Putti , Mosaic , Glass
Donatello was commissioned to produce the Cantoria for the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore in 1432. When finished in 1439, the elaborate marble relief structure decorated with glass, bronze and gilded elements surmounted the doors of the south sacristy doors. Here, it stood across from a second, less colourful Cantoria (also made of marble and bronze decorations) designed by Luca della Robbia who is better known today for his pioneering technique of glazed terracotta. Together these Cantorie would have been seen together when looking towards the high altar, thus taking a central position in the Cathedral. Though translated as /choir loft,/ Donatello's Cantoria functioned as a support for one of the Cathedral's pipe organs. Fittingly, rough-surfaced putti -- still with traces of Donatello's tool marks -- dance wildly to the sounds of music in the top register. These putti are placed against a mosaic background made of shallow cavities filled with glass paste which in turn decorate the marble columns in front of them. The glass disks were originally gilded, creating what would have been dazzling light-effects. In the lower register divided by four consoles, children arrange fruit in the outer left section, and to their far-right, children play cymbals and a tambourine. The elaborate gold background behind these children are also made of mosaics but arranged closely together to create a seamless surface. Over the centuries, several interventions have altered the original appearance of the Cantoria. The upper cornice decorated with vases and leaves is, for the most part, a reconstruction based on a small original fragment. The maroon coloured marble roundels in the center of the lower register are also modern additions. Scholars believe that there were originally coloured marble or possibly porphyry roundels here, behind the hollow-cast bronze heads made by Donatello, his workshop, and probably Michelozzo. In 1688, for Grand Prince Ferdinando de' Medici's wedding, Donatello and Luca's Cantorie were dismantled to accommodate larger wooden platforms. Both reliefs were placed in storage, then briefly shown at the Uffizi Gallery in the nineteenth century. In 1881, they were moved to their present location in the Museo dell'Opera del Duomo in Florence where they can now be seen across from one another. Photograph(s) licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.