This relief portrait of a man beautifully represents both the elegance and severity of Renaissance portraiture in stone. The noble bearing, thoughtful, slightly furrowed brow, and the simplicity of the clothing, background and frame would have appealed to the most sophisticated late-15th century Florentine connoisseurs. Previously unpublished, it is very likely by the hand of Gregorio di Lorenzo. Born in Florence around 1436, Gregorio was pupil of the sculptor Desiderio da Settignano, in whose workshop he is documented in 1455. In 1461 Gregorio opened his own workshop of marble carvers in the piazza di San Giovanni in Florence and immediately began to receive prestigious commissions from important patrons, such as the marble and stone lavabo (1461-62) for the Badia of Fiesole ordered by Cosimo de Medici. For the courts of Naples and Ferrara, Gregorio executed two series of profile portraits of the Twelve Caesars (1472), and from 1475 until 1490 he was active at the royal court of Matthias Corvinus in Hungary. Gregorio returned to Florence in the early 1490s before moving to Forlì, where he collaborated with the Lombard sculptors Giovanni Ricci (c. 1440/50-1523) and Tommaso Fiamberti on the Numai Monument (1502) in Santa Maria dei Servi.
The carving of the hair in the present relief, with short, comma-like strokes, is especially similar to that in the bust of Lorenzo di messer Tommaso Soderini in the Museé Jacquemart-André in Paris, which Francesco Caglioti has recently convincingly attributed to Gregorio di Lorenzo and dated to c. 1493-1495 (F. Caglioti, 'Due false attribuzioni a Giovanni Bastianini falsario, ovvero due busti di Gregorio di Lorenzo, ex 'Maestro delle Madonne di marmo,' in Conosco un ottimo storico dell'arte: Per Enrico Castelnuovo. Scritti di amici e allievi pisani, ed. by M. M. Donato and M. Ferretti, Pisa, 2012, pp. 207-212). The identity of the sitter in the Jacquemart-André bust is clearly indicated by an inscription carved into its underside: LORENZO DI M[ESSER] TOMASO DI GV/CCIO SODERINI. And while the Jaquemart-André bust obviously depicts a much older man, when the bust is viewed in profile, allowing the Jaquemart-André profile and the present lot's profile to be compared more precisely, the faces do appear similar (F. del la Moureyre-Gavoty, Institut de France, Paris, Museé Jacquemart-André: Sculpture Italienne, Paris, 1975, p. 138). So it is possible that the present relief might also represent Lorenzo Soderini, albeit at a considerably younger age, and that Gregorio portrayed the sitter on two separate occasions, many years apart.
As Caglioti has demonstrated, Lorenzo di messer Tommaso Soderini (February 1433-c. 1479) was the only surviving son from the first marriage of Tommaso di Lorenzo Soderini (1403-1485), a strong supporter of the Medici family and one of the most significant political figures of Quattrocento Florence. Lorenzo Soderini was Prior of the Republic for the district of Santo Spirito in 1463, participated in the conspiracy against Piero di Cosimo de' Medici in 1465, was restored to office in 1468, and died a little before 1480. Caglioti believes that Gregorio di Lorenzo carved the Jacquemart-André bust well after Lorenzo Soderini's death (Cagliotti, op. cit., p. 214). In order to do so, the sculptor would have had to rely on previous representations of the sitter, personal knowledge of his appearance, or pure invention. Might Gregorio have been commissioned to carve the posthumous bust of Lorenzo Soderini because he had already portrayed the sitter in the present portrait relief? Whether or not the present relief represents a younger Lorenzo Soderini, it is still an exciting new discovery and a refined example of Renaissance portraiture.
Christie's would like to thank Professor Alfredo Bellandi for his help in preparing this catalogue entry.