Guido Mazzoni
Biography of Italian Renaissance Terracotta Sculptor.

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Laughing Child - possibly Henry VIII
(c.1498) British Royal Art Collection.

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Guido Mazzoni (1450-1518)

An important contributor to Italian Renaissance sculpture and one of the greatest sculptors in terracotta, Guido Mazzoni was also a painter, festival director and mask-maker. Sadly, few examples of his terracotta sculpture or statuettes remain: most have fallen victim to either destruction or natural disintegration. His best known (surviving) work is the Lamentation (1492-94) at the Church of Monteoliveto, Naples. One of his most interesting smaller-scale works is Head of a laughing boy (c.1498, The Royal Collection of HRH Queen Elizabeth II).

Early Life

Nicknamed Paganino or Modanino, Mazzoni was born in 1450 in the city of Modena (then ruled by the Este family of Ferrara). We have very little information about his early life, or how he mastered the art of sculpture, but we know that he was raised by his uncle, Paganino Mazzoni, an official of the Este governmental bureaucracy. The connection with the Ferrara court throws some light on Mazzoni's early commissions. He was documented for the first time at the age of 23, when he made props and masks for the Duke of Ferrara's wedding. He was recorded in the records at the time as an 'artist'. He may well have learnt the art of modelling papier-mâché props at the Palazzo Schifanoia. The city of Modena was famous in this period for the production of its realistic, caricature festival masks (known as 'volti modenesi').

Lorenzo Ghiberti (1378-1455)
Donatello (1386-1466)
Luca Della Robbia (1400-1482)
Antonio Rossellino (1427-1479)
Antonio Pollaiuolo (1432-98)
Niccolo Dell'Arca (1435-94)
Andrea Della Robbia (1435-1525)
Andrea del Verrocchio (1435-1488)
Michelangelo (1475-1564)
Alonso Berruguete (c.1486-1561)
Jacopo Sansovino (1486-1570)
Baccio Bandinelli (1493-1560)
Benvenuto Cellini (1500-1571)

Francesco Primaticcio (1504-1570)
Juan de Juni (1506-1577)
Germain Pilon (1529-1590)
Giambologna (1529-1608)
Jean Goujon (Active 1540-1563)
Barthelemy Prieur (1536-1611)

For details of the plastic arts during
the Middle Ages, see these resources:
Gothic Sculpture (1150-1280)
Cathedral Art, Ile de France.
Renaissance Art
Sculpture, Painting, Architecture

Terracotta Sculptures

In the mid 1470's, Mazzoni created one of his most important works, the Lamentation over the Dead Christ (1477-80, San Giovanni Battista, Modena). Produced in terracotta and painted, the figures are life-size and highly expressive. This was followed by Adoration of the Child (1485-90, Modena Duomo), also a pigmented terracotta sculpture with five figures. Mazzoni's most stunning group of terracotta sculptures however, is the Lamentation (1492-94) at the Church of Monteoliveto, Naples. This group statue was commissioned for the Chapel of the Sepulchre of the church by Alfonso II of Naples. Each figure in the work is a character portrait of either the donor, or his family. For example, the life-size kneeling figure of Joseph of Arimathea, is in fact a portrait of Mazzoni’s patron, Alfonso II. Alfonso's wife, Eleonora, is depicted as Maria di Cleof. The staged melodrama of the scene, is a direct influence of Mazzoni's experience of the theatre. Mazzoni's own wife, Isabella Discalzi, as well as his daughter, collaborated with him on this and many of his other works.


France and Artistic Recognition

In 1495, Mazzoni became one of the first Italian Renaissance sculptors to move to France, to the court of Charles VIII. The French court was eager to attract highly respected Italian artists and Mazzoni eventually became knighted. In 1498 Mazzoni executed the tomb of Charles VIII in St-Denis, but this was unfortunately destroyed during the French Revolution (1793). He spent the next twenty years working in France, only returning for brief stays to Italy. In 1516 he finally returned home to Modena, where he died two years later.


The Laughing Boy

Head of a laughing boy (c.1498, The British Royal Art Collection) is a small painted terracotta bust, presumed to be that of a 7 year Henry VIII (1491-1547). In 1925 Lionel Cust, Surveyor of the King's Works of Art, attributed the bust to Mazzoni. The realism of character and excellent degree of technical skill certainly makes this likely. The bust is famous, as it is the only likeness taken of the young future infamous King. There is no evidence that Mazzoni ever travelled to London, and no commission for the bust is recorded in Royal accounts. However, when Mazzoni was working on the tomb of King Charles VIII of France, he submitted similar designs to London for the tomb of Henry VII for Westminster Abbey. His designs were rejected in favour of others by Pietro Torrigiano.

Note About Sculpture Appreciation
To learn how to judge artists like the Renaissance terracotta sculptor Guido Mazzoni, see: How to Appreciate Sculpture. For later works, please see: How to Appreciate Modern Sculpture.


Mazzoni produced few, if any, sculptures using stone, marble or bronze. Terracotta was cheaper and more prevalent in the area around Modena, and was a natural choice for local artists. However, terracotta sculpture as an art form is often dismissed by Renaissance scholars as of less importance. As a result, Mazzoni's work has been largely been overlooked in the history books. His work was highly respected in his time; he worked for some of the most powerful men in Europe. His terracotta figures are highly realistic, much more so than had they been worked in marble or bronze. Lack of interest in his work may also be attributed to the fact that he worked away from the main Renaissance cities of Florence, Venice and Rome. His work can be compared to the art of the Della Robbia family, famous for their blue and white glazed terracotta work and that of Niccolo dell'Arca, who operated in Bologna.

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