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The Berlin and Washington busts of the Young Saint John the Baptist and the altered legacy of Desiderio da Settignano

Alison Luchs

At least three surviving Florentine painted terracotta busts of the young John the Baptist appear to derive from the same mid-fifteenth-century model. The style and high quality of that model, once attributed to Donatello, are recorded in photographs of a stucco and cloth version formerly in the Kaiser Friedrich Museum, apparently lost in the Friedrichshain fire. Those photos argue strongly for Desiderio da Settignano as the creator. Comparisons suggest that the terracotta busts embody a late-Quattrocento rethinking of the popular model, by sculptors who changed the exuberant and optimistic expression of Desiderio’s invention to a more contemplative and anxious mood, consistent with the “culto interiore” promoted in the sermons and writings of Savonarola. The artist or artists are unknown, but candidates might include Giovanni d’Andrea, Leonardo del Tasso, and Desiderio’s son Bernardino.