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The Virgin and Child with four angels

  • Object:

    Roundel

  • Place of origin:

    Florence (made)

  • Date:

    ca. 1450 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Donatello, born 1386 - died 1466 (artist)

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Gilded bronze

  • Credit Line:

    Purchased with the aid of public subscription, with donations from The Art Fund and the Pilgrim Trust, in memory of David, Earl of Crawford and Balcarres

  • Museum number:

    A.1-1976

  • Gallery location:

    Medieval and Renaissance, room 64a, case 10

By extraordinary good fortune we know the history of this bronze relief. The sculptor Donatello (1386-1466) gave it to his doctor, Giovanni Chellini, in 1456. The physician’s account book, which still exists, records that on 27 August of that year,

'while I was treating Donato called Donatello, the singular and principal master in making figures of bronze of wood and terracotta . . . he of his kindness and in consideration of the medical treatment which I had given and was giving for his illness gave me a roundel the size of a trencher in which was sculpted the Virgin Mary with the Child at her neck and two angels on each side, all of bronze, and on the outer side hollowed out so that melted glass could be cast on to it and would make the same figures as those on the other side.'

The Museum is also very fortunate to possess a marble bust of Giovanni Chellini (Museum no. 7671-1861). It is signed by Antonio Rossellino (1427-1479) and an inscription dates it to 1456, the same year as Donatello’s gift.

Donatello was a very inventive sculptor. He worked in various styles throughout his career. A number of other Virgin and Child reliefs are stylistically related to this roundel. The documentation connected with it provides an important guide for dating them. Donatello may not have made the relief specifically for Chellini, however. It may date from an earlier period, possibly when Donatello was working in Padua between 1443 and 1453.

Chellini noted that the hollow reverse was used to cast replicas from molten glass. This is a unique feature. But we have confirmed the veracity of Chellini’s statement. Glass versions have been cast successfully from a mould made of the back of the roundel. One of these is displayed in the Museum alongside it.

Physical description

Roundel depicting the Virgin and Child with four angels. Bronze with gilt decoration. The relief is in the form of a tondo consisting of a decorated moulded rim, with a central scene depicting the Virgin and Child flanked by two angels on each side; all behind a curved railing supported by four posts. The Virgin is crowned and all the figures have haloes; the angel. The angel on the far right offers the Virgin a bowl of food.

Place of Origin

Florence (made)

Date

ca. 1450 (made)

Artist/maker

Donatello, born 1386 - died 1466 (artist)

Materials and Techniques

Gilded bronze

Marks and inscriptions

Pseudo Kufic script around the rim

Dimensions

Diameter: 28.5 cm, Depth: 2.7 cm, Weight: 4.26 kg

Object history note

This bronze relief was given by Donatello to his doctor, Giovanni Chellini, in 1456. The physician's account book, which still exists, records that on 27 August of that year, while I was treating Donato called Donatello, the singular and principal master in making figures of bronze of wood and terracotta ... he of his kindness and in consideration of the medical treatment which I had given and was giving for his illness gave me a roundel the size of a trencher in which was sculpted the Virgin Mary with the Child at her neck and two angels on each side, all of bronze, and on the outer side hollowed out so that melted glass could be cast on to it and it would make the same figures as those on the other side. The Museum is also highly fortunate to possess a marble bust of Giovanni Chellini (7671-1861), signed by Antonio Rossellino and dated by inscription to the same year - 1456 - as Donatello's gift. Donatello was a supremely innovative sculptor whose style varied considerably throughout his career. The documentation connected with this roundel provides an important guide for the dating of his other stylistically related Virgin and Child reliefs. It was not necessarily made specifically for Chellini, however, and may date from an earlier period, possibly when Donatello was working in Padua between 1443 and 1453. According to Chellini's testimony cited above, the hollow reverse was used to cast replicas from molten glass. This is a unique feature, but the veracity of Chellini's statement has been confirmed by the making of a mould of the back of the roundel from which glass versions have successfully been cast; one of these is displayed in the Museum alongside the roundel.

Paul Williamson, ed., European Sculpture at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London : V&A, 1996. p. 78, ill. ISBN: 1 85177 188 3.

Historical significance: The object is said by Chellini to have been used to cast glass copies. This has been questioned by Pope-Hennessy, who considered that the surviving stucco copies may have been the only replicas made. There is, however, no reason to doubt the evidence, and the work was therefore probably made while Donatello was in Padua, when he could have collaborated with the Venetian glass makers. The exact nature and intended use of any replicas is unclear, but the Royal College experiment proved that it was possible to use the bronze as such a mould.

Historical context note

The objects was intended for use as a mould for glass copies, but its fugitive decorative border has led to questions being raised about this, and no contemporary glass replicas survive. It was also given as a gift to Dr Chellini in return for medical services. This is a common practice, but also significant in relation to the etiquette of gift-giving.

Descriptive line

Roundel, bronze, The Virgin and Child with Four Angels (The Chellini Madonna), by Donatello, probably Padua, about 1460

Materials

Bronze

Subjects depicted

Mary (Virgin Mary); The Christ Child; Crown; Angels; Halo

Categories

Sculpture; Christianity; Reliefs

Collection

Sculpture Collection

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