Study Of Art – Sculpture In The Fifteenth Century.


Bernardo Rossellino. 1409-1464.

Antonio Rossellino. 1427-1478.

Desiderio da Settignano. 1428-1464.

Mino da Fiesole. 1431-1484.

Benedetto da Majano. 1442-1497.

“Distinction and refinement, together with exquisite taste in the arrangement of ornament and detail, belong to all of these sculptors.” Blashfield.

The sculptors of this group are named from the towns lying on the hills that circle Florence to the east and south. There are few more delightful excursions than to walk from Fiesole to Settignano by way of Majano, recalling the sculptors from Mino to Michelangelo who learned there the craft of stonecutting.

Bernardo Rossellino was architect as well as sculptor, and built in Siena and Pienza palaces and public buildings for Pius II. Vasari gives also a long list of his constructions for Nicholas V. His tomb for Leonardo Bruni is his most successful work in sculpture. He is regarded as a pupil of Donatello.

Antonio, his brother, was more influenced by Ghiberti; a Nativity in the church of Monte Oliveto, Naples, is well described as ” a picture in relief.” In the same church he began a tomb for the Duchess of Amalfi, a copy of his earlier one for the Cardinal of Portugal in S. Miniato. He made the basreliefs for the pulpit by Mino da Fiesole in the cathedral of Prato (1473). A beautiful figure of St. Sebastian is in Empoli.

Desiderio da Settignano was a pupil of Donatello, and with him made the frieze of angels’ heads on the Pazzi Chapel. The tomb of Marsuppini in S. Croce is the chief work of his brief life. In S. Lorenzo is a richly decorated tabernacle for the Host. A number of busts of women and young boys, of great refinement in work and conception, have been attributed to Desiderio.

Mino da Fiesole excelled in the architectural structure of the many tombs and tabernacles which remain from his hand in Florence, Fiesole, Volterra, and Rome. His figures are often awkward in their proportions, but his decorative sculpture is of great beauty. The Badia, Florence, and the cathedral of Fiesole contain some of his best work. In 1473 he went to Rome, where he was employed on tombs for Popes and cardinals in St. Peter’s, most of them now dismantled. A beautiful tabernacle in S. Maria in Trastevere is an authentic work.

Benedetto da Majano worked first in intarsia. He enjoyed the patronage of Filippo Strozzi, designing for him the great Strozzi palace, and in 1491–1493 the tomb in the Strozzi Chapel in S. Maria Novella. The pulpit in S. Croce and a ciborium in S. Domenico, Siena, are beautiful and characteristic examples of his art, which combines sculpture of great delicacy with finely conceived structure. A chapel and a shrine by him are in San Gimignano. The shrine of S. Savino in Faenza is another fine work.


No. 473. Tomb of Beata Villani.

S. Maria Novella, Florence.

Made in 1451. The Beata Villani was a saintly woman who lived in the fourteenth century. The heavy curtains held by angels are seen in the tomb of Scrovegno, 393, having been used still earlier by Arnolfo di Cambio. Consider the doubtful advantage of such a framing.

No. 474. Tomb of Leonardo Bruni.

S. Croce, Florence.

Executed in 1444, first of the tombs of this type. In white marble, with panels of colored marble behind.

Leonardo Bruni of Arezzo was famous for learning, statesmanship, and character. From 1427 until his death in 1443 he was chancellor of Florence. It was he who selected the subjects for Ghiberti’s second doors. His great work was his History of Florence, a copy of which was laid on his breast when he was buried with public honors in S. Croce. (Symonds, Revival of Learning, 182-186.)

The tomb repays study in every detail, its architectural forms, the decorations of arch and architrave, the medallions, putti, and angels, the tranquil form on the bier.


No. 475. Tomb of Cardinal Jacopo of Portugal.

S. Miniato, Florence.

The tomb, made in 1461, is in the Chapel of S. Giacomo, decorated by Luca della Robbia. Colored marble is used in the ornamental designs on the base and in the background. The figure of the Madonna is set on a blue ground studded with stars, in a frame of cherubs’ heads within a garland.

The artist has used a niche in the wall the height of the chapel, draped with a simulated curtain, instead of the architectural framework of his architect brother. He emphasizes the sculptural, and centers attention upon the young cardinal, whose face is of unusual beauty. The angels above might have served as models for Filippino’s angels. Cf. 218.

Cardinal Jacopo of the Braganza family of Portugal was Florentine ambassador at the court of Spain for a time. ” He lived in the flesh as if he were freed from it, like an angel rather than a man, and died in the odor of sanctity at the early age of twenty-six,” says the old chronicler.

No. 476. Madonna adoring the Child. Bargello, Florence.

This tondo in marble is a characteristic work by Antonio, a ” picture in relief.” Study the way in which he tells the story, the composition, his methods of carving the figures, of representing the background. Compare with Ghiberti’s representation of perspective. The frame is similar to that in the tomb at S. Miniato.

No. 477. Bust of Matteo Palmieri.

Bargello, Florence.

Made in 1468 for the Florentine humanist, who rose from a low station to a position of public influence by his ability. He pronounced the funeral oration of Carlo Marsuppini. His mystical poem, ” Citta di Vita,” was condemned as heretical by the ecclesiastics of the time.

Compare Palmieri’s face with his life history. Compare with heads by Donatello, by Ghiberti. Cf. 482.

No. 478. Madonna and Child.

S. Croce, Florence.

Known as the Madonna della Latte. Found on the first pillar of the nave, a portion of the monument ordered by Francesco Nori, whose tablet is below, a friend of the Medici who lost his life in the Pazzi conspiracy.

The Madonna is seated on the clouds within the mandorla (almond-shaped glory) framed by cherubs’heads. Compare the types in this and 476. Study the technique. Compare modeling of the Child’s head and treatment of the hair with 443.


No. 470. Bust of Marietta Palla Strozzi.

Kaiser Friedrich Museum, Berlin.

One of the most beautiful of a group of early Renaissance portrait busts of women. Desiderio is known to have made a bust of Marietta Strozzi, and this has for many years been so identified, as according with Desiderio’s style. Dr. Bode calls this a princess of Naples, and attributes it and all the group to Laurana, the medal-list, on what seems slight evidence. He believes the real Maria Strozzi to be also in the Berlin Museum. See Bode, ch. 6, Reymond, III, 74.

The daintiness of decorative detail, the pose of head and neck, the beauty of the modeling in low relief, commented on by Kenyon Cox, above all the charm of personality, make this bust, whatever its name or author, one of the choicest works of the time.

No. 485. Portrait Bust.

Louvre, Paris.

This is the beautiful bust of the Femme Inconnue, called by Reymond the most beautiful one known. It has many points of resemblance with 470, but is even more piquant and individual. The entire simplicity of the representation adds to its charm and its veracity.

No. 471. Tomb of Carlo Marsuppini.

No. 472. Detail. S. Croce, Florence.

This tomb, executed by Desiderio in 1455, stands against the left wall of the church, opposite Bernardo Rossellino’s tomb of Bruni. Carlo Marsuppini, also from Arezzo, succeeded Bruni as chancellor of the republic, having gained his reputation by his erudite lectures on classic literature.

This tomb, Desiderio’s masterpiece, might seem over-loaded with the ornament which appears on every portion, were the whole less perfectly proportioned, or the ornament less delicately wrought. Compare it point by point with those by the Rossellini 473-475.


No. 479. Bust of Pietro de’ Medici.

Bargello, Florence.

Pietro was son of Cosimo and father of Lorenzo. This bust is considered a work of 1454. Compare with the portraits by Benozzo and Botticelli. Study the artist’s technique and characterization.

No. 480. Altarpiece. Cathedral, Fiesole.

Ordered by Bishop Salutati and placed opposite his tomb in a chapel to the right of the choir. Made in 1464. Much use is made of gilding upon the marble.

The Madonna kneels between St. Remigius, patron of prisoners, and St. Leonard, healer of cripples. Thebust above is also by Mino, but was not intended for this place.

The perfection of architectural structure and ornament, and the delicacy of the low relief are very characteristic of Mino’s work.

No. 481. Madonna, Child, and St. John.

Via della Forca, Florence.

One of the many versions of the Madonna theme by Mino. The beauty of the low relief, the facial types, the faults of proportion, and the modeling of the forms are all to be noted.


No. 482. Bust of Pietro Mellini.

Bargello, Florence.

Portrait bust in marble, executed in 1474 for his patron, a wealthy Florentine merchant.

Notice the love of surface decoration on the mantle. Consider the value, in a character study, of the emphasis upon the furrowed lines of the face. The artist represents here the flesh of an old man in a remarkable way; whether wisely is open to question.

No. 483. Pulpit. S. Croce, Florence.

Commissioned by Pietro Mellini, and executed about 1475. The pulpit is placed on a pillar, within which the staircase is made, at the right of the nave. The marble has taken the color of ivory. The five reliefs are scenes from the life of St. Francis, appropriate to the Franciseau church of S. Croce. Below are seated beautiful little figures of the Virtues in niches lined with colored marbles.

The pulpit is one of the most perfect works of the period in its balance between architecture and sculpture. The bas-reliefs exist rather for the structure than as independent works, and are less noticeable in the softened tones of the marble than in the print. The ornament is of greatest beauty and refinement.

No. 484. Youthful St. John.

Bargello, Florence.

This figure, a little over three feet in height, originally formed part of the sculptured decoration about the door of the Audience Hall in the Palazzo Vecchio, executed in 1481. It was at one time attributed to Donatello.

Compare with work by Donatello in technique, in spirit.