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image BR30

Cast of the ‘Chellini’ Madonna by Donatello, in a circular glazed frame

Plaster cast within a glazed wooden frame

Museum number: BR30

Curatorial note

The 'Chellini Madonna', the cast bronze roundel of which this is a cast in plaster, dates from about 1450 and was given by Donatello to the Florentine physician Giovanni Chellini Samminiati (1372/3-1462) in exhange for medical treatment in 1456. It is in now the Victoria and Albert Museum, London. Chellini recorded that this small roundel was 'hollowed out' on the back 'so that melted glass could be cast on to it and it would make the same figures as those on the other side' i.e. on the face. The original is indeed remarkable becuase the reverse is an exact negative replica of the front.

Soane, interestingly, knew that this cast was 'after a work by Donatello' (1835 Description). It is not known when the original bronze came to England but it was in the collection of the Marquis of Rockingham (d.1782) at Wentworth Woodhouse and subsequently passed to his nephew, the fourth Earl Fitzwilliam. It has been suggested that it may have been acquired from the artist's family by the 2nd Marquis of Rockingham when he was in Italy in 1748-49. The cast was almost certainly made after the bronze arrived in England and was given to Soane by the painter Henry Howard some time between 1832 and 1835 (with another cast, BR31).

The original bronze passed down through the family of the Earls Fitzwilliam until 1954 when it was sold but at some point after the early 19th century its association with Donatello was lost. The V&A collections online entry records that: 'In 1966 the roundel was brought into the V&A on an Opinions Day, but it later came to the attention of the former Director of the V&A, John Pope-Hennessy, in 1975 when, leaving a dinner party at the American Embassy, he ‘ran into David Carritt [the art dealer], who told me that he had found a circular 15th-century bronze relief in use as an ashtray. I asked him to let me see it, and he brought it round the following day. Its front face corresponded with that of the other reliefs. But what mattered was the reverse, and when I turned it over I found the mould described by Chellini'

Provenance help-art-provenance

Presented to Soane by the painter, Henry Howard, RA (1769-1847), c.1832-35. The two casts Howard presented to Soane hang together on the south wall of the Breakfast Room and were presumably given at the same time. Each has a very deep circular glazed timber frame wth a convex piece of glass. It may be that these are the frames in which they were presented.

Literature

J. Soane, Description, 1835, p.53
Anthony Radcliffe and Charles Avery, The 'Chellini Madonna' by Donatello inThe Burlington Magazine, Vol. 118, No. 879 (June 1976), pp. 377-387
Peter Thornton and Helen Dorey, A Miscellany of Objects from Sir John Soane's Museum, 1992, p.95


If you have any further information about this object, please contact us: worksofart@soane.org.uk