The sculptor Giovanni Baratta was one of the greatest tuscan artist of the late Baroque period. Born in Carrara from a family of sculptors he went to Florence and was a pupil of the court sculptor Giovanni Battista Foggini. Between 1791 and 1793 he moved to Rome and apprentice in the studios of Camillo Rusconi and Domenico Guidi. As he returned to Florence, he began his long and fruitful artistic career, working for tuscan patrons as well as for european Courts. In addition to Florence he worked also in Lucca, Genoa, Leghorn, Turin and in Spain.
The group can be dated between 1705 and 1709. The body as well as the hair of Marsyas are very close to those of the Tritons in Palazzo Marucelli Fenzi where he worked in that period and the hair of Apollo, divided into long wavy locks, are similar to those of Orpheus which was acquired by Frederick IV of Denmark during a trip to Italy.
In 1977 Arthur M. Sackler acquired the terracotta sculpture from the Heim Gallery in London which, right at that time, thanks to Andrei Ciechanowiecki, was playing a crucial role in promoting the influence and the study of Baroque sculpture. In the Heim archives, which now belong to the Getty Research Institute in Los Angeles, there is a letter from Jennifer Montagu informing Ciechanowiecki that the Apollo and Marsyas could be related to a lost work by the Carrarese sculptor, a marble statue which in 1767 was documented as being in the collection of the marquis Capponi. In fact Jennifer Montagu had connected this terracotta to the mention of a group by the sculptor displayed by the marquis Alessandro Capponi at the exhibitions of the Annunziata in 1767. On this occasion in fact, the catalogues recorded a “Marzia scorticato da Apollo” and a “Mercurio che uccide Argo” in marble which were attributed to the “squola del Baratta”. It would therefore appear quite possible that the terracotta discussed here was the model for one of the two marble groups belonging to Capponi, and for which we have no further information.
The terracotta, together with another group representing Hercules and the Nemean Lion (they were considered as a pendant), was published in 1981 in the lavish catalogue written by Charles Avery Finger Prints of the Artist. European Terra-Cotta Sculpture from the Arthur M.Sackler Collection. The American collector, Arthur Sackler, had been one of the main clients of the Heim Gallery where he had purchased dozens of important sculptures.
C. Avery, A. Laing, edited by, Finger Prints of the Artist: European Terra-Cotta Sculpture from the Arthur M. Sackler Collections, Harvard University Press, Washington D.C.1981, pp. 94 - 96; G. Pratesi, edited by, Repertorio della scultura fiorentina del Seicento e del Settecento, 3 voll., Turin 1993, II, pl. 13; A. Bacchi, F. Freddolini, Giovanni Baratta. Due modelli fiorentini in terracotta, Walter Padovani, Milan 2010; F. Freddolini, Giovanni Baratta 1670 - 1747. Scultura e industria del marmo tra la Toscana e le corti d’Europa, Rome 2013, p. 30, fig. 11; pp.193 - 195, n. 37.