barber institute of fine arts
university of birmingham

Andrea Riccio (1470-1532)

An African Boy Riding a Billy-Goat

Padua, probably 1500s


21.7 x 22.1 cm excluding base


When this bronze was acquired in 1943, it was believed to be by the leading Paduan sculptor Andrea Riccio. Riccio’s original model was of a solitary, sacrificial goat, in deliberate reference to both pagan and Old Testament rituals. This reflected contemporary humanist taste for art that synthesised classical and Christian interpretations. The Barber cast is one of numerous later variants after Riccio’s model. The shell-bearing African boy is symbolic of untamed Nature and, when combined with the goat in this way, the animal may simply represent male sexuality. The base is French from the 18th century.

Purchased 1943 (No.43.2)


During Black History Month 2018, this bronze was the focus of an alternative interpretation by UoB students in English, Drama and American & Canadian studies. They produced labels which interrogated artworks in our collection which depict, refer to, or have been collected from people of colour. This was a collaboration with the Barber’s Learning & Engagement Team; artist and poet Dzifa Benson; and Dr Asha Rogers, Lecturer in Contemporary Postcolonial Literature.

Here are two alternative labels below:


You see them as one body
But they are in fact two

The boy to the sculptor:
“fingering the muscular quads you cleaved me
tracing my hand over your deceptively smooth and chiseled line work
at night I feel my fingers fanning out creating friction against the inside of the conch
scratching and digging until the debris clogs up my nails
rubbing the hot metally residue in between my sweaty fingertips
I feel his fine goat hairs unduly caress my bronze-husk behind”

The boy to the spectator:
“you think i willingly straddle his rump
and comb my hands through his hefty horns
they are stuck to it by sculptors moulding metal
and every night I wait to roll over and walk outside the glass”

What you see is not a symbiotic relationship
The boy is a human
The goat is an animal
But both are made beasts by men.

Sana Haq, BA English Literature.


African Boy Riding a Billy-Goat

                     After Andrea Riccio

How time seems to slow to nothing
when you have to be three things
at once – custodian of history’s
deep mythic time, arcane iconography
and a word that causes offence.

Il Riccio’s Strombus Giga overwhelms
his slight shoulders, the hissing
in the gigantic conch eats the air
for the din and drift of unwise things.
The boy’s arm fuses with goat’s horn
tethering the artist to the posterity of a lie.

Boot-lace black asks: Where does it go to graze and chew the cud?
Liquorice black says: They believed goats to be sexually mature at only seven days.
Soot black says: History and language history are that solitary, sacrificial goat.
Obsidian black asks: Whose thin skin of woman born sows panic, warps creation?
Blood black says: yours, not mine, is pulled from the world beyond my figure.

In the conflict between the divine and bestial
Mr Oseji maintains the boy had a soul.
Come closer folks, there is everything
to see here. A record of taste and knowledge
never off duty, in Riccio’s bronze.

Mostly, it’s a lack.

Dzifa Benson.


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