by Cosimo I, not long before 1570, soon after it was discovered in the vigna of Antonio Velli, half a Roman mile beyond Porta Portese, Rome.<ref>"97. Mi ricordo che fuori della detta porta Portese mezzo miglio, dov'è la vigna di Antonio Velli, vi fu trovato un Pasquino sopra un piedistallo di tufa, con un Gladiatore, che gli muore in braccio; il detto Pasquino era mancante fino alla cintura, ma il Gladiatore sano : e quando venne il Duca Cosmo ad incoronarsi in Roma Gran Duca, lo comprò, per scudi cinquecento, e lo condusse a Fiorenza accompagnatolo con l'altro, che ebbe da Paolo Soderino, trovato nel Mausoleo di Augusto." Flaminio Vacca, Memorie... 1594; see also Rodolfo Amedeo Lanciani, The Ruins and Excavations of Ancient Rome: A Companion Book for Students 1897:547, noting Francesco Cancellieri, Notizie sulle statue di... Pasquino (Rome, 1779).</ref> With the consent of Pope Pius V it was taken immediately to Florence, where it appears in the inventory taken at Cosimo's death in 1574. The project for completing the truncated torso of the "Menelaus" figure, missing above the waist when it was found, according to the Memorie (1594) of the sculptor and antiquarian Flaminio Vacca, was commissioned by Ferdinando II; the restoration was worked out by Pietro Tacca and executed by Lodovico Salvetti from Tacca's model, according to Filippo Baldinucci. It was set up in a niche on the south end of the Ponte Vecchio. Paolo Alessandro Maffei's engraving of 1704 shows that Menelaus then was wearing a helmet much simpler than the elaborate neoclassical one provided by Ricci seen on the sculpture today.

File:Príamo y Héctor (Juan Adán, MRABASF E-212) 01.jpg
Terracotta reduction by Juan Adán Morlán, as Priam supporting the body of Hector (Royal Academy of Fine Arts of San Fernando, Madrid)

In 1771 the neoclassic artist Anton Raphael Mengs took moulds of the parts he considered antique of this sculpture and the version at the Palazzo Pitti (discussed below) and reassembled them in a plaster model that was intended to be more faithful to the Roman original. It was taken away to be further repaired in 1798 and remained in obscurity, undergoing further adjustments by Stefano Ricci in the 1830s, until it was finally re-erected in 1838, in the Loggia dei Lanzi. The feature which still draws most attention is the lifeless hanging left arm of Patroclus, seemingly dislocated, which was in fact part of the Tacca-Salvetti restoration. Other "errors" an archaeologist today would point out, by comparing the fragment with other surviving fragments rather than by relying on his sensitive artistic eye, are the lifted left leg of the bearer and raised right knee of Patroclus, and the picturesquely mounded ground that serves as a base.

The second Medici group

The second group of Menelaus supporting the body of Patroclus (not illustrated) was a gift in 1570 from the Florentine Paolo Antonio Soderini of Rome. It was said to have been found at the Mausoleum of Augustus. Identified as Ajax, is stands in the Cortile del Ajaco of Palazzo Pitti.

Further fragments of other Roman copies of this group have appeared during the 20th century, but more severe modern criteria have prevented any of them from being restored as a completed figural group.



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