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This sculpture is known as the Cavalcanti Annunciation or Cavalcanti tabernacle, because it was made for the Cavalcanti family chapel in Santa Croce in Florence. Technical examination of the join between the architectural tabernacle and the surrounding wall demonstrates that it is in its original location, but documentation reveals that the context has completely changed, starting with the destruction of the adjacent choir screen in 1566, at which time the terracotta putti standing and reclining on the pediment may have been damaged. The tabernacle likely originally served as the altarpiece in the Cavalcanti family chapel, surrounded by frescoes and family tombs. Documents have been published about the family and the chapel, but the sculpture itself is not named until the early sixteenth century. Nevertheless, scholars agree that it is a work by Donatello (according to some scholars along with Michelozzo for some of the putti), and the work likely dates between 1436 and 1442. The central scene and architectural tabernacle are carved out of a grey sandstone, known as pietra serena, which was more often used for architecture than sculpture. Inset into the stone beneath the scene is a circle of porpyry. The putti are made of terracotta (modelled in an additive process on one side and carved from the clay on the other, which does suggest different artists), with, on one side, drapery made from pieces of cloth soaked in stucco, which was a common technique at the time for sculpting the loincloths of wooden crucifixes. In a later period, a thick white oil paint covered the entire ensemble, which was removed in 1884, bringing the sculpture back to what was thought then to be its original state, bare stone and terracotta. Modern restorers have found traces of a much thinner off-white paint on both the stone and terracotta elements of the work, and since no atmospheric accumulation, gilding, or other colouring was found between this layer and the underlying sculptural materials, they have concluded shortly after the work was sculpted, very likely as an original finish, the entire work was painted off white and then selectively gilded. Some scholars see this as an attempt to mimic marble in cheaper media, others as a part of Donatello's tendency to experiment with materials. The difficulty with the idea that the whole work was painted off-white is that the earliest descriptions of the piece in the sixteenth century all mention the grey stone (macigno), and some the terracotta of the putti, and so presumably these materials were not or not completely covered. Only later commentators assume that the whole thing is marble, presumably after the thicker white layer was applied. The architecture includes classical elements, but recombined in an inventive, unclassical manner. Likewise, the figures are modelledupon classical sources -- the Virgin's symmetrical waves of hair, for example, or the reclining putti who look like figures from Etruscan sarcophagi, as scholars have noted -- but the whole is hardly simply classical and has a strangeness that sets it apart from other depictions of the scene from the period. Indeed, Donatello has sculpted a Virgin unlike the blushing beauties with apple breasts and swelling bellies depicted by his contemporaries. Instead, the heavy drapery gives almost no sense of the body underneath, an abstraction that would have made her look all the more unearthly if she was originally painted completely white. Photograph(s) licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.