The sculptor and architect Agostino di Duccio was born in Florence, but worked mostly elsewhere: in Venice, Perugia, and Rimini. In the latter town, he made the interior sculptural decoration of the famous Tempio Malatestiano, a church designed and built by the architect and theorist Leon Battista Alberti (1404–72). Duccio’s typical lineal style was inspired by the classical neo-attic style of Hellenistic art. The large terracotta sculpture in Budapest was a part of an Annunciation group, whose figure of the Virgin has been lost. The decoration of the sculpture must have been lavish: Archangel Gabriel’s clothing and mantle were painted and his hair and wings were gilded.
The terracotta statue in Budapest is one of the finest works of Agostino di Duccio, the Florentine sculptor and architect. The statue was originally part of an Annunciation group. The Archangel Gabriel, who is bringing news of the immaculate conception to the Virgin Mary, holds a bouquet of lilies – symbolising purity – in his left hand, while raising his right hand in a greeting. Traces of paint and gilding are visible on the formerly richly decorated statue. The archangel’s pleated cloak was originally red and his tunic green. His curly shoulder-length hair and his wings were decorated with gilding. The original site of the statue is unknown. It was purchased from an art dealer in Perugia and had earlier been part of a collection owned by a local patrician family. It has been surmised, however, that it may have once stood in one of the private chapels of the Cathedral of San Lorenzo in Perugia. The wings of the archangel, which he keeps close to his shoulders, and the elongated body parts and hands suggest that the artist composed the statue for a high niche and to be viewed from below, as he also did in the case of his main works in Perugia, namely the Annunciation on the facade of the Chapel of San Bernardino (1457‒1461) and the Annunciation on the altar of Saint Lawrence (1459) in the Church of San Domenico.
Agostino spent his apprentice years in the construction workshop of the Duomo of Florence, where he would have encountered the sculptors Donatello, Michelozzo, and Luca della Robbia. His first signed works are to be found in the Duomo of Modena, and thereafter he continued to work mainly outside his native city, for instance in Venice, Rimini, and Perugia. In 1449, at the invitation of the sculptor Matteo de’ Pasti, he went to Rimini, where he worked on the interior sculptural decoration of the Tempio Malatestiano, built by Leon Battista Alberti. It was here that his unique style evolved, that was inspired by Gothic art and characterised by the decorative and playful pleating of draperies and, in the case of his reliefs, flatness and linearity. Between 1457 and 1462, he worked in Perugia. After a lengthy stay in Florence, he returned to Perugia in 1473, where he worked until his death in the early 1480s.
There is no consensus among researchers about the dating of this Archangel Gabriel. Based on the staid style of the statue, Jolán Balogh dated the work to Agostino’s second period in Perugia, during which the statues (now in fragmentary form) of the facade of the Chapel of Maestà delle Volte (from 1475) and those of the tombs of the Geraldini family in the Church of San Francesco in Amelia (1476, 1477) were made. Yet the Budapest statue does not exhibit the weaknesses of style and execution that characterise Agostino’s late works. Thus, the statue may well have been made during Agostino’s first stay in Perugia, around the same time as the statues in the Chapel of San Bernardino and the Church of San Domenico. At that time, the master was at the zenith of his creative powers. The lyrically beautiful and girlish face of Archangel Gabriel shares an affinity with the facial type of the so-called Madonna of Auvillers (ca. 1460‒1465), a marble relief held by the Musée du Louvre in Paris, while the characteristic hand gesture wrinkling the drapery is a motif often employed by Agostino throughout his œuvre.
This record is subject to revision due to ongoing research.
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