Desiderio da Settignano, attributed to
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This bust, currently located in the Old Sacristy in San Lorenzo in Florence, has been much debated by scholars, who agree on the quality of the work but not its authorship or subject. Earlier scholars treated it as a work by Donatello, but following the publications of H. W. Janson and Margrit Lisner in 1957-8, most now agree that it is a work of Desiderio da Settignano. Both sculptors were working in San Lorenzo, but the delicacy of the handling of the surfaces, sweetness of the figure, and lack of muscular vigor do seem more characteristic of Desiderio's work -- though Donatello had great range. Both also worked in terracotta. Several works by Donatello in the medium survive, and though Desiderio is known as a sculptor in marble, he is documented to have produced work also in painted terracotta. (Here only traces of paint survive.) The subject is also debated. Given the dress (as a deacon), previous depictions, and the current location, this is likely St. Lawrence, but St. Leonard is also possible, as Leonard was also venerated in San Lorenzo. One scholar (Cagliotti) has suggested that this is a portrait of the Cardinal of Portugal, refashioned into an image of St. Lawrence. (The full argument has not been published yet, as far as I know, and I have not seen a technical examination report on this object, but it is hard to imagine how one could refashion a terracotta bust after firing -- it could be refashioned before firing, before the clay dried.) The bust follows the form of earlier reliquary busts (busts of saints with containers for relics). It is an unusually early example of a bust of a saint (or one refashioned into an image of a saint) that is not a reliquary. Photograph(s) licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.