1902 Encyclopedia > Sculpture > Italian Sculpture - 15th Century; Florence.

(Part 24)

Italian Sculpture - 15th Century; Florence.

For the great sculptors of Florence during the 14th and 15th centuries we refer the reader to the separate biographical notices on the subject. The Pisani and Arnolfo del Cambio were succeeded by Orcagna and others, who carried on and developed the
great lessons these pioneers of the Renaissance had taught. Ghiberti, the sculptor of the world-famed baptistery gates; Donatello, the master of delicate relief and dignified, realism (see fig. 17); Luca della Kobbia, with his classic purity of style and sweetness of expression, came next in order. Unsensual beauty elevated by religious spirit was attained in the highest degree by Mino da Fiesole, the two Rossellini, Benedetto da Maiano, and other sculptors of Florence. Two of the noblest equestrian statues the world has probably ever seen are the Gattamelata statue at Padua by Donatello and the statue of Colleoni at Venice by Verrocchio and Leopardi (see fig. 18). A third, which was probably of equal beauty, was modelled in clay by Leonardo da Vinci, but it no longer exists. Finally came Michelangelo, who raised the sculpture of the modern world to its highest pitch of magnificence, and at the same time sowed the seeds of its rapidly approaching decline; the head of his David (see fig. 19) is a work of unrivalled force and dignity. His rivals and imitators, Baccio Bandinelli, Giacomo della Porta, Montelupo, Ammanati, Vincenzo de' Rossi, and others, copied and exaggerated his faults without possessing a touch of his gigantic genius. In other parts of Italy, such as Pa via, the traditions of the 15th century lasted longer, though gradually fading. The statuary and reliefs which make the Certosa near Pavia one of the most gorgeous buildings in the world are free from the influence of Michelangelo, which at Florence and Rome was overwhelming. Though much of the sculpture was begun in the second half of the 15th century, the greater part was not executed till much later. The magnificent tomb of the founder, Giovanni Galeazzo Visconti, was not completed till about 1560, and is a gorgeous example of the style of the Renaissance grown weak from excess of richness and from loss of the simple purity of the art of the 15th century. Everywhere in this wonderful building the fault is the same; and the growing love of luxury and display, which was the curse of the time, is reflected in the plastic decorations of the whole church. The old religious spirit had died out and was succeeded by unbelief or by an affected revival of paganism. Monuments to ancient Romans, such as those to the two Plinys on the facade of Como cathedral, or "heroa" to unsaintly mortals, such as that erected at Rimini by Sigismondo Pandolfo in honour of Isotta, grew up side by side with shrines and churches dedicated to the saints. We have seen how the youthful vigour of the Christian faith vivified for a time the dry bones of expiring classic art, and now the decay of this same belief brought with it the destruction of all that was most valuable in mediaeval sculpture. Sculpture like the other arts became the bond-slave of the rich and ceased to be the natural expression of a whole people. Though for a long time in Italy great technical skill continued to exist, the vivifying spirit was dead, and at last a dull scholasticism or a riotous extravagance of design became the leading characteristics.


1 See Yriarte, Rimini au XVme Siecle, Paris, 1880 ; also the article RIMINI.

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