This sculpture is a 19th century Italian copy in alabaster of ‘Spinario’, an antique bronze gifted by Pope Sixtus IV to Rome in 1471 and which resides in the Palazzo dei Conservatori on the Capitoline Hill. The figure is that of a young boy deep in concentration, removing a thorn from his left foot. It is in the Hellenistic style, which favoured depictions of spontaneity and observations of daily life.
Although there is no single confirmed story behind it, the original sculpture became one of the most celebrated during the Early Renaissance due to its skilful representation of the human form. It is one of the most readily copied statues of its time, as the contorted pose that the boy sits in has allowed sculptors ever since to demonstrate their talent in capturing the complexities of the figure. Reproductions have ranged from large bronze replicas used as diplomatic gifts, to smaller marble copies. The pose of ‘Spinario’ was also interpreted by notable sculptors such as Brunelleschi, for example in his competition panel for the doors of Florence Baptistery depicting the Sacrifice of Isaac.
Also known as Il Fedele, meaning ‘faithful’, this alternative name for the figure referred to one of many legends thought up after the creation of the sculpture to add gravitas to the original naturalistic study. This particular story tells the tale of a loyal messenger boy who was so committed to doing his duty of delivering a message to the Roman Senate that he only stopped to remove a thorn from his foot when the job was done.
Here, the youthfulness of the figure is captured in the boy’s intense concentration, shutting out everything around him as he fully immerses himself in the task at hand. Hunched over, his curved spine and bowed head draw the eye to where the entirety of the youth’s attention lies. The contrast between the smooth body and the rough stone upon which he sits further highlights the delicacy of the action being performed and the young man’s absorption in his undertaking.