Francesco Laurana was entirely unknown until about 1880. Even now his life is mysterious, partly because he worked outside the mainstream of Italian art. He was born in Dalmatia, in modern Croatia, which had been colonized by Venetians and was open to the influences of Italian culture. Laurana trained under a sculptor and possibly under a goldsmith. In 1453 he began his career as an itinerant international sculptor in Naples, later working in dynastic courts in Sicily and in Provence, France. His works range from statues of the Madonna and Child to tomb sculptures, arches, and medals, most of which he painted.
The heads of Laurana's figures are often oval-shaped, with calm, dreamlike expressions and smooth, rounded forms. His reputation is largely based on a series of elegant, ethereal female portrait busts, none of which are documented, signed, or dated, but all of which scholars agree Laurana sculpted. In trying to balance idealization and individual interpretation, Laurana approached abstraction, which presents difficulties in identifying his sitters. His abstract, ovoid forms anticipated the twentieth-century sculptor Constantin Brancusi.