The ‘Most Important Collection’ of Renaissance and Baroque Bronzes Goes to Auction

Exhibited at the Frick and the Met, the bronze masterworks of the Quentin Collection are headed to the block at Christie’s in New York and Paris.

Two small bronze statues of nude, muscular men
Giovanni Bandini, ‘Mars and Vulcan’, bronzed terracotta, 30 in. (76.2 cm.) high. Christie’s Images Limited

“Art is in my blood,” Argentine collector Claudia Quentin told Christie’s, which in just a few days will auction off one of the most exceptional collections of masterworks of Renaissance and Baroque bronzes ever assembled. It was shown in a groundbreaking exhibition at the Frick Collection in 2004. A portion of the collection was on view at the Metropolitan Museum of Art from 2017 until 2021. And Quentin has generously loaned her bronzes, which collectively represent 250 years of European technical and artistic brilliance, to some of the greatest art institutions around the world.

The name might not ring a bell, however. Claudia Quentin’s collection, assembled over four decades with support from London-based art dealer Patricia Wengraf, is rare in a way that’s ironically common. Old Master sculpture doesn’t attract the same degree of attention as, say, high-profile Old Master paintings or marble sculpture from the same period, and museum-quality collections as large as Quentin’s can fly under the radar. The Robert H. Smith Collection, which included bronzes by Giambologna and Antonio Susini owned by the late real estate mogul and philanthropist, last made headlines in 2008 when it was promised to the National Gallery of Art. Billionaire collector J. Tomilson Hill’s bronzes, shown by the Frick in 2014 in the “Renaissance and Baroque Bronzes from the Hill Collection” exhibition, represent just a fraction of the Hill Collection. Other significant collectors in the space, past and present, include American financier J. Pierpont Morgan, architect Peter Marino and Prince Hans-Adam II of Liechtenstein.

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Yet it wasn’t that long ago that the Renaissance and Baroque sculpture market offered an opening for new collectors to acquire Old Master works. Prices for bronzes at auction are nothing to sneeze at (and exceptional rediscoveries can fetch high sums) but don’t often reach the heights that paintings of similar provenance and quality do—for several reasons. As Judith H. Dobrzynski, writing for Art + Auction, pointed out some years ago, Europe-based dealers can play a much larger role in this slice of the market than auction houses, though the major houses have their regular sales. And perhaps Renaissance bronzes, for all their technical brilliance, simply don’t resonate with art lovers the way paintings or stone sculptures do. (Roberta Smith called them an ‘acquired taste’ in 2003.)

A small bronze statue of a woman holding something out of a child's reach
Carlo di Cesare del Palagio, ‘Venus Withholding a Heart from Cupid’, bronze, 30 in. (76.2 cm.) high. Christie’s Images Limited

Nonetheless, there’s a fair amount of buzz around Claudia Quentin’s collection because, as Christie’s puts it, it encompasses “some of the best efforts of the most famous masters of Renaissance and Baroque sculpture: the school of Leonardo da Vinci, Giovanni Bandini and those connected to the Medici court, Adriaen de Vries, Giambologna, Antonio Susini and Willem Danielsz van Tetrode.”

Quentin comes from a family of artists and collectors, which may be why she has such a discerning eye. She initially began acquiring Renaissance and Baroque bronzes for private study but soon became respected around the world for her connoisseurship. She has a knack for identifying originals crafted by the artist, one-of-a-kind pieces (e.g., Carlo di Cesare del Palagio Venus Withholding a Heart from Cupid) and the best examples of multiples.

“It’s rare to have the opportunity to view original models by these artists outside of museums,” added Christie’s Head of Sculpture, Will Russell, in the accompanying auction story. “It’s even rarer to have the chance to bid on them… Yet suddenly, here are 15 at once—this is an unbelievable moment for European bronze and sculpture collectors.”

The first iteration of “The Quentin Collection: Masterpieces of Renaissance and Baroque Sculpture” will take place at Christie’s in New York on January 30. The second will be held at Christie’s in Paris in June. 

A small bronze statute of a nude and very muscular man
Giambologna, ‘Mars’, cast before 1577, bronze, 15 5⁄8 in. (39.6 cm.) high. Christie’s Images Limited

The ‘Most Important Collection’ of Renaissance and Baroque Bronzes Goes to Auction