Terracotta by Gian Cristoforo Romano

I encountered a magnificent terracotta portrait bust at the Kimbell Art Museum last month. It possibly represents Isabella d’Este, Marchioness of Mantua, a celebrated art patron of her day. It is attributed to Gian Cristoforo Romano, an Italian sculptor and medalist who lived in the late 15th / early 16th century (ca. 1465-1512). The attribution is based on documentation that shows Isabella d’Este commissioned Romano to make a marble portrait bust of her as early as 1491 (although no marble bust by that artist can now be located).

It’s also known that Isabella d’Este commissioned Romano to create a medal with her portrait on it which she awarded to members who attended her court.

Cast bronze medal of Isabella d’Este, Marchioness of Mantua, by Gian Cristoforo Romano, British Museum, Asset Number 30531001

The identification is further supported by similarity of the portrait bust to a drawing of Isabella d’Este made between 1499-1500 by Leonardo da Vinci, which is currently housed in the Louvre.

While not much information is available about the origins of this terracotta bust, I can attest to its outstanding quality. Detailing in the face is extraordinary, as are details of the woman’s hair and costume.

The portrait bust has an interesting modern history. The Nazis acquired the bust prior to WWII and hid it in a salt mine with other confiscated artwork. (The Kimbell Museum provenance description notes, “sold to Adolf Hitler through Hans Posse in 1941; transferred to Kremsmünster and then Alt Aussee, Austria; recovered by Allied forces and taken to the Munich Central Collecting Point on June 28, 1945; repatriated June 3, 1946, to the Netherlands Art Property Foundation….”) Apparently US “Monument Men” discovered the bust in 1945.

I would encourage anyone in the Fort Worth, Texas area to visit the Kimbell Art Museum to view this wonderful terracotta bust.

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