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Mino di Giovanni, called « Mino da Fiesole » (1429-1484), Italian, Florence, circa 1465, Head of a child. Estimate 100,000150,000 USD. Photo: Sotheby’s.

marble, on later painted wood base; h. 11 1/4  in.; 28.5 cm.

Provenance: Collection of Stefano Bardini, Christie, Manson & Woods, 26 May 1902, lot 524

NotesThis rediscovered marble head of a child by the Renaissance master Mino da Fiesole is an exciting addition to his oeuvre which includes no other known portraits of children. Mino da Fiesole’s first documented work, the portrait of Piero de’ Medici (1453-54) now in the Bargello, Florence, is the first securely dated portrait bust of the Renaissance. Indeed, Mino was one of the first Renaissance sculptors in Italy to revive the antique tradition of carving portraits. His remarkable capacity to render these images with naturalism gave visual expression to the humanism that was pervasive in Medici Florence.

We are extremely grateful to Francesco Caglioti for writing the following entry:

This rediscovered marble head of a child by the Renaissance master Mino da Fiesole is an exciting addition to his oeuvre which includes no other known portraits of children. Mino da Fiesole’s first documented work, the portrait of Piero de’ Medici (1453-54) now in the Bargello, Florence, is the first securely dated portrait bust of the Renaissance. Indeed, Mino was one of the first Renaissance sculptors in Italy to revive the antique tradition of carving portraits. His remarkable capacity to render these images with naturalism gave visual expression to the humanism that was pervasive in Medici Florence.

We are extremely grateful to Francesco Caglioti for writing the following entry:

This beautiful marble head of a child has never appeared, until now, in the specialist literature, although it was included in the Stefano Bardini sale held in London (Christie, Manson & Woods) beginning on 26 May 1902.[1] The Bardini catalogue had correctly attributed the work to Mino, together with another fragmented head, which is also, effectively, from the same sculptor (judging from the catalogue photograph and with images in the two historical Bardini archives in Florence, in the Comune and the Soprintendenza). However, the genesis of this second head of a bearded young man cannot have been the same as that of the head of a young boy.

In order to ascertain the likely origin of the present sculpture and thus the original location for which it was intended, it is useful to first confirm that it was indeed made by Mino’s hand. This is evident from all of the various details associated with the artist’s body of work, specifically in features such as the eyes (with the defined irises and pupils), the arched eyebrows, the open mouth and the tuft of hair at the top of the forehead. However, the decisive confirmation of the authorship comes from the remaining mass of hair, which is very well preserved. As with Mino, the quality of the work is very high; this artist, a virtuoso of marble carving, was amongst the most gifted and original of the Italian Renaissance.

An instructive comparison with another work by Mino can be made with the Little Putto Holding a Lit Torch at the Bargello in Florence (figs. 1-2), once part of an altar or a tomb, and then adapted as a puer mingens.[2] Both the face and the hair are extremely similar, although of different dimensions: the Bargello Putto is, in fact, 95 cm. tall, including its integral base, and the comparable area of the head and chest measures 18 cm., therefore approximately 10 cm. smaller than our Bardini head of a child.

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Mino da Fiesole, Puttino in Piedi, Polo Museale Fiorentino (Florence) [inventory Sculpture (Bargello) n. 999]

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Mino da Fiesole, Puttino in Piedi, Polo Museale Fiorentino (Florence) [inventory Sculpture (Bargello) n. 999]

This difference in size leaves us with the question concerning the original form of Mino’s figure. There are two distinct categories of young children carved in the round by his hand: winged putti standing in pairs and guarding tombs or altars, like the Bargello sculpture which lacks its pendant, or the two in the Ugo di Toscana monument at the Badia Fiorentina; and single busts of the Young Saint John the Baptist, of which there are four known. Those from the first category consistently measure less than 1 m., including their bases (the Badia sculptures are 83 cm. high), significantly less, in proportion, to the Bardini head. The second category are life-size or just under life-size busts with dimensions consistent with our marble, comparable to examples in the Musée Jacquemart-André in Paris (42 cm.) and in the Musée des Beaux-Arts in Lyons (43 cm.).[3] This comparison underscores the fact that the Bardini head is a fragment that was originally part of a slightly larger work.

Nevertheless, we cannot assume that our sculpture is a fifth Young Saint John the Baptist, because the neckline of the figure’s collar is of a cloth or shirt and not a camel’s or goat’s fur. From this, we are able to deduce that the head can only be interpreted as being a secular portrait bust of a child, probably a member of a Florentine aristocratic family. Because there are no extant portraits of children by Mino, this delightful sculpture is a significant addition to the scholarship of this master, who was revered for his exceptional portraits of adult men and women of noble birth.

If the ex Bardini head, although a portrait, appears similar to the heads of Mino’s puttos, it is because all Florentine portraiture of the early Renaissance is extremely idealised in the case of children, as is evident by the surviving sculptures by Desiderio da Settignano and Antonio Rossellino. Amongst these examples by other masters, it is still challenging to establish whether are actually portraits of actual children or the young Christ.[4]

[1] P. 91, lot 573, from the English edition in small format (Catalogue of a choice collection of pictures and other works of art chiefly Italian, of Medieval and Renaissance times, the property of Signor Stephano Bardini of Florence […], London, 1902), and p. 85, lot 524, and plate 29, n. 524, from the French edition in a large and illustrated format (Catalogue des objets d’art antiques, du Moyan âge et de la Renaissance, provenant de la collection Bardini de Florence […], Paris, 1902). The height of 41 cm., or 16 inches, written here, includes the irrelevant base of coloured marble, removed in the meanwhile.

[2] Published by Franz Wickhoff, Ein Pißmännchen von Mino da Fiesole, “Zeitschrift für bildende Kunst”, XXIV, 1889, pp. 198-200, who incorrectly believed that the function as a fountain was original.

[3] A full survey of all of the pieces, with their respective measurements, in Francesco Caglioti, Mino da Fiesole […], Busto di San Giovanni Battista fanciullo […], Parigi, Musée Jacquemart-André […], in Due collezionisti alla scoperta dell’Italia. Dipinti e sculture dal Museo Jacquemart-André di Parigi. Milano, Museo Poldi Pezzoli, 16 ottobre 2002 – 16 marzo 2003, ed. Andrea Di Lorenzo, Silvana Editoriale, Cinisello Balsamo 2002, pp. 64-67, no. 5.

[4] See Arnold Victor Coonin, Portrait Busts of Children in Quattrocento Florence, “Metropolitan Museum Journal”, XXX, 1995, pp. 61-71.

Sotheby’s. Selected Renaissance and Mannerist Works of Art Assembled by Fabrizio Moretti, New York, 29 janv. 2015, 02:00 PM

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