The Young Saint John Baptist – Donatello

FLORENTINE, 1386-—1466

Among all Renaissance sculpture perhaps no single relief has won wider or more deserved popularity than this, which is chiefly familiar through the better-known version in sandstone existing in the National Museum in Florence. The relation between these two repetitions of the same relief and a third in marble, which is perhaps not even of the period of the others, now in private possession, is an interesting and unsolved question, but it is generally considered that the Altman stucco is the first essay of Donatello, from which the Bargello version in less workable stone was afterward made. The two differ slightly in details of the features and drapery, and materially in the ornamentation of the background, the stucco being the more elaborate in its setting. In feature and expression the relief in Florence is gentler and less tense than this, which has in it something of the exaltation and solemnity with which the young Saint John must have foreseen his prophet future. The parted lips and the wide, fixed eyes have here scarcely the charm of the dreamy Bargello youth, but they evidence, perhaps all the more, Donatello’s insight into the minds of saints and heroes and his own august nature. The relief formerly formed part of the collection of Maurice Kann in Paris.