Dallas Museum of Art Discovers A New Attribution in Its Reves Collection: Giovanni Bonazza’s Reclining Nymph

The Dallas Museum of Art announced today the reattribution of a Baroque sculpture to the artist Giovanni Bonazza, a prominent Italian sculptor active in Padua in the 17th and 18th centuries. The work of art has been in the Museum’s collection for nearly thirty years, entering in 1985 as part of the Wendy and Emery Reves Collection.

When the DMA acquired the Reclining Nymph, it was considered to be by the hand of Alessandro Algardi (1598–1654), an Italian sculptor who was the main rival of the great Gian Lorenzo Bernini. Leo Planiscig, a historian of Italian Renaissance sculpture, made the attribution, but the Museum was doubtful and consulted experts, who confirmed that Algardi did not carve the nymph. The attribution changed to an anonymous artist, and remained that way for over twenty years.

Recently, Olivier Meslay, Associate Director of Curatorial Affairs at the DMA, saw an impressive marble pedestal sculpted by Giovanni Bonazza (1654–1736) at a European art fair. Immediately, he believed the authorship of the DMA’s unsigned marble was by Bonazza based upon visual and stylistic evidence.

According to Meslay, Bonazza's remarkable marble pedestal determined conclusively the authorship of the nymph. Meslay found that the pedestal's allegorical figures of Fides and Decorum related perfectly to the Reclining Nymph. The figures share plump, asymmetrical cheeks and the same slender hands. The most convincing similarity is between the facial shape and structure of Decorum and the nymph's own face, though the former is a male figure.

“The discovery that the Reclining Nymph is by the Italian Baroque sculptor Giovanni Bonnaza, and not, as one art historian described it, ‘a pretty piece of decorative sculpture’ displayed atop a chest of drawers in the Wendy and Emery Reves Collection, highlights the Museum’s commitment to curatorial research that advances scholarship in the museum field and also enriches the visitor experience,” said Maxwell L. Anderson, The Eugene McDermott Director of the Dallas Museum of Art.

Proof for the reattribution of the Reclining Nymph added up quickly once Meslay researched Bonazza's other sculptures. “Visual and stylistic parallels exist between the nymph and three known statuettes by Bonazza: the signed Saint Jerome Penitent and The Penitent Magdalen in Padua, and another Saint Jerome,” said Meslay. “All four share the same composition of a reclining male or female nude on a bed of rocks. The figures’ delicately carved hands and twisting torsos are also the same. Stylistically, the obsessive approach to drilling with a trepan, a tool for boring deep holes, on the base and the polishing of the marble are analogous in each statuette.”

“From these comparisons, the nymph—with her finely polished marble, graceful pose, and expressive face—is without a doubt a marble carved by the hands of Bonazza,” declared Meslay. “This new attribution for the Reclining Nymph means that she is no longer a work lying anonymously on a chest of drawers.”

Reclining Nymph is on view in the DMA’s Wendy and Emery Reves Collection galleries on Level 3.

About the Sculpture: Resting on a bed of rocks covered in vegetation, a muscular female nude reclines with her right arm over an urn from which water flows. She represents a river nymph. In Greek and Roman mythology, nymphs were female spirits of nature who inhabited rivers, forests, and other natural locations. Two marble statues of Roman river gods, both of which are located on Rome's Capitoline Hill, are personifications of the Tiber River in Rome and the Nile. They were greatly admired by Renaissance and Baroque artists, such as Bonazza, who used their reclining poses as a model for nymphs and other mythological figures in paintings and sculptures.

About Giovanni Bonazza: Born in Venice, Italy, Bonazza was a prolific sculptor and ran a successful workshop in Padua. He carved religious statues for Paduan churches, garden sculptures for the Summer Garden in St. Petersburg, Russia, and portrait medallions. He also realized many small-scale sculptures for connoisseurs, similar to the Museum's statuette.

About the Dallas Museum of Art
Established in 1903, the Dallas Museum of Art (DMA) ranks among the leading art institutions in the country and is distinguished by its innovative exhibitions and groundbreaking educational programs. At the heart of the Museum and its programs is its global collection, which encompasses more than 22,000 works and spans 5,000 years of history, representing a full range of world cultures. Located in the vibrant Arts District of downtown Dallas, the Museum welcomes more than half a million visitors annually and acts as a catalyst for community creativity, engaging people of all ages and backgrounds with a diverse spectrum of programming, from exhibitions and lectures to concerts, literary events, and dramatic and dance presentations. In January 2013, the DMA returned to a free general admission policy and launched DMA Friends, the first free museum membership program in the country.

The Dallas Museum of Art is supported, in part, by the generosity of DMA Partners and donors, the citizens of Dallas through the City of Dallas Office of Cultural Affairs, and the Texas Commission on the Arts.

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For more information, please contact:
Jill Bernstein
Dallas Museum of Art
214-922-1802
JBernstein@DMA.org