Born in Vicenza, Valerio Belli spent much of his career in Rome as a celebrated gem engraver, his works sought after by collectors for their great beauty and refinement. By 1521, he had returned to Vicenza, though he maintained many of his Roman contacts. In fact, he was well-acquainted with Michelangelo and corresponded with him regularly.
This bronze plaquette is derived from a panel on Belli’s most renowned work: a carved rock crystal casket made for Pope Clement VII (Museo degli Argenti, Florence). The plaquette was cast from the relief on the end of the casket and repeats the composition exactly. Belli often adapted his rock crystal works to bronze plaquettes, which could be made in multiples, indicating his work was in high demand.
The story of Jesus among the doctors comes from the Gospel of Luke. It recounts the moment when Mary and Joseph, looking for Jesus, found him in the temple, engaged in erudite discussion with religious elders. In Belli’s plaquette, the Christ Child is standing on an altar (on which the artist has inscribed in signature, VALERIVS FE), surrounded by doctors. Mary and Joseph are seen to the right, behind the altar. The differentiated gestures of the figures convey their incredulity at the learnedness of the young Jesus.