Purchased from Giuseppe Lelli in 1894 for £54 5s
Part of the Cantoria
Documented 1433-56; main part carved 1433-8
Marble with mosaic inlay
Museo dell' Opera del Duomo, Florence, Italy
The original was formerly above the entrance to the South Sacristy of Florence Cathedral, a companion to Luca della Robbia's Cantoria, executed 1432-8, for the entrance to the North Sacristy. The Cantoria, or Singing Gallery, was probably designed as an organ loft, and may have acquired its name when, in 1688, the balustrade was replaced by a larger wooden structure to hold a choir to sing at Ferdinando de'Medici's wedding. The lower part remained in place until 1841/2, when a new organ loft was installed. The upper frieze was not reunited with the lower part until 1870, when all known fragments of the Cantoria were exhibited in the Museo Nazionale. The columns remained unrecognised in the courtyard of the Opera del Duomo. It was not until the recognition of these columns, and the discovery of a small part of the original cornice, that a reconstruction was effected by Luigi del Moro, after 1883.
The acquisition of the Victoria and Albert Museum's cast in two parts (lower part and frieze 1877, upper cornice and columns 1894) and its reconstruction after del Moro's design reflects the stages of research in Florence. There are still discrepancies between the present cast and the original appearance of the Cantoria. The blank tondi of the lowest register once contained two bronze heads by Donatello, documented in 1436, 1439 and 1456. These have tentatively been identified as two heads in the Museo dell'Opera del Duomo. There is uncertainty in the relationship of the columns to the frieze, and in the exact ornamentation of the top cornice, as it was reconstructed from only a small fragment.