Scholars Say Art Dealer May Have Discovered Two Lost Donatello Sculptures

The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, may have a new masterpiece.

This putto sculpture at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, is now believed to be by Donatello. Photo: Otis Norcross Fund, courtesy the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.
This putto sculpture at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, is now believed to be by Donatello. Photo: Otis Norcross Fund, courtesy the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

Could a pair of wooden putti be two forgotten sculptures by Donatello?

A photo of one of the two-and-a-half-foot tall statues caught art dealer Andrew Butterfield’s eye some years ago. “It felt so much like the embodiment of the early Renaissance,” he told the New York Times. In 2012, he bought the piece for an undisclosed sum from the estate of Turin art dealer Giancarlo Gallino. Suspecting he had a Donatello on his hands, Butterfield enlisted the help of several experts in establishing the provenance.

A nearly identical sculpture belongs to the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, but in the 1960s, a curator there had dismissed it as not being by the master’s hand.

Now, scholars believe that both works are likely authentic Donatellos, based on similarities and hallmarks of the artist’s work, such as the single arched-foot stance of the figures.

This putto sculpture at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, is now believed to be by Donatello. Photo: Otis Norcross Fund, courtesy the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

This putto sculpture at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, is now believed to be by Donatello.
Photo: Otis Norcross Fund, courtesy the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

There are no other known surviving Donatello putti, but historical writings reference his creation of them. Butterfield is responsible for a number of other Renaissance finds that have been uncovered in recent years, including lost works by Gian Lorenzo Bernini, Lorenzo Ghiberti, and Andrea Mantegna.

“I believe that we can safely attribute to Donatello not only the invention and design, but also the personal responsibility for their execution in his workshop,” wrote Donatello scholar Francesco Caglioti of the Butterfield and MFA sculptures in a catalogue publicizing the discovery quoted by the Times.

This past year, new Raphael paintings were allegedly found in Spain and Italy. The purported discovery of a pair of Michelangelo bronzes, however, has since been contested, and a supposed second copy of the Mona Lisa has been met with understandable skepticism.

Later this month, the statue will be on view at Moretti Fine Art in New York. It is not, however, for sale—Butterfield told the Times that he hopes the piece will make its way to a public collection.

New Yorkers got a rare change to see Donatello on their home turf already this year at the late Museum of Biblical Art, when Florence’s Museo dell’Opera del Duomo issued a rare loan of several pieces by the master.


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