Tomb of Carlo Marsuppini. 1453-1464. Santa Croce, Florence.
Very great is the obligation that is owed to Heaven and to Nature by those who bring their works to birth without effort and with a certain grace which others cannot give to their creations, either by study or by imitation. It is a truly celestial gift, which pours down on these works in such a manner, that they ever have about them a loveliness and a charm which attract not only those who are versed in that calling, but also many others who do not belong to the profession. And this springs from facility in the production of the good, which presents no crudeness or harsheness to the eye, such as is often shown by works wrought with labor and difficulty; and this grace and simplicity, which give universal pleasure and are recognized by all, are seen in all the works made by Desiderio.
Of this man, some say that he came from Settignano, a place two miles distant from Florence, while certain others hold him to be a Florentine; but this matters nothing, the distance between the one place and the other being so small. he was an imitator of the manner of Donatello, although he had a natural gift of imparting very great grace and loveliness to his heads; and in the expressions of his women and children there is seen a delicate, sweet, and charming manner, produced as much by nature, which had inclined him to this, as by the zeal with which he had practised his intelligence in the art. In his youth he wrought the base of Donatello's David, which is in the Duke's Palace in Florence, making on it in marble certain very beautiful harpies, and some vine-tendrils in bronze, very graceful and well conceived. On the facade of the house of the Gianfigliazzi he made a large and very beautiful coat of arms, with a lion; besides other works in stone, which are in the same city. For the Chapel of th Brancacci in the Carmine, he made an angel of wood; and he finished with marble the Chapel of the Sacrament in San Lorenzo, carrying it to complete perfection with much diligence. There was in it a child of marble in the round, which ws removed and is now set up on the altar at the festivals of the Nativity of Christ, as an admirable work; and in place of this Baccio da Montelupo made another, also of marble, which stands permanently over the Tabernacle of the Sacrament.
In Santa Maria Novella he made a marble tomb for the Blessed Villana, with certain graceful little angels, and portrayed her there from nature in such a manner that she appears not dead but asleep; and for the Nuns of the Murate he wrought a little Madonna with a lovely and graceful manner, in a tabernacle standing on a column, insomuch that both of these works are very highly esteemed and very greatly prized. In San Pietro Maggiore, also, he made the Tabernacle fo the Sacrament in marble with his usual diligence; and although there were no figures in this work, yet it shows a beautiful manner and infinite grace, like his other works. And he portrayed from the life, likewise in marble, the head of Marietta degli Strozzi, who was so beautiful that the work turned out very excellent.
In Santa Croce he made a tomb for Messer Carlo Marsuppini of Arezzo, which not only amazed the craftsmen and the people of understanding who saw it at that time, but still fills with marvel all who see it at the present day; for on the sacrophagus he wrought some foliage, which, although somewhat stiff and dry, was held--since but few antiquities had been discovered up to that time--to be something very beautiful. Among other parts of the said work are seen certain wings, acting as ornaments for a shell at the foo of the sacrophagus,w hich seem to e made not of marble but of feathers--difficult things to imitate in marble, seeing that the chisel is not able to counterfeit hair and feathers. There is a large shell of marble, more real than if it were an actual shell. There are also some children and some angels, executed with a beautiful and lively manner; and consummate excellence and art are likewise seen in the figure of the dead, portrayed from nature on the sarcophagus, and in a Madonna in low relief on a medaillion, wrought after the manner of Donatello with judgment and most admirable grace; as are many other works he made in low relief on marble, some of which are in the guardaroba of the Lord Duke Cosimo, and in particular a medaillion with the head of our Lord Jesus Christ and with that of John the Baptist as a boy. At the foot of the tomb of the said Messer Carlo he laid a large stone in memory of Messer Giorgio, a famous Doctor, and Secretary to the Signoria of Florence, with a very beautiful portrait in low relief of Messer Giorgio, clad in his Doctor's robes according to the use of those times.
If death had not snatch so prematurely from the world a spirit which worked so nobly, he would have done so much later on by means of experience and study, that he would have outstripped in art all those whom he had surpassed in grace. Death cut the thread of his life at the age of twenty-eight, which caused great grief to those who were looking forward to seeing so great an intellect attain to perfection in old age; and hey were left in the deepest dismay at such a loss. He was followed by his relatives and by many friends to the Church of the Servi; and a vast number of epigrams and sonnets continued for a long time to be placed on his tomb, of which I have contented myself with including only the following:
COME VIDE NATURA DAR DESIDERIO AI FREDDI MARMI VITA, E POTER LA SCULTURA AGGUAGLIAR SUA BELLEZZA ALMA A INFINITA, SI FERMO SBIGOTTITA E DISSE: OMAI SARA MIA GLORIA OSCURA. E PIENA D'ALTO SDEGNO TRONCO LA VITA A COSI BELL'INGEGNO. MA IN VAN; CHE SE COSTUI DIE VITA ETERNA AI MARMI, E I MARMI A LUI.
The sculptures of Desiderio date about 1485. He left unfinished a figure of St. Mary Magdalene in Penitence, which was afterwards completed by Benedetto da Maiano, and is now in Santa Trinita in Florence, on the right hand as one enters the church; and the beauty of this figure is beyond the power of words to express. In our book are certain very beautiful pen drawings by Desiderio; and his portrait was obtained from some of his relatives in Settignano.