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Lorenzo de’ Medici’s bust in Berlin: (dis)order and (mis)fortune of a casting tradition

Fabio Gaffo


No portrayal has likely done more to crystallize the image we have of Lorenzo de’ Medici than the Renaissance terracotta bust in the National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C. Credited with spreading what is his most largely attested depiction, more than a dozen of casts following this typology contributed to its diffusion throughout Europe. Yet, since the nineteenth century, the alternating concerns for one cast or another, and the conflicting assumptions about their origin, reflect the long-nurtured (and long-contested) hope for works to be reconciled with a Renaissance production – to which none belong. Tracing their descent, not from the Washington terracotta, but from a marble version the Florentine artist Aristodemo Costoli (1803-1871) made of it, most of these copies have led to contradictory information, hindering any cohesive overview of the network. Acquired in 1839, the Berlin copy led to the same delusion, but, unlike its siblings, it took over the task of carrying this casting tradition into the next century, until damage sustained during the Second World War made it too inconvenient for any further reproduction. Following this tradition’s most privileged, and incidentally most ill-fated version, this paper retraces the development of this production, tracking back the casts and reassessing their sequence in the nineteenth century and beyond, with the aim of establishing some order in the scholarly vicissitudes this network has undergone for more than two centuries.