Renaissance Sculpture In Italy – Part 2

THE FLORENTINE SCHOOL. The impulse given to Florentine sculpture by Andrea Pisano, Giotto, and Orcagna was strongly felt in the early portion of the fifteenth century. The goldsmiths, from whose ateliers issued the most distinguished sculptors, also exerted a determining influence, as may be seen by comparing such works as the silver altar-front in the cathedral at Pistoja or the silver dossal from the Baptistery of Florence with the Early Renaissance reliefs. The marble sculptors employed upon the Cathedral of Florence at the end of the fourteenth century, especially Piero di Giovanni Tedesco, were already producing naturalistic sculptures and mingling classic with Christian themes. Though probably of German origin, Piero’s work was thoroughly Italian, we may even say Venetian, in treatment. The leading Florentine sculptors of the first half of the fifteenth century were Ghiberti, Donatello, and Luca della Robbia.

LORENZO DI CIONE GHIBERTI (1378–1455) received his technical education from his stepfather Bartolo, a noted goldsmith. He began his career as a painter, but his instincts were essentially those of the sculptor of small objects. In his De Orificeria Benvenuto Cellini says of him : ” Lorenzo Ghiberti was truly a goldsmith, not only in his graceful manner of producing objects of beauty, but in the extreme diligence and polish which he gave to his work. He put his whole soul into the casting of miniature works, and though he sometimes applied himself to sculpture upon a larger scale, still we can see that he was much more at home in making smaller objects.” Ghiberti’s chief works as a goldsmith were a golden mitre and pluvial button for Pope Martin V. (1419) and a golden mitre for Pope Eugenius IV. (1439). These magnificent mitres, enriched with miniature reliefs and figures and adorned with precious stones, seem to have been melted down in 1527 to provide funds for the impoverished Pope Clement VII. More fortunate were his works in bronze. As far as is known, these all survive. Ghiberti applied himself to bronze with the spirit of the goldsmith. Having in an open competition proved himself superior to his Sienese, Aretine, and Florentine competitors, he secured the contract for a pair of bronze doors for the baptistery at Florence (1403-1424). These followed the scheme of the doors made for the same baptistery by Andrea Pisano, and represented in twenty-eight panels the life of Christ, the four Evangelists, and the four Fathers of the Church.

As compared with Andrea’s doors, those of Ghiberti were richer in composition, higher in relief, and more naturalistic in treatment. A fine sense of line is seen in the graceful, flowing draperies which adorn Ghiberti’s figures. The three statues of John the Baptist (1414), St. Matthew (1420), and St. Stephen (1422), which stand in niches on the exterior of Or San Michele, show his rapid progress in monumental sculpture. The St. Stephen alone frees him from the charge of being a mere sculptor of miniatures. The transition from his first to his second manner may be studied in the reliefs he made for the font in the baptistery at Siena (1417-1427).

The fulness of Ghiberti’s style was reached in his second pair of doors for the baptistery at Florence. His aim, no longer that of a Gothic sculptor, may be best stated in his own words : ” I tried as far as possible to imitate nature with all her varied qualities and to enrich my compositions with many figures. In some of the reliefs I have put as many as a hundred figures, in some more, in others less. I executed the work with diligence and enthusiasm. In the ten subjects treated, I have represented the buildings in such proportions as they appear to the eye, and in such a manner that from a distance they seem to be detached from the background. They have little relief and, as in nature, the nearer figures are larger and the remoter smaller. With similar sense of proportion have I carried out the entire work.”

The most impressive quality of these baptistery doors is the masterly treatment of sculptural perspective. Ghiberti had advanced to the use of successive planes of graded relief, even to the substitution of curved for flat planes. In this direction he surpassed all of his contemporaries. As compositions, the separate panels merit careful study, so harmoniously did he combine various incidents, and arrange his figures so as to make a single incident most significant. It was no empty praise when Michelangelo declared these doors to be worthy of standing as the gates to Paradise.

Contemporary with Ghiberti may be mentioned Filippo Brunelleschi (1379-1446), one of the competitors for the first baptistery doors, and a helpful friend to Donatello ; Nanni di Banco (d. 1420), whose statues of St. Eligius at Or San Michele, of St. Luke in the cathedral, and the Assumption of the Madonna over the north portal are works of merit ; Niccolo d’ Arezzo (b. about 1370), who was associated with Piero di Giovanni on the north portal of the cathedral. Lorenzo Ghiberti’s son, Vittorio Ghiberti (b. 1417), author of the decorative frieze around Andrea Pisano’s doors, and his grandson, Buonaccorso, both goldsmiths and bronze-casters, represent the decadence of Ghiberti’s influence.

DONATELLO (1386–1466) was the most representative sculptor of the Early Renaissance. His works, arranged in a chronological series, reflect the changing spirit of the times. Up to the year 1425 his works were thoroughly Gothic in treatment. His statues for the Cathedral, for the Campanile, and for Or San Michele are in general awkward in pose, heavy with drapery, and lacking in gracefulness. Evangelists and prophets are little more than portrait statues of his own contemporaries. Even the Christ is but a peasant. In this series the St. George is a marked exception, an outburst of creative force and energy.

From the year 1425 to his visit to Padua in 1444, Donatello produced his best works. This may be considered his classic period. His reputation now extended beyond Florence, and we find him executing orders for Prato, Siena, Montepulciano, Orvieto, Rome, and Naples. He associated with him Michelozzo Michelozzi, an accomplished architect and bronze-caster.

Michelozzo appears to have executed for him the greater part of three important tombs; that of Pope John XXIII. in the Baptistery of Florence, the Brancacci tomb in Naples, and the Aragazzi tomb at Montepulciano. In his relief work of this period Donatello exhibited perspective effects by the use of retreating flat planes, notably on the font in the baptistery of Siena. Even in the use of somewhat higher relief, as in the pulpit at Prato, and the organ gallery for the Florence Cathedral, he followed the same method. The fertility of his fancy is chiefly exhibited in his decorative compositions. What could be more charming or, at the same time, more representative of the spirit of the times than his Bacchanalian Dance of Young Angels for the organ gallery, or the Cupid and Psyche composition on the base of the Judith and Holophernes group in the Loggia dei Lanzi ! The realism of his earliest period seems to have been replaced by a refined classicism in his bronze David in the Muzeo Nazionale and in the beautiful tabernacle containing Verrocchio’s group of the Doubting Thomas at Or San Michele. There was another side to Donatello’s nature, a desire to produce a dramatic effect. This we already perceive in the Assumption relief of the Brancacci monument and in the Bewailing of the Dead Christ in the sacristy of St. Peter’s.

A third period of Donatello’s career began with his visit to Padua in 1444, and extended until his death in 1466. The dramatic talent to which he had given but little expression in earlier days, now reached its fullest development. His first work for Padua, the equestrian statue of Gattemelata, exhibited a considerable degree of classic restraint, but the history of his work in relief, from the S. Antonio altar-reliefs in Padua to the bronze pulpits of S. Lorenzo in Florence, is the story of decline. Exaggerated emotion, confused composition, and a lax handling of form and drapery characterize these later reliefs. They are prototypes of the Rococo spirit into which Italian sculpture was destined to fall.

Two sculptors may be associated with Donatello’s early manner : Nanni di Bartolo, called II Rosso, who made several statues of prophets for Giotto’s Campanile, and Bernardo Ciuffagni (1385-1456), author of the seated St. Matthew in the Florence Cathedral. Agostino di Duccio (1418–1481) drew considerable inspiration from Donatello’s best work, though his treatment of drapery may be described as an exaggeration of the manner of Ghiberti. Witness his interesting, but mannered, sculptures upon the facade of S. Bernardino at Perugia and the reliefs in S. Francesco at Rimini.

Michelozzo Michelozzi (1391–1473) was closely associated with Donatello during his best period, and executed some of his designs; but Michelozzo’s own work in sculpture was commonplace. More distinguished sculptors, Desiderio, the Rossellini, and Mino da Fiesole, owed much to Donatello ; and that master’s later manner was followed and exaggerated by Bertoldo di Giovanni (d. 1491), who completed the pulpits at S. Lorenzo. It found followers also in the Paduan school of sculpture.

LUCA DELLA ROBBIA (1399—1482) was the equal of his great contemporaries in the production of beautiful forms. Less venturesome with new methods than Ghiberti, less dramatic in spirit than Donatello, his Madonnas and Saints made him the typical religious sculptor of his day. His early training is said to have been under the goldsmith Leonardo di Ser Giovanni. He is known to have executed a few works in bronze, notably the dignified portals of the sacristy of the Cathedral of Florence. As a marble sculptor, his choir-gallery reliefs (1431—1440) show him to be a master of composition and possessed of pure religious sentiment. His marble tomb of Bishop Benozzo Federighi, now in the church of S. Francesco di Paola, is full of quiet grandeur and is enshrined in a frame of exquisitely beautiful design.

As the founder of a school of glazed-terracotta sculpture, Luca’s influence was far-reaching. His own works were made chiefly for Florence and its immediate neighborhood, while those of his successors were widely scattered. His style exhibited a continuous development without marked changes. In his early works, such as the Resurrection (1443) and the Ascension (1446), lunettes in the cathedral, and the lunette from S. Pierino, we may detect the influence of his goldsmith master and of Ghiberti. More freedom and independence are exhibited in his lunette of the Madonna and Child between two Angels over a doorway in the Via dell’ Agnolo, in the Apostle medallions in the Pazzi Chapel, and in the beautiful group of the Visitation at S. Giovanni Fuorcivitas, Pistoja. It was in 1463 that he made the remarkable medallion for the General Council of Merchants, and probably about the same time the fine medallion for the Guild of Stone Masons and Wood Carvers, both of which adorn the exterior of Or San Michele. Among his later works may be placed the very beautiful Tabernacle of the Holy Cross at Impruneta and a charming Adoration in the possession of M. Foulc, Paris. In some cases Luca made use of colored glazes, but more frequently we find him following the habit of the marble sculptors, merely coloring the details, such as the eyes and eyebrows, or painting superficial ornament in gold.

A considerable impulse to the production of beautiful works in glazed terracotta was given by Luca to his nephew, Andrea della Robbia (1437-1528). Andrea made a wider use of terra-cotta, and carried it into the smaller towns. In his earliest works at La Verna and Arezzo, he exhibited much of the dignity which characterized the style of his uncle. Then followed a period of graceful works, best illustrated by the altar in the Osservanza near Siena and in the lunette over the entrance of the cathedral at Prato. In the lunette of the cathedral at Pistoja and in those over the doors of S. Maria della Quercia at Viterbo his style lost something of its former refined sentiment and bordered upon sentimentality.

In the following century Andrea’s sons contributed only to the decline of art. Giovanni, the eldest (1469-1529), in his early years produced the font for the sacristy (1497) of S. Maria Novella, much in the spirit of his father. His more independent works, such as the Nativity (1521) in the Museo Nazionale, the Tabernacolo della Fontacine (1522) in the Via Nazionale, and the medallions at the Ceppo Hospital at Pistoja, exhibit ignorance of composition and bad taste in color. Fra Mattia in his high altar at Montecassiano (1527) showed himself a better artist, but Fra Ambrogio in his crude, realistic Nativity (1504) at Siena was a mere artisan; and Luca di Andrea, who executed from Raphael’s designs the pavements of the Vatican, was also incapable of producing artistic work by himself. Girolamo, the youngest (1488-1566), carried the traditions of the school to France. His decorative terra-cotta work for the Chateau de Madrid, though much admired, had little influence upon French art.

LATE FIFTEENTH CENTURY FLORENTINE SCULPTURE. During the second half of the fifteenth century the demand for monumental works in sculpture, both in marble and bronze, was much increased. The churches were supplied with altar-pieces, pulpits, tabernacles, and tombs, sculptured in the new style, and the palaces were provided not only with new sculptured doorways, friezes, and chimney pieces, but were stocked with portrait busts. The most distinguished of the Florentine marble sculptors of this half of the century were Desiderio, the Rossellini, Benedetto da Majano, and Mino da Fiesole. The best of the bronze-workers of the same period were Verrocchio and Pollajuolo. Desiderio da Settignano (1428–1464) caught the spirit of Donatello’s best work, and added to it a sense of harmony and a refined elegance which were distinctly his own. His wall tomb for the Chancellor Carlo Marsuppini (d. 1455) in S. Croce stands at the head of this class of monuments. So also is his marble tabernacle in S. Lorenzo one of the finest of its kind. His busts of Marietta Strozzi and of a Princess of Urbino are models of dignity and refinement. His busts of children have been frequently attributed to Donatello. Though short-lived, his influence was lasting. Bernardo Rossellino (1409–1464) was a refined technician, but as an artist lacked originality. In architecture he was almost a slavish follower of Alberti, and in sculpture borrowed much from his predecessors and contemporaries, as witness his celebrated tomb of Leonardo Bruni (d. 1444). Antonio Rossellino (1427-1478), a younger brother of Bernardo, surpassed him in the charm and delicacy of his work. His St. Sebastian in the Collegiate Church at Empoli ranks as one of the most graceful statues of the Early Renaissance. His tomb of Cardinal Portogallo (d. 1459) at San Miniato, though lacking in architectural significance, is full of beauty. His low-reliefs of the Madonna and Child, his busts and his heads of children are in quality hardly inferior to the works of Desiderio.

Mino da Fiesole (1431–1484), according to Vasari the pupil of Desiderio, produced an immense number of altars, tabernacles, tombs, reliefs, and busts. He was a skilful workman, used no models, and brought his work to a high degree of finish. His style exhibited much of Desiderio’s refinement, without its elevation; it had the charm of distinction, coupled with a peculiar mannerism. In spite of successive visits and a long residence in Rome, he received no new impulse from classic antiquity. His Roman productions exhibit more elaborate compositions, but are inferior to his best Florentine work. His masterpieces are in the cathedral at Fiesole—the tomb of Bishop Leonardo Salutati, and an altar-piece representing the Madonna with the Infant Christ and the little St. John, together with S. Lorenzo and St. Remigius.

Benedetto da Majano (1442–1497) reflected well the general spirit of his age, without marked individuality. His altar of St. Savinus at Faenza (1470) showed strongly the influence of Antonio Rossellino; his St. Sebastian in the Misericordia at Florence was almost a copy of Rossellino’s St. Sebastian at Empoli. Rossellino’s influence is also seen in Benedetto’s works at S. Gimignano. More important is his celebrated pulpit at S. Croce in Florence, harmonious in its proportions and adorned with picturesque reliefs from the life of St. Francis. The problems of perspective, which were exercising the attention of the painters, were here prominently illustrated in sculpture. Benedetto’s Madonnas, whether in relief or in the round, lack the refinement and distinction of those by the earlier masters. They are well-fed, luxurious women of the middle class.

Matteo Civitali (1435-1501), though born at Lucca, is properly a representative of Florentine sculpture. We see in his works the influence of Desiderio, of Antonio Rossellino, and even of Benedetto da Majano. Nevertheless, there underlies this an emotional element which is not so obvious in Florentine work. His Christ is a man of sorrows; his angels are adoring, worshipful angels ; his Madonnas are tender-hearted mothers. Lucca and its vicinity, and Genoa, contain charming examples of his work.

THE BRONZE-WORKERS. While the marble sculptors of Florence contributed largely to the spread of grace and beauty, the bronze-workers were no less active in bringing their art to a higher stage of technical perfection. Antonio Pollajuolo (1429-1498), a pupil of Ghiberti’s stepfather Bartolo, attained great skill as a goldsmith and caster of metals. His monument of Pope Sixtus IV., finished in 1493, was a development of the slab tomb. The Pope reclines upon a highly ornamented couch, on the top of which are reliefs of the seven Virtues, and on the sides the ten Liberal Arts. In this tomb Pollajuolo depended for effectiveness upon rich detail rather than simple mass. Somewhat incongruous was his tomb for Innocent VIII., which, like the preceding, is in St. Peter’s, Rome. Here the Pope was represented as living and blessing, enthroned above the sarcophagus on which reclines the Pope dead. In his little bronzes, in the National Museum, Florence, of Marsyas and of Hercules and Cacus, we see the same striving for effect–the foreshadow of a declining style. If the base of a silver cross, highly ornamented with statuettes, in the Cathedral Museum of Florence, be rightly attributed to Pollajuolo, we must grant that he possessed an architectural sense of no mean order. He was also the founder of the so-called gold-smith school of painting.

Andrea del Verrocchio (1435–1488) represented the best achievement in the metal work of his day. His master in the goldsmith art was Giuliano Verrocchio, but he acquired style from Donatello and Desiderio, and finally developed an independent manner of his own. In his monument, to Giovanni and Piero di Cosimo de’ Medici (1472), in the sacristy of S. Lorenzo, he adopted from Desiderio the motive for the sarcophagus, in which, however, he exhibited a preference for straight rather than curved lines. His bronze David (1476), in the National Museum, breathes the spirit of Donatello, but is somewhat more angular. More independent and original is his Christ and the Doubting Thomas (1483) in a niche on the exterior of Or San Michele, though here the drapery is some-what heavy and angular, as it is also in the marble monument to Cardinal Forteguerra in the cathedral at Pistoja. His supreme achievement was the statue of Bartolommeo Colleoni in Venice. Of this monument Dr. Bode well says : ” The Colleoni stands to-day for the most magnificent equestrian statue of all times ; it fully deserves this reputation, since in no other monument are both horse and rider conceived and composed with such unity.”

Florence was the centre and inspiration of Renaissance sculpture during the fifteenth century, and her power was felt all over Italy. Nevertheless, there were other centres, such as Siena, Milan, and Pavia, Modena, Venice, Padua, and Palermo, from which issued sculptors of independence and influence.