A pair of polychrome marble portrait busts of Cicero, civic hero of the Roman Republic, and Horace, the famed poet have been reunited by Tomasso Brothers Fine Art for TEFAF, which runs at Maastricht from March 1120. Carved in the same 17th century Roman workshop, theyhave an illustrious provenance. Originally part of the Valletta collection in Naples, they were acquired around 1721 by Thomas Herbert, the 8th Earl of Pembroke (1654–1733) for Wilton House, near Salisbury, one of England’s finest stately houses. They were displayed at the heart of one of the finest private art collections ever assembled in Europe for more than two centuries. They flanked the main chimneypiece in the Earl’s ‘sanctum sanctorum’ of the Great ‘Double Cube’ Room designed by Inigo Jones, amongst family portraits by Sir Anthony Van Dyck, and works formerly in the esteemed collections of Cardinals Mazarin and Richelieu, King Charles I of England and Thomas Howard, the 14th Earl of Arundel.
Pembroke’s influence on the tastes and collecting trends of the aristocratic English in the early eighteenth century were considerable. When he embarked on his Grand Tour in 1676 and set about building a collection in the 1680s, he was all but alone. Yet the fame of the galleries at Wilton House spread amongst the aristocracy, and by the time of his death in 1733, many of England’s great country houses were beginning to be decorated with antiquities, renaissance and baroque sculpture. It is through the expertise of Tomasso Brothers Fine Art that the two works have been reunited since their dispersal from Wilton House. Cicero came into the gallery’s collection a short while after the directors had become aware of Horace. They knew instinctively that they were both great 17th century busts, and that the particular specimen of imperial porphyry used for the Horace was a wonderful quality. Whilst recognising the physical similarities of the two works, it was finding an old photograph of the Double Cube Room at Wilton House that set off months of study to discover the full history of the busts.