Of Confidence

desiderio_boy.jpgWas lucky enough to catch the show of Quattrocento sculptor Desiderio da Settignano at the Louvre on its last day. You gotta be a bastard not to be taken in by the Florentine stil dolce – sweet style – of which Desiderio (c. 1430-1464) is one of the masters.

He is easy to love, but that does not make him less of an artist. Desiderio finds beauty in sweetness. And while this seems quite the natural thing to do, it is nevertheless a rare thing. Sweetness is usually just sweetness, or – *shudder* – cuteness. Desiderio is none of that. His busts of children, laughing or looking ahead in apt concentration, are tender statements of utter confidence in humanity.

Where his great predecessor Luca della Robbia is more concerned with observation and the subtle variety of expression it yields, Desiderio’s is more of a condensation of the traits that make us love our neighbour.

settignano_baptist.jpgAnd speaking of great predecessors, the show included the so-called Martelli St. John the Baptist, alternately attributed to Desiderio and to Donatello. The curators of the show seemed to ascribe to the idea that it was begun by the older artist and finished by the younger. And you understand why. The almost full-size figure of John has the furrows of faith upon his brow. He is driven beyond normality by his faith, marked beyond his years. All these are insights of the older master’s, but in this sculpture they are tempered by Desiderio’s less questioning trust in the road we travel, making it a singularly affirming work.

The pictures show a Bust of a Little Boy, (Andrew W. Mellon Collection, National Gallery of Art, Washington DC), and the Martelli St. John the Baptist (Bargello, Florence), respectively.

 

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