Renaissance Sculpture in Italy (1400-1500) • The transition from feudalism to monarchy, which occurred in Spain, France, Germany, and England, had no precise parallel in Italy. Feudalism was a northern, not a southern, institution, and was foreign to the Italian spirit. • A large portion of Central Italy was comprised in the States of the Church; and the whole of Southern Italy and Sicily belonged to the Kingdom of Naples. Nevertheless, a tendency toward monarchy prevailed. • In the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries the patron-age of the arts came largely from families like the Visconti and Sforza at Milan, the Gonzaga family at Mantua, the Montefeltro at Urbino, the Malatesta at Rimini, the Este at Ferrara and Modena, the Bentivoglio at Bologna, and the Medici at Florence. The same furtherance of the arts was shown by the popes of Rome, especially by Sixtus IV. and Julius II. • A similar transformation took place in the status of the artist. The committee in charge of the construction of the Duomo of Florence yielded to an individual architect—Brunelleschi. Similarly, the habit of consigning the construction of baptistery and sacristy doors, high altars and pulpits, to two or more sculptors passed away, and greater recognition was given to the result of a single mind. In fact, the history of all the arts at this period becomes less and less a history of schools, and is more and more concerned with the works of individual artists. • If individualism be an important feature of Renaissance civilization, a no less striking characteristic is its natural-ism. The growth of physical and historical science, the cultivation of classical literature, the increase of comfort and pleasure in all forms of social life, are witnesses to a new spirit. This is seen in sculpture in the increase of contemporary subjects as well as in the change from a conventional to a more naturalistic treatment of proportions, anatomical structure, drapery, and perspective. • Italy never wholly lost the remembrance of Greek and Roman art, but its power was seriously checked by German and Lombard and Frankish influences. The return to classical forms in sculpture may be said to have begun at the time of Niccola Pisano, and, though checked in the fourteenth century, it continued in the fifteenth century. Through a greater part of the fifteenth century Gothic traditions survived in many directions, but usually assumed something of a classic garb. The classic spirit did not have an all-controlling influence until the early sixteenth century. SUBJECTS:
• The demand for sculpture in the 15th and 16th centuries remained chiefly ecclesiastical. The exteriors of churches were decorated with sculptures, not only around and over the portals, but sometimes the entire facade was covered with statues in niches and reliefs of figured or decorative design. • In the interiors were sculptured altar-pieces, pulpits, choirs, galleries, fonts, ciboria, tabernacles, candlesticks, single statues of saints and angels, crucifixes, Madonnas, and sometimes large groups of statues. • Palaces and private houses were provided with sculptural ornament about their portals, with friezes and chimney pieces, carved or moulded ceilings, decorative furniture, portrait statues and busts, statuettes, and a host of useful objects which were carved or beaten or moulded into beautiful forms. Open squares and private gardens were adorned with statues and fountains and vases, executed by the most distinguished sculptors. Even the country highways had their shrines, with crucifixes or reliefs of Madonnas or saints, frequently a reproduction in terracotta or stucco of the work of a master. • The subjects of ecclesiastical sculpture were naturally selected from the Old and New Testament and from the lives of the saints. The Madonna with the Child is the most universal and characteristic subject during the Early Renaissance. Later she appears frequently accompanied by saints. Legends from the life of Christ, of the Madonna, of St. Francis or of special patron saints, were common in sculpture as in painting. Decorative motives of classic origin were freely introduced into ecclesiastical sculpture, but mythological subjects more rarely.MATERIALS AND TECHNIQUE: • The precious metals, gold and silver, played a less important role than in the Gothic period. The goldsmiths atelier continued for a time to be the art school from which issued architects, sculptors, and painters. But his influence was gradually restricted to work in the precious metals, and the arts became more independent of each other. • Bronze now assumed a more important role, being used for reliefs first, then for statues, busts, candelabra, and minor objects. It was a favorite material with Renaissance artists, not only on account of its durability and ductility, but also because of its brilliant effect when gilded. • In stone sculpture the growing demand for delicate and refined form, notably in decorative detail, led to an extensive use of marble and the finer calcareous stones, such as the pietra d Istria, and the finer sandstones, such as the pietra serena. The white Carrara marble was extensively used for monumental sculpture, but was softened in color by the use of wax. Details such as the hair, angels wings, ornaments of robes, and architectural mouldings were usually gilded. The
background, when not sculptured, was commonly colored a grayish blue. Highly polychromatic marble sculpture was rare.• The sphere of sculpture was considerably enlarged by the use of terracotta. This afforded a cheap substitute for marble, and when glazed was equally durable.FAMOUS SCULPTORS: • Donatellos (1386–1466) study of classical sculpture lead to his development of classicizing positions (such as the contrapposto pose) and subject matter (like the unsupported nude – his second sculpture of David was the first free-standing bronze nude created in Europe since the Roman Empire.) The progress made by Donatello was influential on all who followed; perhaps the greatest of whom is Michelangelo, whose David of 1500 is also a male nude study; more naturalistic than Donatellos and with greater emotional intensity. Both sculptures are standing in contrapposto, their weight shifted to one leg. • The period known as the High Renaissance represents the culmination of the goals of the earlier period, namely the accurate representation of figures in space rendered with credible motion and in an appropriately decorous style. The most famous painters from this phase are Leonardo da Vinci, Raphael, and Michelangelo. Their images are among the most widely known works of art in the world. Leonardos Last Supper, Raphaels The School of Athens and Michelangelos Sistine Chapel Ceiling are the textbook masterpieces of the period. • High Renaissance painting evolved into Mannerism, especially in Florence. Mannerist artists, who consciously rebelled against the principles of High Renaissance, tend to represent elongated figures in illogical spaces. Modern scholarship has recognized the capacity of Mannerist art to convey strong (often religious) emotion where the High Renaissance failed to do so. Some of the main artists of this period are Pontormo, Bronzino, Rosso Fiorentino, Parmigianino and Raphaels pupil Giulio Romano.