DONATELLO
(b. ca. 1386, Firenze, d. 1466, Firenze)

Chellini Madonna

before 1456
Bronze, diameter 28,5 cm
Victoria and Albert Museum, London

The bronze Chellini Madonna, whose back is an exact reverse image of the front, can be dated before August 1456. This roundel, which appeared on the antique market in 1975 and was purchased by the London Victoria and Albert Museum, corresponds to the roundel donated by Donatello to his physician Giovanni Chellini Samminiati, and described in detail in the latter's Libro debitori creditori e ricordanze.

He writes: "I recall that on 27 August 1456, having treated Donato, called Donatello, a singular and prestigious master of making figures in bronze, wood and fired clay, who had made that large figure which is in a chapel above the door of Santa Reparata facing the Servites monastery, and had begun making another one nine braccia high, he, out of his kindness and because of the medication I had been administering, gave me a roundel as big as a tray in which was carved the Virgin Mary with the Child in her arms and two angels at her sides, all made of bronze and hollowed out on the reverse side in order that molten glass could be poured into the impression and the said figures be reproduced from the other side."

The idea of producing a circular bronze relief that could at the same time, at the back, be used as a mould for potential copies appears just the once in Donatello's work. The possibility of something like mass production of his Madonna reliefs, which were extremely popular, appears to be inherent in this experimental move.