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Bust of Niccolò da Uzzano

Donatello Italian

Not on view

A leading politician in Florence, Niccolò da Uzzano died in 1431. This portrait—one of few surviving early Renaissance busts with their original polychromy—is often assumed to be posthumous. Many believe that the likeness is based on a death mask, whereby his facial features were impressed into a mold after his demise. This method was considered a way of transferring and preserving the essence of the real human being. But the sense of his spirit here may have more to do with Donatello’s extraordinary ability to sculpt in color. The dynamism of the figure’s pose and folded drapery, the animation of his expression, and the realistic coloring bring him back to life, fleetingly and permanently.

Bust of Niccolò da Uzzano, Donatello (Italian, Florence ca. 1386–1466 Florence), Polychromed terracotta, Italian

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Courtesy of the Ministry of Cultural Heritage and Tourism. Photograph by Antonio Quattrone.