Purchased from Signor Tombola in 1884 for £1 7s 6d
The Miracle of the Speaking Babe
Bronze partly gilt
Part of the High Altar of the Basilica di Sant'Antonio, Padua, Italy
On 23 June, 1447, Donatello contracted for four reliefs depicting Miracles performed by St Anthony of Padua. At this stage three of the reliefs, including the Miracle of the Speaking Babe, had already been cast. In this scene, St Anthony causes a week-old infant to name its father, thus saving its mother, who has been unjustly accused of adultery. On 13 April 1446, a donation of 15,000 lire was accepted from a Paduan citizen, Francesco da Tergola, for the construction of the high altar of the Santo. The first payment to Donatello for the new altar occurs in February 1447. Although the altar was temporarily erected for the feast of St Anthony (June 13) 1448, and most of the major figures were cast by 1450, the project was still unfinished when Donatello left Padua in 1454. The altar originally stood at the end of the choir, close to the ambulatory, but was dismembered in 1579, when officials of the Arca decided to replace it with a larger structure, designed by Girolamo Campagna and Cesare Fianco. Although most of Donatello's sculptures were incorporated into the new altar by 1582, it was not until 1895 that all the surviving components were united in the present fanciful reconstruction by Camillo Boito. The original form of the altar remains controversial, due to the loss of almost all the original architectural elements, except for a pair of volutes (item 8 below).
The surviving components of the original altar are:
Preserved on the altar in the Basilica di Sant'Antonio:
1. Seven bronze figures in the round, comprising, the Virgin and Child enthroned, St Francis (V&A cast no. 1899-56), St Anthony of Padua, St Louis of Toulouse, St Daniel, St Justina, St Prosdocimus.
2. Four bronze reliefs depicting miracles performed by St Anthony of Padua (V&A cast nos. 1884-325 to 328).
3. Four bronze reliefs containing Symbols of the Evangelists.
4. Twelve bronze reliefs of angels (V&A cast nos. 1870-18 and 18 A to K).
5. A bronze relief of the Dead Christ Lamented by Two Angels (V&A cast no. 1884-329).
6. A limestone relief depicting the Entombment.
7. A bronze relief of the Dead Christ with seven angels, by an unidentified Venetian sculptor (V&A cast no 1884-330).
In the Museo Antoniano, Padua:
8. A pair of volutes, thought to have come from the canopy which once surmounted the altar.
In the Museo Salvatore, Romano, Florence:
9. Marble reliefs depicting the half-length figures of St Prosdocimus and another saint, possibly two of the four half-length saints seen by Marcantonio Michiel on the back of the altar, in the early 16th century.