MAIANO, Benedetto da
(b. 1442, Firenze, d. 1497, Firenze)


Santa Croce, Florence

In 1474 Benedetto signed and dated a meticulously detailed marble portrait bust of the wealthy Florentine merchant Pietro Mellini (Museo Nazionale del Bargello, Florence). He worked for Mellini later several times; Mellini's last recorded commission, that for his own simple floor tomb and a magnificent marble pulpit over it in Santa Croce, Florence, is Benedetto's masterpiece. Completed by 19 May 1485, when Pietro Mellini made his final will and testament, the full-scale work was preceded by several models.

The pulpit is located on the south side of the church, in the third pier of the central nave. It is an octagonal structure of white gilded marble that includes five narrative reliefs situated between elegant fluted colonettes. The narrative panels depict: the confirmation of the Franciscan order, St Francis before the sultan, the stigmatisation of St Francis, the funeral of St Francis, and the martyrdom of the Franciscans in Morocco. Below the narratives are finely carved consoles with five small niches containing statues of virtues: Faith, Hope, Charity, Temperance, and Justice. A base with ornamental motifs and the emblem of the donor, Pietro Mellini, completes the structure.

The pulpit is cleverly attached to one of the piers in the nave of the church, through which Benedetto excavated a staircase. The five relief scenes from the Life of St Francis are powerfully clear and dramatic narratives illustrated with a kind of clear-eyed verism that is usually reserved for painting. The reliefs are separated by Corinthian colonettes, framed by finely carved classicizing mouldings, while below, closer to eye-level, the terminating corbel is overlaid with tour de force basketweave carving. The entire ensemble is of extremely high technical quality, one of the most remarkable works of relief sculpture of the later 15th century.