Hiding in Plain Sight: Citerna’s Donatello

June 27, 2013 / Art & Archaeology
Citerna, Umbria


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It’s surprising to think that in 2013, artistic masterpieces are still being “found”. But in a country as saturated with art and history as Italy, I suppose it would be even more surprising if nothing new were to ever resurface.


Take Donatello’s “Madonna with Child”, for example. This long-anonymous terracotta Virgin and Child statue stood behind the altar of tiny Citerna’s San Francesco church for decades, gathering dust and humidity, until coming under the scrutiny of art historian Laura Ciferri in the early 2000s. Ciferri was writing her graduate thesis on 15th and 16th century Umbrian terracotta; she had heard that Citerna had an (unremarkable) example, so decided to stop by and take a look.


As soon as she set eyes on the work, Ciferri knew that she had uncovered something important. The garish colors and ham-handed “touch-ups” added over the centuries were distracting, but the underlying elegant lines of the statue’s form hinted at one of the Florentine masters.

Years of careful restoration at the Opificio delle Pietre Dure in Florence uncovered a breathtaking example of the International Gothic style from early 15th century Florence from under the layers of paint and dirt. Donatello’s famed delicate features and coloring, intricate clothing details, gold and silver paints, and flowing posture of the figures make this once-humble terracotta one of the most important recent discoveries in Italian art.


The newly-restored work, unveiled in December of 2012, is currently displayed in an intimate, climate-controlled side chapel in the Church of San Francesco (visitors are accompanied by a guide; information at the Citerna Tourist Info office) and is breathtaking to view from up close. Be prepared to be surprised…

Rebecca Winke

by Rebecca Winke

Owner of Brigolante Apartments, a restored 16th century stone farmhouse / guesthouse in the heart of Umbria near Assisi, and blogger of life in Umbria. For tips and insider information about visiting Umbria, download her Umbria Slow App and see her writings on her personal website!

8 Responses to “Hiding in Plain Sight: Citerna’s Donatello”

  1. louise

    Fascinating story. Many thanks. Another must see from ItalianNotebook.

  2. M. B katz

    I appreciate the info. Fifteenth century is correct. And not really International Gothic.

    • Interesting, I certainly hadn’t heard of this work.
      Although Donatello is not International Gothic but, as we all well know, considered amongst the first Renaissance sculptors, this painted piece has elements of international gothic style, which I think is what Rebecca was referring to. Donatello was able to work in a range of styles, and for a small town commission he may have chosen, or been imposed, this style over the more innovative style he used around the same time in Florence. Also the medium lends itself to gothicising.

  3. Thanks for all your comments! Sorry about the dates…Italian dating is tricky to translate into English, and I got confused. As far as the style, my information is based on Ciferri’s thesis and the writing about the restoration by the team at the Opificio delle Pietre Dure in Florence , so you’ll have to take that up with them :)


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