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Plaster cast - St Francis of Assisi
  • St Francis of Assisi
    Donatello, born 1385 - died 1466
  • Enlarge image

St Francis of Assisi

  • Object:

    Plaster cast

  • Place of origin:

    Padua (original, sculpted)
    Germany (probably Berlin; the plaster cast , cast)

  • Date:

    1447–1454 (sculpted)
    ca. 1899 (cast)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Donatello, born 1385 - died 1466 (sculptor)

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Plaster cast, painted

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    Cast Courts, Room 46b, The Weston Cast Court , case FS, shelf N

This is one of the saints from the elaborate high altar of the Santo in Padua, made by Donatello, which comprised numerous bronze figures and reliefs, copies of which are seen in the V&A Cast Courts. St Francis is shown holding a crucifix and the bible, his contemplative stance, suggesting his piety, is at the same time an elegant contrapposto pose, derived from classical figures.

Plaster casts were especially sought after during the 19th century, when reproductions of great works of sculpture and architecture were thought crucial for the training of artists. A separating substance was applied to the surface of the work to be reproduced, and a plaster mould made from that. The mould would then be used to make any number of additional plaster copies. These were often sold to artists, and later in the century to art colleges for study purposes.

Place of Origin

Padua (original, sculpted)
Germany (probably Berlin; the plaster cast , cast)


1447–1454 (sculpted)
ca. 1899 (cast)


Donatello, born 1385 - died 1466 (sculptor)

Materials and Techniques

Plaster cast, painted


Height: 152.5 cm

Object history note

Acquired in exchange from the Berlin Museum in 1899.
This cast (statue of St. Francis) was taken from one of seven figures which stand upon the high altar of the Basilica di Sant' Antonio, Padua.

Historical context note

This is one of seven figures in the round which stand upon the high altar. Their arrangement in the present reconstruction, dating from 1895, is incorrect. Modern critical opinion has not resolved the exact placement of these seven figures, but the proposed reconstructions all place the Madonna centrally, with St Francis and St Anthony flanking her.

On 13 April 1446, a donation of 15,000 lire was accepted from a Paduan citizen, Francesco da Tergola, for the construction of the high altar of the Santo. The first payment to Donatello for the new altar occurs in February 1447. Although the altar was temporarily erected for the feast of St Anthony (June 13) 1448, and most of the major figures were cast by 1450, the project was still unfinished when Donatello left Padua in 1454.

The altar originally stood at the end of the choir, close to the ambulatory, but was dismembered in 1579, when officials of the Arca decided to replace it with a larger structure, designed by Girolamo Campagna and Cesare Fianco. Although most of Donatello's sculptures were incorporated into the new altar by 1582, it was not until 1895 that all the surviving components were united in the present fanciful reconstruction by Camillo Boito. The original form of the altar remains controversial, due to the loss of almost all the original architectural elements, except for a pair of volutes (item 8 below).

The surviving components of the original altar are:
Preserved on the altar in the Basilica di Sant'Antonio:
1.Seven bronze figures in the round, comprising, the Virgin and Child enthroned, St Francis (V&A cast no. 1899-56), St Anthony of Padua, St Louis of Toulouse, St Daniel, St Justina, St Prosdocimus.
2.Four bronze reliefs depicting miracles performed by St Anthony of Padua (V&A cast nos. 1884-325 to 328).
3.Four bronze reliefs containing Symbols of the Evangelists.
4.Twelve bronze reliefs of angels (V&A cast nos. 1870-18 and 18 a-k).
5.A bronze relief of the Dead Christ Lamented by Two Angels (V&A cast no. 1884-329).
6.A limestone relief depicting the Entombment.
7.A bronze relief of the Dead Christ with seven angels, by an unidentified Venetian sculptor (V&A cast no 1884-330).

In the Museo Antoniano, Padua:
8.A pair of volutes, thought to have come from the canopy which once surmounted the altar.

In the Museo Salvatore, Romano, Florence:
9.Marble reliefs depicting the half-length figures of St Prosdocimus and another saint, possibly two of the four half-length saints seen by Marcantonio Michiel on the back of the altar, in the early 16th century.

Descriptive line

Plaster cast, painted plaster, of Saint Francis of Assisi, after bronze original as part of the High Altar of the Basilica di Sant' Antonio, Padua, by Donatello, Italy (Padua), 1447–54, cast, probably Berlin, Germany, ca. 1899

Labels and date

St Francis holds a crucifix and a devotional book. His stance is contemplative, suggesting piety. It is also what is known as a contrapposto pose, a feature of classical sculpture that was revived during the Renaissance. The original bronze sculpture is in the basilica in Padua, one of a number of figures on an elaborate altar. [2014]




Ph_survey; Sculpture; Christianity; Religion; Plaster Cast


Sculpture Collection

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