Scientific analyses confirm the discovery of a terracotta portrait of Filippo Brunelleschi, a work by his son.

When thinking of Brunelleschi, how not to think of the Dome of Santa Maria del Fiore, an exceptional work that remains unparalleled to date.

The Florentines, in constructing the city’s cathedral, had gone overboard building a very large church. Therefore, it was necessary to create an enormous dome, but no one knew how to do it.

Scaffolding and wooden structures were to be excluded, due to the height and the vastness of the opening to be covered. No type of wood could support the weight of such a large cover until the dome was closed by the lantern.

Filippo di ser Brunellesco Lapi (1377-1446), the son of a notary, described by Vasari as ‘small in person and features’, thus not an impressive “physique”, but a true polymath genius and the founding fathers of the Italian Renaissance. He devised the construction of a dome without scaffolding, using an innovative system that is still studied today.

He was not only an architect and engineer but also a sculptor, mathematician, goldsmith, and stage designer. His greatness still stands in the center of Florence today, but few of his portraits have survived.

To try to see his face, we can go to the Brancacci Chapel, where Masaccio perhaps included him in profile in the frescoes at the Carmine.

Or we can go to the same Duomo of Florence, where there is a commemorative monument to this great Florentine, made one year after his death.

Thus, the discovery of a head portrayed from life is exceptional, which likely served as the model for the marble relief created by Andrea di Lazzaro Cavalcanti, known as Il Buggiano, the son of Brunelleschi’s brother’s sharecropper, who was adopted by Filippo at the age of seven.

With 300,000 euros, the Opera del Duomo has acquired this significant artifact for its museum, adding to the death mask already in its collection.

Besides its commemorative value, this terracotta portrait also has historical and artistic value in itself; it is indeed one of the first of the Renaissance when sculpted portraits came back into vogue.

Scholars Giancarlo Gentili and Alfredo Bellandi rediscovered this work among the furnishings of a historic residence in the Florentine area after it had been lost for about 600 years.

The work was dated using thermoluminescence. This is an micro-invasive investigation that, if done with all precautions, will not cause any irreparable damage to the artwork. It requires a small sample taken with a tiny drill, which will collect the necessary powder for the examination. We provided this service in this case, and we are at you disposal in case you also would like to date your objects.

Emanuela Massa
Emanuela Massa