THE GREAT TUSCAN SCULPTORS OF THE XV CENTURY V. Francesco Laurana, Antonio del Pollaiuolo, Andrea Riccio and Pisanello.
The flat, subtle and refined style of the Florentine sculptors of the quattrocento never became affected. They were delicate by conviction. This aspect is evident in the portraits that another sculptor, this time not Florentine, named Francesco Laurana, made for the princesses of the court of Naples. Francesco Laurana (ca. 1430 – before 12 March 1502) was Dalmatian, from Vrana (today Zadar), and had a cosmopolitan career in Naples, Sicily, Marseille and Avignon. His portraits of the Neapolitan princesses of the House of Aragon (Eleanor, in the Palazzo Abatellis in Palermo, and the bust of an unidentified princess, in the Louvre) are both masterpieces in which formal synthesis leads its way along the path of abstract creation.
Florentine decorators not only executed their works in limestone and marble, but even in bronze, such as Donatello and Verrocchio once did. One of them, named Antonio del Pollaiuolo (17 January 1429/1433 – 4 February 1498) moved to Rome in 1484 with his brother Piero, also a sculptor and painter, to carve the sepulchral monuments of Innocent VIII and Sixtus IV. Pollaiuolo was an artist of extreme sensitivity, somewhat sickly. The nervousness that was already visible in some of Donatello’s works was aggravated in Pollaiuolo’s, his first training was as a goldsmith, a technique to which he returned to in his older years when he made the silver relief representing the Birth of the Baptist, between 1367-1483. This altar, carved before his trip to Rome, was destined for the baptistery of Florence.
In some of Pollaiuolo’s works expression played an important role, especially in his small sculptures. Antonio del Pollaiuolo has been also attributed by some scholars to have sculpted the figures of the infant twins Romulus and Remus that were added in the 15th century to the ancient statue of the Capitoline She-Wolf. Around this time, various Tuscan artists or others coming from different regions of central and northern Italy, began to model works of reduced size, thereby giving rise to a tradition that, at the end of the 15th and at the beginning of the 16th centuries, would have its most important representative in the Paduan Andrea Briosco surnamed Riccio (ca. 1470 – 1532), trained first as a goldsmith and later author of small bronze figures, animals and nudes modeled in the Etruscan style. He excelled in creating small bronzes that captured the spirit of antiquity without resorting to copying. Riccio has been considered as the greatest sculptor of small bronzes in Renaissance Italy.
It is natural that a society like that of Florence during the mid-15th century, which felt the mirage of antiquity with a truly romantic passion, aspired to leave an ancient imprint on all its artistic manifestations. Such eagerness to emulate ancient art became something so deep-rooted and so natural among the Italians who then lived in Tuscany, that it was even noticed in the art forms destined to the simpler bourgeoisie and the common town’s people. It can be seen in ceramics in which, as a result of an abundant import of Valencian pieces, the mastery of the white stain varnish technique was evident, which lends itself so much to polychrome ornamentation. Thanks to the use of this technique and of an elegant modelling, such varnished and painted terracotta were often small masterpieces that reflected that subtle Renaissance sensibility, be it vessels and pieces of crockery or decorative inserts for devotional or personal purposes.
Other typical facet of this desire to revive the forms of antiquity was translated into medal making. The first and most famous medalist was a painter and sculptor, a native of Verona, Antonio Pisano, called the Pisanello (ca. 1395 – ca. 1455), a refined artist and highly skilled illustrator of animals. He was the one who set the tone for this artistic fashion. His first medal was the one he made with the effigy of John VIII Palaeologus, in commemoration of his arrival in Italy in 1438. The impact this medal had on art was significant, influencing both sculpture and painting. Renaissance artists subsequently used Pisanello’s portrait of John almost as a stock type to represent exotic or antique figures. This can be seen in the work of Piero della Francesca who used the image of John in his “Flagellation of Christ” and Arezzo frescoes on The History of the True Cross, and in the work of Benozzo Gozzoli who used John’s image as a model to depict one of the magi in his frescoes for the Magi Chapel (see small pictures below).
Inspired by Roman coins, with their portraits of rulers and allegorical representations on the reverse, Pisanello’s medals commemorated individuals or events and functioned as gifts and mementos. Pisanello determined then, the style of such coinage. In general, on the obverse of the bronze disc, he modeled in relief the profile bust of the portrayed character, accompanying it with a Latin legend and reserving for the reverse a symbol or allegory. Among his most famous medals are those he made for Gianfrancesco Gonzaga, Marquess of Mantua, that for Filippo Maria Visconti, for Leonello d’Este, and the one he made in Naples for Alfonso V of Aragon.
Other medals, no less famous, have also been attributed to Pisanello or his follower, Mateo de’ Pasti, also from Verona, who was a pupil of Donatello. He worked in Donatello’s workshop for many years and completed Donatello’s unfinished works after his death in 1466. Later, Bertoldo became head and teacher of the informal academy for painters and sculptors that Lorenzo de’ Medici founded in his garden. At the same time, Bertoldo was the custodian of the Roman antiquities collections there. Though Bertoldo was not a major sculptor, some of the most significant sculptors of their time attended this school, between them Michelangelo. Other famous medalists were Bertoldo di Giovanni, a disciple of Donatello, and Niccolò Fiorentino.
Harpy: In Greek and Roman mythology, a harpy is a half-human (usually female) and half-bird personification of storm winds. They feature in Homeric poems.
Medal: (or medallion). A small portable artistic object, consisting of a thin disc, normally of metal, that carries a design, generally on both sides. These designs typically have a commemorative purpose of some kind. They may be intended to be worn, suspended from clothing or as jewelry.