1902 Encyclopedia > Sculpture > Italian Sculpture - 14th Century.

(Part 23)

Italian Sculpture - 14th Century.

During the 14th century Florence and the neighbouring cities were the chief centres of Italian sculpture, and there numerous sculptors of successively increasing artistic power lived and worked, till in the 15th century Florence had become the aesthetic capital of the world, and reached a pitch of artistic wealth and perfection which Athens alone in its best days could have rivalled. The similarity between the plastic arts of Athens in the 5th or 4th cen-tury B.C. and of Florence in the 15th century is not one of analogy only. Though free from any touch of copyism, there are many points in the works of such men as Dona-tello, Luca della Robbia, and Vittore Pisanello which strongly recall the sculpture of ancient Greece, and suggest that, if a sculptor of the later Phidian school had been surrounded by the same types of face and costume as those among which the Italians lived, he would have produced plastic works closely resembling those of the great Florentine masters. In the 14th century, in northern Italy, various schools of sculpture existed, especially at Verona and Venice, whose art differed widely from the contemporary art of Tuscany; but Milan and Pavia, on the other hand, possessed sculptors who followed closely the style of the Pisani. The chief examples of the latter class are the magnificent shrine of St Augustine in the cathedral of Pavia, dated 1362, and the somewhat similar shrine of Peter the Martyr (1339), by Balduccio of Pisa, in the church of St Eustorgio at Milan, both of white marble, decorated in the most lavish way with statuettes and subject reliefs. Many other fine pieces of the Pisan school exist in Milan. The well-known tombs of the Scaliger family at Verona show a more native style of design, and in general form, though not in detail, suggest the influence of transalpine Gothic. In Venice the northern and almost French character of much of the early 15th-century sculpture is more strongly marked, especially in the noble figures in high relief which decorate the lower story and angles of thedoge's palace; these are mostly the work of a Venetian named Bartolomeo Bon. A magnificent marble tympanum relief by Bon has recently been added to the South Kensington Museum; it has a noble colossal figure of the Madonna, who shelters under her mantle a number of kneeling worshippers; the background is enriched with foliage and heads, forming a "Jesse tree," designed with great decorative skill. The cathedral of Como, built at the very end of the 15th century, is decorated with good sculp-ture of almost Gothic style, but on the whole rather dull and mechanical in detail, like much of the sculpture in the extreme north of Italy. A large quantity of rich sculpture was produced in Naples during the 14th century, but of no great merit either in design or in execution. The lofty monument of King Robert (1350), behind the high altar of S. Chiara, and other tombs in the same church are the most conspicuous works of this period. Very beautiful sepulchral effigies in low relief were produced in many parts of Italy, especially at Florence. The tomb of Lorenzo Acciaioli (see fig. 16), in the Certosa near Florence, is a fine example of about the year 1400, which has absurdly been attributed to Donatello. Rome was very remarkable during the 14th century for its extraordinary poverty in the production of sculpture. The clumsy effigies at the north-east of S. Maria in Trastevere are striking examples of the degradation of the plastic art there about the year 1400; and it was not till nearly the middle of the century that the arrival of able Florentine sculptors, such as Filarete, Mino da Fiesole, and the Pollaiuoli, initiated a brilliant era of artistic activity, which, how-ever, for about a century continued to depend on the presence of sculptors from Tuscany and other northern provinces. It was not, in fact, till the period of full decad-ence had begun that Rome itself produced any notable artists.


568-1 See Ruskin, Stones of Venice ; and Motlies, Gesch. der Bank. u. Bildh. Venedigs, Leipsic, 1859.

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