This precious statue depicts the Archangel Michael in Roman centurion armour. He is in a dynamic pose, standing on one leg and raising his spear. His shield is inscribed in Latin Quis ut Deus (‘Who would think himself to be as God’). He is attacking the devil, represented not by a dragon - as was traditional - but by the small figure at his feet, surrounded by snakes. The statue is modelled in silver and bronze with gold accents and the ebony base is original.
The fine quality of this sculpture enables its attribution to Lorenzo Vaccaro. Another reason supporting this attribution is that this small statue is very close in concept to another statue of Saint Michael sculptured with the dragon and today in the Cappella del Tesoro di San Gennaro, in the Cathedral of Naples. This was executed in 1691 by the silversmith Giovan Domenico Vinaccia, but was modelled by Vaccaro. Vaccaro probably developed the idea for this sculpture by making several models, as was common practice in his production, from which silversmiths would execute the finished work.
The theme of Saint Michael was very fashionable both in Naples and elsewhere between the end of the seventeenth and the early decades of the following century. The figure of Saint Michael Archangel suited the creation of sculptural groups in precious metal of various sizes, and this may have been made for a religious or private, aristocratic patron. As a sculptor, stucco artist, goldsmith and decorator, Lorenzo Vaccaro designed altars, statues, putti, and decorations for many Neapolitan churches, producing some of the most extraordinary silver works of his time.
Lorenzo Vaccaro Saint Michael About 1700 © Compton Verney