National Gallery of Art - EXHIBITIONS

Image: Desiderio da Settignano: Sculptor of Renaissance Florence

This exhibition is no longer on view at the National Gallery. Please follow the links below for related online resources or visit our current exhibitions schedule.

Related Resources

Works by
Desiderio da Settignano
in the Gallery's Collection

Biography of
Desiderio da Settignano

NGA Arttalk: Desiderio da Settignano
On the occasion of this exhibition, Alan Shestack, deputy director of the National Gallery of Art, talks with senior curator Nicholas Penny about Desiderio—the sculptor and the exhibition.
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Library Installation
Character of Form: Clarence Kennedy Photographs the Sculpture of Desiderio da Settiganano

View Related
Collection Tours
Florentine Sculpture of the 15th Century

Press Materials
with Audio

Image: Desiderio da Settignano, A Little Boy, 1455/1460, Andrew W. Mellon Collection, 1937.1.113 Very few works survive by Desiderio da Settignano (c. 1429–1464); yet, despite his short life, he ranks among the most original and influential sculptors of the early Renaissance and the finest stone carvers of all time. Even Leonardo da Vinci seems to have learned from his compositions, expression, and atmospheric treatment of space. Working in Florence in the mid-fifteenth century, possibly taught by Donatello, Desiderio virtually invented portraiture of children, made popular a new type of extraordinary low relief, and gave traditional religious imagery an unprecedented delicacy of expression and tenderness of sentiment. This exhibition, the first ever dedicated to the artist, assembles about twenty-five works by Desiderio and his closest followers. The great Marsuppini tomb in Santa Croce (completed c. 1459) and the tabernacle of the Sacrament in San Lorenzo (completed 1461), which cannot leave the Florentine churches for which they were made, are subjects of illustrated essays in the catalogue, which is the first book on Desiderio since 1962 and the first ever to be published in English.

Character of Form: Clarence Kennedy Photographs the Sculpture of Desiderio da Settignano

Clarence Kennedy (1892–1972), an art historian at Smith College specializing in Italian Renaissance and classical Greek art, took up photography out of frustration with the poor quality of available images of sculpture. He quickly surpassed amateur status through his masterful implementation of light and shadow, and his impressive eye for detail. Exploring his subjects from all angles—giving special attention to details that reveal the sculptor's virtuosity and individual character—he sought "to bring out, in the most sympathetic way, the character of the forms as the sculptor left them, complete and valid in their own right."

From 1928 to 1932, Kennedy published Studies in the History and Criticism of Sculpture, a seven-part series of volumes containing over three hundred photographs. The sculptures of Desiderio da Settignano were among his favorite subjects, occupying four of the seven portfolios. Kennedy mounted and assembled each edition himself and released them in extremely limited numbers. The Gallery's library received the second numbered copy of the series as part of the generous Widener gift in 1943.

This display includes approximately thirty-five silver gelatin prints. Represented are sculptures featured in the Gallery's exhibition Desiderio da Settignano: Sculptor of Renaissance Florence as well as works that cannot travel, such as the Funerary Monument of Carlo Marsuppini and the Tabernacle of San Lorenzo. Together, the exhibition and this installation provide unprecedented access here in Washington to Desiderio's work in Florence.

Organization: Organized by the Musée du Louvre, Paris; the Museo Nazionale del Bargello, Florence; and the National Gallery of Art, Washington.

Sponsor: Sponsored by The Exhibition Circle of the National Gallery of Art.

The exhibition is supported by an indemnity from the Federal Council on the Arts and the Humanities.