Stop 31. Bust of Giovanni Boccaccio


After Giovanni Francesco Rustici (Italian, 1475–1574)
Late 16th or 17th century
Bronze, mounted to marble
15 x 16 1/2 x 7 inches (381 x 419 x 178 mm)
Purchased by Pierpont Morgan, 1909


Jennifer Tonkovich, Eugene and Clare Thaw Curator of Drawings and Prints
Above the mantel in the North Room is a bronze bust of a smiling man in clerical garb, mounted on a white marble surround, and placed between two porphyry urns. While this bust has occupied an esteemed place in Belle Greene’s office since 1910, only in recent years has the sitter’s true identity been determined.

Morgan acquired the bust in 1909 and it was long thought to depict the Italian Renaissance poet Francesco Petrarca, or Petrarch. Yet the round face and jovial, smiling mouth struck curators as a curious way to depict the serene Petrarch. Research revealed that the bust is actually a bronze cast after a marble bust from the tomb of the Florentine poet Giovanni Boccaccio. The original bust was made by the Renaissance sculptor Giovanni Francesco Rustici in 1503. The Morgan’s bronze was likely cast when the tomb was moved, probably in the seventeenth century.

The work fits the description of Boccaccio by his contemporary Filippo Villani: “Tall and rather stout of build, Boccaccio had a round face with the nose slightly flat above the nostrils; rather large, but nonetheless attractive and well-defined lips; and a dimpled chin that was charming when he laughed.”