Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Sculpture of the Day: Cardinal Giovanni de'Medici, pre-1475

The Victoria & Albert Museum

This rather imposing gentleman, when studied against painted and medallic portraits, has been identified as Cardinal Giovanni de' Medici (1475-1521) who was elected pope in 1513--taking the name of Leo X.

Since he wears a biretta—a cardinal’s cap—clearly, this bust was made before he was elected to the papacy. The modeling of the bust suggests that it was meant to be seen from below. When viewed face-on, his stance is awkward with his head projected peculiarly onto the chest. Furthermore, it is only painted on the front. So, it’s a safe bet this was made to be placed in a high niche or in a pediment above a door.

The pope’s right shoulder is severely damaged and his nose is quite chipped, but this is not unusual for a terracotta sculpture made in the Fifteenth Century. This sculpture is possibly the work of the Florentine Antonio de'Benintendi and may have been commissioned by Giovanni de' Medici prior to the exile of the Medici family from Florence in 1494, and certainly before the 1475 election to the Papacy. It has been postulated that the bust was molded from a casting taken directly from the cardinal’s face. 

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