This marble bust, cut just under the shoulders, represent a little boy of a very young age, probably around three years-old. Wearing a very fine tunic, he slightly turns his head to his left, his semi-opened eyes marked by a pensive gaze and his closed lips barely outlining the hint of a smile. The marble is skillfully carved as to evoke the smooth skin of the cheeks, the chubby flesh of the neck, and the silky hair whose elegantly intertwined locks are masterfully rendered in very low relief.

Such command of contours, subtle gradations of surface textures and sensitivity of expression are characteristic of the style of sculptor Desiderio da Settignano, who brought an unsurpassed level of observation to the portrayal of children.

The marble bust of a young boy was a Renaissance sculptural genre, most likely invented by Desiderio da Settignano, that originated in mid-quattrocento Florence and whose production ended around 1510, with the fall of the republic. Such busts belong to a 15th-century context in which childhood was first recognized as a distinct stage of life and their purpose may have been to lay the foundation of nobility, in a civic consciousness of patrons who saw children as the future leadership of the republic. They reflect awareness of ancient Roman portrait-busts of children but are infused with a liveliness alien to their Roman forerunners.

This Bust of a Young Boy portrays a child with full cheeks, a small straight nose and a prominent chin, which testify to the artist's interest in preserving the features of an actual boy. But the identity of the sitter is impossible to determine because no document would inform on these very private commissions.


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