This life-size marble sculpture was originally intended for the campanile, the bell tower adjacent to the Duomo, the main cathedral in Florence. It was part of a series of works featuring 16 Old Testament prophets. Nine were sculpted in the medieval period. Donatello and Nanni di Banco completed the remaining seven as a commission for the Opera del Duomo. The prophets, placed in niches, needed dramatic expressions that could be seen by observers at least 60 feet below. Jeremiah is depicted as middle aged and sorrowful. The psychological intensity of his life’s trials—imprisonment, betrayal, persecution—are manifest in his misshapen head. Jeremiah looks downward, demanding the repentance commanded by his message. The original sculpture is preserved in the Museo dell’Opera del Duomo, and a copy is in the niche on the campanile.
I never learned to tell one from another— swamp, field, song, vesper—they’re all scraps of drab: rust, dun, buff, tan. Some streaky-breasted, some not. We hear the flutter of their wings, look up, then yawn, ho hum, a sparrow. No rush for the binoculars. Like the poor, they are always with us. Look at them flick and flit in this dry meadow of foxtail, switchgrass, goldenrod; every leaf, stem, and seed head burnished in the dying light. Maybe they are the only angels we get in this life. But the very hairs on our head are numbered, and the father knows them all by name. Each sparrow, too, has a song—no flashy cardinal selling cheer, no sky-blue jay’s ironic squawk, no eponymous chicka-dee-dee-dee. Just us, the unnoticed, gleaning what others have left behind, and singing for all we’re worth, teetering on a bit of bracken at the edge of a wild field.