Church kisses goodbye to windfall as Donatello work goes for £3.5m

When the parishioners of San Giovanni Battista church near Padua needed a new organ just over a century ago, they sold a terracotta relief of the Madonna and Child to pay for it.

But however much the organ cost in 1902, the exchange now looks a poor one. For that terracotta relief was by the early Italian Renaissance master Donatello and is now set to sell this month for up to $6m (£3.5m). The work, known as the Borromeo Madonna, after the Borromeo family, who great Italian art patrons and commissioned every major work of art in most of the churches of Padua, is expected to inspire competitive bidding at Sotheby's in New York on 26 January.

There is only one Donatello in a public art collection in the United States and nearly all the others either remain in the churches for which they were made or in major museums in Europe. The provenance of this particular work was lost for many years. It was so covered in dirt and layers of stucco and paint that it was identified only as "circle of Donatello" the last time it came up for auction in 1990 and did not sell. Recent cleaning revealed its beauty while new research established its origins. Anthony Radcliffe, keeper emeritus of sculpture at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, said it was "distinctly Donatello".

Margaret Schwartz, Sotheby's senior vice-president, said: "Donatello is without question one of the greatest sculptors that ever lived. The present work showcases his extraordinary technique and unique ability to illustrate emotion and realism in a very shallow space. The sale of this masterpiece presents a remarkable opportunity for institutions and private collectors alike." To be fair to the church officials in Padua, they were sufficiently fond of the rare work that they had a copy made in plaster which remains in situ to this day. The copy repeats the exact details of the sculpture, leaving no doubt that the copy was made from this relief.

The original was executed for an earlier church in Lissaro di Mestrino, outside Padua, in about 1450, at a time when the patronage of the church belonged exclusively to the Borromeo family, one of the oldest patrician families in Lombardy.

Donato di Niccolo di Betto Bardi, who came to be known as Donatello, was born in Florence in 1386 and trained in the studio of the sculptor Lorenzo Ghiberti from 1404-07. After several early commissions, he left Florence for Padua. He returned to Florence later in his life, where he died in 1466.

He was hugely important in stimulating the development of realism in Italian painting, notably in the work of the great Paduan artist Andrea Mantegna. This work is said to demonstrate many of the hallmarks of Donatello's style and the figures are similar to those in other, better known works. The way the veil falls over the Madonna's head resembles a terracotta Madonna in the Victoria and Albert Museum, while the Christ child is very similar to the child in the Courajod Madonna in the Louvre in Paris.

Arts and Entertainment
Banksy's 'The Girl with the Pierced Eardrum' in Bristol
art'Girl with the Pierced Eardrum' followed hoax reports artist had been arrested and unveiled
News
Pistorius leaves Pretoria High Court to be taken to prison
news

Voices
Stephanie first after her public appearance as a woman at Rad Fest 2014
voices

Life and Style
tech

Board creates magnetic field to achieve lift

PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
James Blunt's debut album Back to Bedlam shot him to fame in 2004
music

Singer says the track was 'force-fed down people's throats'

News
news

Endangered species spotted in a creek in the Qinling mountains

Life and Style
tech

Company says data is only collected under 'temporary' identities that are discarded every 15 minutes

News
peopleJust weeks after he created dress for Alamuddin-Clooney wedding
Life and Style
A street vendor in Mexico City sells Dorilocos, which are topped with carrot, jimaca, cucumber, peanuts, pork rinds, spices and hot sauce
food + drink

Trend which requires crisps, a fork and a strong stomach is sweeping Mexico's streets

Arts and Entertainment
George Lucas poses with a group of Star Wars-inspired Disney characters at Disney's Hollywood Studios in 2010
films

George Lucas criticises the major Hollywood film studios

Sport
football West Brom vs Man Utd match report: Blind grabs point, but away form a problem for Van Gaal
Life and Style
health

Some experiencing postnatal depression don't realise there is a problem. What can be done?

Arts and Entertainment
Gotham is coming to UK shores this autumn
tvGotham, episode 2, review
News
i100
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £45000 per annum + uncapped: SThree: Key featuresA highly motivated ...

Primary Teacher Jobs in Blackpool

Negotiable: Randstad Education Preston: Primary Teacher Jobs in BlackpoolWe ar...

Health & Social Teacher

Competitive & Flexible : Randstad Education Cambridge: The JobRandstad Educati...

***SEN British Sign Language Teacher***

£60 - £70 per day: Randstad Education Preston: Successful candidate should hav...

Day In a Page

Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
Let's talk about loss

We need to talk about loss

Secrecy and silence surround stillbirth
Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Women may be better suited to space travel than men are
Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
How to dress with authority: Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear

How to dress with authority

Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear
New book on Joy Division's Ian Curtis sheds new light on the life of the late singer

New book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer

'Joy Division were making art... Ian was for real' says author Jon Savage
Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

The Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Barbra Streisand is his true inspiration
Tim Minchin, interview: The musician, comedian and world's favourite ginger is on scorching form

Tim Minchin interview

For a no-holds-barred comedian who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, he is surprisingly gentle in person
Boris Johnson's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Boris's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Many of us Brits still disapprove of conspicuous consumption – it's the way we were raised, says DJ Taylor
Ash frontman Tim Wheeler reveals how he came to terms with his father's dementia

Tim Wheeler: Alzheimer's, memories and my dad

Wheeler's dad suffered from Alzheimer's for three years. When he died, there was only one way the Ash frontman knew how to respond: with a heartfelt solo album