By Costanza Beltrami

Benedetto da Maiano died on 24 May 1497 in Florence, where he was born in 1442. Benedetto trained as a wood-carver, learning how to make elaborate intarsiafor chests and mirror cases. According to Giorgio Vasari’s Lives of the Most Excellent Painters, Sculptors, and Architects of 1550, Benedetto stopped working in wood out of embarrassment: Benedetto was commissioned two inlay panels by Matthias Corvinus, King of Hungary, but the works were damaged during shipping and fell apart completely when the King unpacked them. In fact, Benedetto continued to work in wood throughout his life, although marble soon became his material of choice.

Benedetto’s first independent commission was the St Savino monument carved in 1468–71 for Faenza Cathedral, which reveals the influence of Bernardo and Antonio Rossellino, as well as Donatelloand Ghiberti. A more important early work is the St Fina monument in the collegiate church of San Gimignano. The monument is located in the chapel of the same name, designed by Benedetto’s brother Giuliano and frescoed by Domenico Girlandaio. The monument marries highly decorated surfaces and engaging narrative scenes, a mix typical of Benedetto’s oeuvre.

Having become an established master, Benedetto matriculated in the Florentine sculptors’ guild, the Arte dei Maestri di pietra e legname in 1473. In the same year he left the city to travel to Rome and Naples. Around this time, Benedetto started working for the Florentine merchant Pietro Mellini. Mellini’s simple floor tomb and the decorated marble pulpit he commissioned for Santa Croce, Florence, are considered Benedetto’s masterpiece. Similarly impressive are Benedetto’s altar ciborium for San Domenico in Siena, and the Annunciation Altar and marble furnishings in the Terranova Chapel at Monteoliveto Maggiore, now Sant’ Anna dei Lombardi, Naples. As we know from customs documents, Benedetto carved the monument in Florence and shipped it to Naples when complete. This is typical of the artist’s working methods. Equally typical is Benedetto’s reliance on his workshop assistants, often left to complete half of a symmetrical composition.  

In the 1490s, Benedetto’s compositions grew increasingly spare in detail and sober in tone, gaining severity and monumentality, as in the San Bartolo monument in San Agostino, San Gimignano (1492–1494). Fittingly, one of Benedetto’s last works was in wood: a large, idealized crucifix realized for Giovanni II, now in Florence Cathedral.

Reference: Gary M. Radke and Alan Phipps Darr. “Maiano, da.” Grove Art Online, Oxford University Press,

Tomb Altar of St Fina, 1477, marble, chapel of St Fina, Collegiata, San Gimignano. Source: Web Gallery of Art.

Altarpiece of the Annunciation, before 1489, marble, Terranova Chapel, Sant’Anna dei Lombardi, Naples. Source: Web Gallery of Art.

Giotto Epitaph, 1489-90, marble, Duomo, Florence. Source: Web Gallery of Art.

Bust of Pietro Mellini, 1474, marble, Museo Nazionale del Bargello, Florence. Source: Web Gallery of Art.

Pulpit, 1472-76, marble, Santa Croce, Florence. Source: Web Gallery of Art.

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