THOSE men who create without fatigue, with a certain grace, what others cannot produce by toil and imitation, owe a great debt to Nature. But this is a truly heavenly gift which bestows upon their works such a light and graceful appearance that they attract not only those who understand the profession, but also many others. This arises from the facility with which they are produced, being free from the hardness in crudity so frequent in things produced with effort and difficulty. This grace and simplicity, which give universal pleasure and are felt by everyone, are characteristic of the work of Desiderio. Some say that he came from Settignano, a place two miles from Florence, others consider him a Florentine, but this is of little importance where the distance is so slight.

He imitated the style of Donato, being naturally endowed with gracefulness and lightness in the treatment of heads. His women and children possess a soft, delicate and charming manner, due as much to Nature as to art. In his youth he made the pedestal of Donato's David, which is in the duke's palace at Florence, introducing some fine harpies and vine-tendrils all in bronze, very graceful and well contrived. On the facade of the house of the Gianfigliazzi' he made a large escutcheon with a magnificent lion, as well as other things in stone in that city. 1 In the Brancacci Chapel in the Carmine he made an angel of wood, and in S. Lorenzo he finished the marble chapel of the Sacrament, completing it with great diligence. It contained a marble child in relief, which was taken away, and is placed today on the altar at Christmas-time as being a marvellous thing. To replace it Baccio da Montelupo made another, also of marble, which stands upon the tabernacle of the Sacrament. In S. Maria Novella he made the marble tomb of the Blessed Villana, 2 with some graceful little angels, drawing the saint from life, 50 that she does not seem dead but asleep. For the convent of the nuns of the Murate he made a small Madonna upon a column in a tabernacle, in alight and graceful style, for both of which works he is greatly valued and esteemed. In S. Piero Maggiore he made the tabernacle of the Sacrament in marble, with his usual finish, and although it contains no figures, it displays the grace and style distinctive of his work. He made a marble bust of Marietta degli Strozzi, 3 from life, and, as she was very beautiful, it proved most successful. He made the tomb of M. Carlo Marsuppini of Arezzo, 4 in S. Croce, which not only amazed the artists and clever men of his day, but those who see it now also marvel, for on the sarcophagus he has introduced foliage which, although somewhat hard and dry, as not many antiquities had been discovered then, was considered very beautiful at the time.

Among other portions of the work there are some wings attached to a scallop-shell at the foot of the sarcophagus which seem to be really feathers and not marble, a great achievement, seeing that the chisel cannot easily repro- duce hair and feathers. The large marble scallop-shell there is marvellously realistic. There are also some children and angels executed in a lively and beautiful style, while the effigy of the dead man, taken from life, is of the highest excellence and art. A medallion of a Madonna done in bas relief, in the manner of Donato, possesess wonderful judgment and grace, as do many other of his marble bas reliefs, some being in the wardrobe of Duke Cosimo, notably the heads of Our Lord Jesus Christ and John the Baptist as a child, in a medallion. At the foot of the tomb of M. Carlo he made a large slab for M. Giorgio, a famous doctor and secretary of the Signoria of Florence, with a very fine bas-relief containing the portrait of M. Giorgio, in the doctor's robes of the time. If death had not so soon removed this spirit who worked with such excellence, he might with experience and study have surpassed in art all those whom he excelled in grace. But death cut the thread of his life at the age of twenty eight, causing great sorrow to all who expected to see the perfection of his mind in his old age, who were dazed by such a loss. He was carried to the church by his relations and numerous friends, while for a long time epigrams and sonnets were affixed to his tomb. Out of a large number I content myself by selecting the following only:

Come vide natzira Oar Desideyio ai fteddi `narmi vita E floter Ia sculttrra Aggztagliar sua bc'lleza alma e infirtita Si fermo sbigotti‚ta E disse: omai sara `,zia gloria osciira E ~iet~ d'alto sdegito Trot'co Ia vita a cosi &cll'ingegtio. Ma i': `va':, che se costui Die vita etertta ai marmi i mar'ni a lui.

Desiderio's sculptures were executed in 1485. He left a sketch of St. Mary Magdalene in penitence, afterwards finished by Benedetto da Maiano, and now in S. Trinita' at Florence, on the right-hand as one enters the church. It is a marvellously fine figure. In our book there are some fine designs by Oesiderio's hand, and his portrait, which I had from some of his relations at Settignano.

  • 1 On the Lung Arno, between the Trinity and Carraia bridges
  • 2 The tomb is by Bernardo Rosseiino.
  • 3 Now in the Berlin Museum.
  • 4 Who died in 1455

  • Index of Artists