Saint John the Baptist

Agnolo di Polo was described by Vasari, in a now oft-repeated quote, as an artist 'who worked quite proficiently in clay, filling the city [of Florence] with works by his hand; and if he had wanted to apply himself properly to his art, he would have made very beautiful things' (G. Vasari, Lives of the Artists, translated and reprinted London, 1965, p. 238). Agnolo's reputation has been further obscured by the fact that he appears to have only worked in terracotta, so his surviving works in this fragile material are rare. It was Bruce Boucher's suggestion that the present terracotta is by the hand of Agnolo di Polo -- which coincides with a growing awareness of Agnolo's small but interesting oeuvre.

Agnolo di Polo, the son of the Florentine painter Polo di Agnolo, seems to have been an apprentice in Verrocchio's workshop. His most iconic -- and most securely attributed -- terracotta is the life-size bust of Christ originally made for the Sapienza of Pistoia in 1495 which is now in the Museo Civico in Pistoia.

Of impressive size but, at the same time, powerfully meditative and calm, the present terracotta is close to another, smaller, bust of St. John the Baptist also attributed to Agnolo, now in the collection of the Detroit Institute of Arts (see A. Darr, Italian Sculpture in the Detroit Institute of Arts, London, 2002, I, no. 62, pp. 127-128). Both have serene, yet slightly expectant or questioning expressions, emphasized by the lightly raised eyebrows. The heavy-lidded eyes also link their physiognomies, although the Detroit St. John's expression is more animated. Some of the same features are evident in another fine polychrome-terracotta by Agnolo di Polo, the bust of a bishop saint which was offered at Sotheby's, New York, 26 January, 2012, lot 325.

Signature: Depicted bust length, with a cloak over his shoulder and his hands clasped at his waist.