By Martina Bollini

Baroque sculptor Giovanni Gonnelli, also known as il Cieco da Gambassi, was born on 4 April 1603 in Gambassi, Tuscany. He studied in Florence, under Chiarissimo Fancelli and Pietro Tacca. According to the biographer Filippo Baldinucci, Gonnelli was in Mantua when the city was besieged in 1630 and had to endure such hardships that he lost his sight. Back to his homewtown, Gonnelli gradually went back to work, devoting to terracotta sculpture. The exceptional abilities of the blind sculptor soon became legendary, as attested by two contemporary portraits by Livio Mehus and Jusepe de Ribera. 

Gonnelli first entered the service of the Grand Dukes of Tuscany, and eventually moved to Rome (c. 1637), where he cast two famous busts for pope Urbano VIII Barberini. Gonnelli died in Rome in 1656, probably of mushroom poisoning. Many of his artworks were destroyed or lost. 

Reference:  Sandro Bellesi, GONNELLI, Giovanni, detto il Cieco di Gambassi, in Dizionario Biografico degli italiani, vol. 57 (2001).

Jusepe de Ribera, The Blind Sculptor or Allegory of Touch, 1632, Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid.

Livio Mehus, Portrait of Giovanni Gonnelli, 1660-80, private collection.

Self-portrait, private collection, Sesto Fiorentino (until 1942; now presumed lost) 

Bust of Grand Duke Cosimo II (attr.) Pinacoteca e Museo civico, Volterra.

Bust of pope Urban VIII, 1637, Pinacoteca di Palazzo Barberini, Rome.

Bust of Francesco Chiarenti, 1640, Museo del vetro, Gambassi Terme.

Male bust, 1646, Galleria Cesati, Milan.

Saint Stephen. This statue was badly damaged during the 1993 bomb explosion of Via dei Georgofili in Florence.

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