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Benedetto da Maiano
(Maiano 1441-Florence 1497)
Head of a Man (Giovanni Serristori?)
ca. 1475

Giovanni Antonio Amadeo
(Pavia ca. 1447-Milan 1522)
ca. 1465-1475

Ferdinando Tacca
Diana and Pan

Renaissance Discoveries
by N. F. Karlins

"Italian Renaissance Sculpture," Nov. 2, 2004-Jan. 8, 2005, at Salander-OReilly Galleries, 20 East 79th Street, New York, N.Y. 10021

Not often do you walk into a gallery and find yourself face-to-face with a Renaissance masterpiece, especially a previously unpublished one.

Head of a Man, a newly discovered terracotta by Benedetto da Maiano (1441-1407), may portray a member of the Medici family in Florence. Shockingly naturalistic with a complex beauty, it is part of the endlessly appealing show, "Italian Renaissance Sculpture," at the Salander-OReilly Gallery on Manhattans Upper East Side.

The sensitively fashioned Head projects a remarkable realism, while managing to be a study of aging.

The eyes gaze to the side with a startling immediacy. The ravages of gravity to the musculature of the face are balanced by the slight lift of the eyebrows. Amid the resultant wrinkles, lovingly gathered and incised in the forehead, the viewer finds a fellow human being determinedly going about his daily affairs despite his drawn flesh.

If the perspicacious Andrew Butterfield of Salander-OReilly is correct -- and he is very likely as right about the subject as he is its maker -- the Head belongs to Giovanni Serristori, a merchant and one of the ruling politicians of Florence and the son of Constanza deMedici. A terracotta model of Serritori was inventoried as being in Benedetto da Maianos studio after his death.

Because it relates to a marble bust of Pietro Mellini in the Bargello in Florence, the Head of a Man probably dates to the 1470s. Most likely, it was made as a study for a marble that may or may not have been completed.

As if this piece were not enough, "Italian Renaissance Sculpture" is crammed with other fresh material unearthed by Mr. Butterfield. Urbano da Cortonas Byzantine-tinged marble Dead Christ Supported by Angels (ca. 1450), Giovanni Antonio Amadeos exciting Pieta (ca. 1465-75), Maffeo Olivieris bronze candelabrum (ca. 1527) with its six male figures, alternately nude and clothed, and a painted terracotta Madonna and Child by Lorenzo Ghiberti (ca. 1420-30) are additional knockouts. But then, almost everything here is a knockout.

To balance the reserved, innate dignity of the Head of a Man, it would be difficult to find anything as different, as whole-heartedly lascivious and theatrical as Ferdinando Taccas Diana and Pan. This bronze duo from the mid-1600s is a Mannerist riff on the Renaissance theme of a sleeping nymph found by an amorous satyr by Giambologna.

The sleeping nude here is invitingly stretched horizontally, as soft and pliant as taffy. The grotesquely-featured Pan is all twisted potential energy.

Its cruel to not be able to stroke their backs, which Tacca has made as fleshily tempting as the rest of them. But some lucky buyer will be able to, and soon Id bet.

Considering the recent high auction prices for contemporary art, the pieces are the bargains of the season. Whats more, on Nov. 29, the gallery is mounting a show devoted to the sculpture of Bernini.

N. F. KARLINS is a New York art historian and critic.