Renaissance Sculpture In Italy – Part 4


CHANGE IN STYLE AND MOTIVE. The sixteenth century in Italy witnessed the emancipation of sculpture from both architecture and painting. Architecture now became more sculpturesque. Columns were substituted for pilasters ; cornices and mouldings received greater projection, allowing a new play of light and shade. Painting also became more plastic, modelling and perspective replacing in a measure the interest in outline and composition. Sometimes sculpture went beyond her sphere and reduced her sister arts to subjection. In the great wall tombs, sculptured figures became over-prominent, the architectural construction being treated as a mere accessory. Even buildings were sometimes mere back-grounds for sculptured figures. This plastic advance was accompanied by many changes. The beautiful decorative low-relief of the Early Renaissance disappeared, high-relief and sculpture in the round taking its place, Dignity of conception and design received less attention than modulations of modelling, posing of arms and legs, movement in drapery, the carving of colossal statues, and the determined effort to produce an effect. The influence of classic sculpture was sustained and in some directions increased, but only occasionally did it lead to the imitation and reproduction of ancient forms.

THE FLORENTINE SCULPTORS. Foremost among the Florentine sculptors of this period was Andrea (Contucci da Monte) Sansavino (146o–1529). His early terracotta altar-pieces in S. Chiara at Monte Sansavino followed in the line of Verrocchio and Antonio Rossellino, and exhibited a studied grace-fulness. His subsequent residence in Portugal added little to his power as a sculptor, if we may judge him by the life-less font at Volterra. His group representing the Baptism of Christ, over the door of the baptistery at Florence, was on a level with the work of Lorenzo di Credi in painting, and marked a similar decline from the more spirited conceptions of Verrocchio. In Rome his tombs of the Cardinals Ascanio Sforza and Girolamo Basso della Rovere, though charming in decorative detail, illustrated a stage in which sculptural and architectural motives were in conflict, neither contributing to the effectiveness of the other. In his heads and draperies there is a recognition of Roman classic art, but the proportions of his figures were somewhat heavy. His later work at Loreto was restless and mannered, aiming at effect by artificial means. His pupil Francesco di San Gallo (1493–1570) exhibited something of his master’s manner and added to it an exaggerated realism. His sculptural slab of Bishop Leonardo Bonafede, at the Certosa near Florence, was developed from the low-relief figured slabs of the late Gothic and Early Renaissance periods.

Benedetto da Rovezzano (1476–1556) resembled Andrea Sansavino in technical quality, but surpassed him in originality. His fancy flowed easily in delicate floral design, and revelled in weird combinations of skulls and cross-bones.

His tombs of Piero Soderini in the Carmine and of Oddo Altoviti in SS. Apostoli in Florence interest, if they do not charm us. His relief in the Museo Nazionale illustrating the Life of S. Giovanni Gualberto exhibited the independence of his fancy. His tomb for Louis XII., King of France, and the tomb which he began for Cardinal Wolsey in England were influential means of communicating to Northern Europe the traditions of the Italian Renaissance. Piero Torrigiano (1472-1522), an irascible man but a clever sculptor, also went to England, and there made the tomb of Henry VII. and Queen Elizabeth in Westminster Abbey, probably also the tomb of the Countess of Richmond in the adjoining chapel. Later he went to Spain, where he sculptured several monuments.

THE NORTH ITALIAN SCULPTORS. In Milan and Pavia the line of distinguished sculptors appears to have ceased with Agostino Busti. His successors were inferior artists. Leonardo da Vinci (1452—1519) did little for the art of sculpture, and established no school in that art as he did in painting. The influence of Michelangelo and other extraneous influences prevailed.

In Modena, however, a forward step was taken by Antonio Begarelli (1479—1565). He worked in terracotta, making not only groups for niched recesses, but also altar-pieces and statues. His earlier works, as, for example, the Bewailing of Christ in S. Maria Pomposa, strongly betrayed the influence of Mazzoni. But Begarelli, with less depth of sentiment, had more varied means of expression and exhibited more movement in his compositions and figures. His later work, as in the altar-piece at S. Pietro representing Four Saints with the Madonna surrounded by Angels in the Clouds, was imbued with the manner and spirit of Correggio. In fact, Begarelli’s sculpture became thoroughly picturesque in treatment.

In Bologna a similar course of development may be seen in the work of Alfonso Lombardi, of Lucca (1497-1537). His early sculptures at Ferrara and in the crypt of S. Pietro, Bologna, bore a close relationship to the works of Mazzoni. Later the influence of the school of Andrea Sansavino made itself felt, and his work for the left portal of S. Petronio assumed a more classic style. A Bolognese sculptress, Properzia de’ Rossi (1490-1530), under the influence of Alfonso Lombardi and of Tribolo, produced at S. Petronio and elsewhere a number of works of merit. Niccole Pericoli, known as I1 Tribolo (1485-1550), was a sculptor of high order, as shown by the thoroughly plastic and beautiful prophets, sibyls, angels, and other reliefs about the doorways of S. Petronio. His subsequent work was of a temporary, decorative character, and a series of misfortunes prevented him reaching the position to which his genius entitled him.

In Venice the most distinguished sculptor was the Florentine Jacopo Tatti, better know from his master as Jacopo Sansavino (1487-1570). In 1510 he followed Andrea Sansavino to Rome, and there through copying and repairing ancient statues became infused with the classic spirit. His Bacchus holding above his head a Bowl of Wine, in the Museo Nazionale, Florence, is a fine example of his work at this period. After 1527 he went to Venice, and there undertook important works both in architecture and sculpture. He tried to secure the rich decorative effects demanded by the Venetians. In his treatment of ornamental detail, and in the statues of Apollo, Mercury, Minerva, and Peace for the Loggietta near the Campanile of S. Marco, he showed himself a worthy successor of Pietro Lombardo and Leopardi. These works were like an echo of Praxiteles. Very different, however, were his reliefs. His celebrated bronze door in the choir of S. Marco and his marble relief for the Chapel of S. Antonio at Padua were forerunners of the period of the decline. Sansavino’s pupils were many. Tommaso Lombardo, Girolamo Lombardo, Danese Cattaneo, and Alessandro Vittoria (1525—1608) assisted him in the plastic decorations of the Biblioteca. Girolamo Campagna, a pupil of Cattaneo, continued to work in good taste; but Alessandro Vittoria represented the exaggerated style of the coming Rococo period.

THE ROMAN SCULPTORS. In the Early Renaissance, Florence supplied Rome with artists, and there was no distinctive Roman school. In the Developed Renaissance, Rome, chiefly through Michelangelo, influenced the development of sculpture throughout all Italy. Michelangelo Buonarroti (1475-1564), equally famous as architect, sculptor, and painter, was essentially a sculptor in all his work. Though a Tuscan by birth, and in his early work not uninfluenced by Donatello and Jacopo della Quercia, his spirit gave to sculpture a more independent position than it had enjoyed since the days of the Greeks and Romans. From Ghirlandaio, in whose studio he is said to have worked, he received no deep educational impress. From the very start, architectural and landscape backgrounds, perspective effects and elaborated compositions, did not enter into his conceptions. His interest centred in the human form.

His first manner (1488—1496) may be compared to that of Donatello, but it was larger, freer, and more classic. He characterized to perfection the face of a Faun, and portrayed the Madonna and Child, with little boys at the head of some steps, with all the dignity and humanity that are found in Greek reliefs. He revelled in the study of the nude human form in his relief known as the Battle of the Centaurs. His admiration of Donatello may be seen in the S. Giovannino of the Berlin Museum, with its slender form, large hands, and expressive head. Even in these early works he appeared as a master rather than a pupil. As he himself remarked, he imbibed the use of the chisel with his mother’s milk.

His second manner (1496—1500) exhibited still further independence and study of the human form. In spite of the heavy treatment of the drapery, how pathetic and full of significance is the Madonna and how wonderful the modelling of the Christ in the Pieta, at St. Peter’s ! His Madonna and Child in the church of Notre Dame at Bruges and his Medal-lions in the Museo Nazionale, Florence, and the Royal Academy, London, showed a majestic treatment of a universal subject. His delight in arriving at new poses, as in his paintings in the Sistine Chapel, was exhibited in sculpture in the Cupid, now at the South Kensington Museum. His attention was not always occupied with the body only; the impression produced by his David comes chiefly from the powerful head, which seems to say to us that intellect is superior to the force of giants.

His final manner (1500–1564), as illustrated by the Moses and by the figures upon the Medici tombs, revealed greater harmony of treatment. Modelling, pose, drapery, expressiveness, are more equally balanced, and contribute to the effectiveness of the whole. The Moses is the chief surviving member of a magnificent tomb which was to have been placed in St. Peter’s in honor of Pope Julius II. The original design was a free-standing structure embracing as many as forty statues. Below were to be figures of Victories and Slaves; above them, four seated statues, one of which was to have been the Moses ; in the centre was the sarcophagus of the Pope, represented as kneeling between angels; above all, a figure of the Madonna. Through forty years (1505–1545) this tomb occupied Michelangelo’s thoughts, but circumstances prevented its completion. The monumentas it stands in S. Pietro in Vincoli is a mere fragment of the original design, only the Moses being attributable to his hand. Two fine figures of Slaves in the Louvre were probably executed for the Julius monument; possibly, also, a Victory in the Museum at Florence.

The tombs for the Medici family in S. Lorenzo in Florence (1524–1534) are also only a partial realization of the original design. Those of Cosimo and Lorenzo il Magnifico were never executed; even those of Lorenzo, Duke of Urbino, and Giuliano, Duke of Nemours, were not entirely finished. The Lorenzo, known as ” Il Penseroso,” from his pensive attitude, is a majestic, superb figure, and the Giuliano hardly less expressive. Day and Night, Twilight and Dawn, reclining on the curved tops of the sarcophagi, magnificent figures, might appear out of place, were it not that they form a portion of the composition with the statues seated above. The walls were provided with niches, as a framework for the statues. Among the latest works of Michelangelo were his Madonna and Child in this chapel, the unfinished Deposition in the Cathedral of Florence, and the bust of Brutus in the Museo Nazionale.

Baccio Bandinelli (1487—1559) aimed to be more Michelangelesque than Michelangelo himself. His first statue, a St.Jerome, is said to have been commended by Leonardo da Vinci, and his second, a Mercury, sold to Francis I. How inferior he was to the great master may be seen by his Hercules and Cacus in front of the Palazzo Vecchio, statues much ridiculed by his contemporaries. Bartolommeo Ammanati (1511-1592) studied under Bandinelli and worked under Jacopo Sansavino. He was engaged upon important works at Urbino, Padua, Rome, and Florence. His best work, the Neptune of the fountain in the Piazza della Signoria, is a life-less production. Benvenuto Cellini called it ” an example of the fate which attends him who, trying to escape from one evil, falls into another ten times worse, since in trying to escape from Bandinelli it fell into the hands of Ammanati.”

Raffaello da Montelupo (1505-1566) learned the art of sculpture in his father’s studio, assisted Andrea Sansavino at Loreto, and Michelangelo in the Medici Chapel. His work is said to have disappointed Michelangelo ; but two altar-pieces at Orvieto designed by Il Moscha and executed by Raffaello and Il Moschino bear witness to his skill in handling the chisel. Fra Giovan’ Angelo Montorsoli (1507-1563) was more thoroughly a follower of Michelangelo, and carried his style to Genoa, Bologna, and to Sicily. Other sculptors of the same school, who by exaggerating the manner of Michelangelo contributed to the downfall of sculpture, were Guglielmo and Giacomo della Porta (d. 1577) and Prospero Clementi (d. 1584)

THE SCULPTORS IN BRONZE. As Michelangelo developed freedom and modelling in marble, a similar advance was made in bronze and the art of the goldsmith by Benvenuto Cellini and Giovanni da Bologna. Benvenuto Cellini (1500-1572) infused into his sculpture something of his own emotional, irascible temper. In his minor works, such as cope buttons and bells and candelabra, pitchers and salvers, he pushed the decorative work of the goldsmith and miniature sculptor to its furthest limits. He was an important medium of transferring the influence of Italian sculpture to France, being one of the founders of the school at Fontainebleau, where he continued the production of smaller objects, his chef -d’oeuvre being a salt-cellar, now in Vienna, made for Francois I. The only large work made by him in France, a reclining nymph, placed over the principal door of the palace of Fontainebleau, had a marked influence upon the style of French sculptors, especially upon Jean Goujon. On his return to Florence in 1545 he made the Perseus for the Loggia dei Lanzi. Though a marvel of technical excellence, it was conceived t00 much in the spirit of the miniaturist to be above criticism as monumental sculpture. In the bronze bust of Bindo Altoviti he was more successful, though even here he shows as much of the virtuoso as of the true artistic spirit. Cellini left valuable records of his time in his treatise on the goldsmith art and in his autobiography. Bronze-workers and medallists of inferior quality now appeared in every quarter of Italy, of whom the most noteworthy were the Paduans Leone Leoni (1509—1590) and his son Pompeo Leoni (d. 161o). Giovanni da Bologna (1524–1608), born at Douai in Flanders, studied in Rome, and became a sculptor of considerable influence. His works had usually a predominantly decorative aim, being designed for open piazzas, gardens, and palaces. Classic subjects, such as Neptune, The Flying Mercury, The Rape of the Sabines, Hercules and Nessus, were his themes. These he treated with considerable freedom and grace, and without exaggeration. His reliefs were inferior to his works in the round. The influence he exerted retarded the decline of sculpture in Italy.

THE DECADENCE. After Michelangelo, sculpture as an art reigned supreme in Italy. Throughout the seventeenth and greater part of the eighteenth centuries architecture followed plastic rather than structural ideals. Spiral columns, broken cornices, curved walls, were some of the evidences that architecture gave of its submission. Painting also ceased to occupy its former position. Wall-painting was relegated to the decoration of apses and domes, and frequently furnished backgrounds for sculptured groups. Sculpture ran riot, exulting in its technical accomplishment and pushing plastic modes of representation to the furthest possible extreme. The churches were filled with restless baldachinos, violent altar-pieces, and emotional wall tombs. The open piazzas in the cities were provided with effective fountains, porticoes were lined with statues, even the rocks of the gardens were cut into living forms.

The keynote of the sculpture of this period was its emotional, almost hysterical character. Naturalness and beauty were not its ideals. Movement, activity, and dramatic energy were emphasized at all hazards. This characterized the details as well as the general spirit. Drapery was no longer a help to form; it was a field for the sculptor’s display of skill in distinguishing stuffs or in increasing dramatic effect. In the selection of materials, richly colored marbles were employed in preference to white marble or bronze, and different materials were often combined in the same work.

The dramatic period of sculpture is always posterior to the classic. It is not necessarily unplastic, or antagonistic to the principles of monumental art. There are subjects in which passionate action is called for, and materials and technical methods which can be appropriatelyutilized for such purposes. It was the radical application of t h e dramatic spirit to all themes and in all materials which brought this period of sculpture into contempt.

Seldom has a sculptor enjoyed a more complete sway over his contemporaries than did Bernini in the seventeenth century. Lorenzo Bernini (1598-1680), the son of a Tuscan sculptor, was born in Naples, but came when a child to Rome. In his early works, the Apollo and Daphne, the David, and the Rape of Proserpine, he showed the influence of late Roman sculpture. Even in his S. Bibiana the classic spirit was still evident. ” But,” he remarked, as he looked back upon it in his old age, ” had I always worked in this style, I should have been a beggar.” By ministering to the depraved taste of his time, he received large sums of money for less worthy works. His baldachino with spiral columns in St. Peter’s was the model for similar structures all over Europe. His sculptured angels upon marble clouds over the cathedral throne were repeated for more than a century, and his dramatic tombs of Urban VIII. and Alexander VII. set the fashion for many a monument of similar style and inferior quality.

Bernini had many followers : in Naples, Sammartino, Corradini, and Queirolo ; in Rome, Alessandro Algardi and Stefano Maderna; in Florence, Giovanni Battista Foggini; and in Venice, Pietro Baratta. These men were extremely skilful technicians; but they were inferior artists, since they had lost the capacity for great ideas and failed to recognize the natural limitations of their art. It is not strange that a classical reaction followed this period of mad extravagance.

EXTANT MONUMENTS, Italian monuments of the Developed Renaissance are to be sought for chiefly in the churches and museums of Italy. Not a few are in Spain, and some have found their way to the museums of Northern Europe. There is hardly a church in Italy that does not contain some monument of the Decadence.