Jacopo della Quercia
Biography of Siena Gothic/Renaissance Sculptor.

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The Temptation (1425-8)
Relief sculpture around the
Main Doorway of the San
Petronio Church, Bologna.

Jacopo della Quercia (c.1374-1438)


Training and Early Career
Tomb of Ilaria del Carretto
Fonte Gaia
Later Commissions
Porta Magna Reliefs, Church of San Petronio
Sculptures by Jacopo della Quercia

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An important contributor to Italian Renaissance sculpture, Jacopo della Quercia was the first of the sculptors of the Sienese School to grasp the meaning of Renaissance art. A contemporary of the three early Renaissance sculptors Filippo Brunelleschi (1377-1446), Lorenzo Ghiberti (1378-1455) and Donatello (1386-1466), he began by producing mainstream Gothic sculpture (Fonte Gaia Fountain), before revealing a more graceful approach (tomb of Ilaria del Caretto), and finally developing a dramatic quality visible in his best work - the solid and expressive relief sculpture that surrounds the main doors of the Church of San Petronio in Bologna. These stone carvings would have been an important influence on Michelangelo (1475-1564), when he designed his Adam and Eve frescoes in the Sistine Chapel. Giorgio Vasari (1511-74) wrote a biography of Jacopo della Quercia in his book Lives of the Most Excellent Painters, Sculptors and Architects - published in 1550.


Training and Early Career

Born in Quercia Grossa near Siena, Jacopo was trained in the art of sculpture by his father, Piero d'Angelo, a woodcarver and goldsmith. He learned wood carving and absorbed the basics of bronze sculpture, but like Michelangelo his favourite medium was stone sculpture, especially marble. Growing up in Siena, he would have been very familiar with the marble sculpture of Nicola Pisano (1206-1278) and Arnolfo di Cambio (1240–1310) on the pulpit in the city's cathedral.

Although there are unconfirmed reports that his first work was an equestrian wood carving for the funeral of Azzo Ubaldini, he is first documented in 1401, appearing in the competition for the second bronze door of the Florence Baptistery, along with Filippo Brunelleschi and Lorenzo Ghiberti (who eventually gained the commission). Unfortunately the sculpture he made for the competition has been lost. In about 1403 he carved the marble Virgin with the Pomegranate (Silvestri Madonna) for the Ferrara cathedral, along with the statuette of St. Maurelius.



Tomb of Ilaria del Carretto

Della Quercia's earliest surviving work is traditionally considered to be the marble Tomb of Ilaria del Carretto, the second wife of Paolo Guinigi, the ruler of Lucca, (Lucca Cathedral, 1406). The graceful effigy on top of the sarcophagus is portrayed in the northern Gothic manner reminiscent of the Flemish sculptor Claus Sluter (c.1340-1406), but the nude putti around the sides of the tomb, are indications of the coming Renaissance style. Della Quercia also worked in Pisa at this time, where he would have studied the extensive collection of Roman sculptures in the Camposanto. This knowledge goes some way towards explaining his gradual move from the Gothic style to that of the Italian Renaissance. Another factor is the influence of the powerful plastic art of his contemporary Donatello (Donato di Niccolo di Betto Bardi).

Fonte Gaia

In 1409, he was commissioned to design a new fountain for the city of Siena in the Piazza del Campo, an important project which testifies to his growing stature as Siena's most prominent sculptor. However, it wasn't until 1414, after fleeing a charge of rape, whilst in the middle of designing the Trenta Chapel in the basilica of San Frediano in Lucca, that he began work on the project. The rectangular marble fountain, known as the Fonte Gaia (Fountain of Joy), was decorated in a Gothic style with many statues and multiple spouts and completed in 1419. Its relief carvings include some exquisitely draped figures and a very powerful panel depicting The Expulsion from Paradise (all now much damaged).

Later Commissions

In 1416, after receiving a letter of safe conduct, he returned to Lucca to complete work on the Trenta Chapel. He also designed the sarcophagi of Lorenzo Trenta and his wife Isabetta Onesti. At the same time he started work on a commission to design a hexagonal basin with bronze panel for the Baptistery in Siena. He only finished one bronze relief - depicting the theme of The Annunciation to Zacharias - as he was working simultaneously on the Fonte Gaia and the Trenta Chapel. In 1421, he completed an Annunciation, comprising two painted wooden statues of the Virgin and the Angel Gabriel, for the Collegiata in San Gimignano (the statues were painted by Martino di Bartolomeo and others). Della Quercia enjoyed working on different projects simultaneously until well into middle age. In 1427 he collaborated with Donatello and Ghiberti on the design of the baptismal font for the Siena Baptistery. A hexagonal column, resting on a pillared base in the middle of the basin, the font contains the statues of five prophets set in niches.

Porta Magna Reliefs, Church of San Petronio

In 1425 he won another prestigious commission: the design of a series of relief panels decorating the main doorway of the of the San Petronio church in Bologna. This complex work of Christian art would occupy him for most of the remaining thirteen years of his life and is considered his masterpiece. The decorations include nine portrait busts of prophets and five scenes from Genesis, carved in lower relief. In the scene depicting the Creation of Adam, he employs the same arrangement as in the Fonte Gaia (in Siena). The figures have a directness and power which attracted the praise of Michelangelo, who admitted that his Genesis fresco on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican, was based on della Quercia's reliefs, as was the last of his sculptures (a Virgin and Child) for the Medici chapel.

During his last years, the city of Siena awarded Jacopo della Quercia a number honours. In 1435 he was knighted and appointed to the coveted position of Operaio of the cathedral. In addition he participated in the decoration of the chapel of Saint Sebastian in the cathedral of Siena, being responsible for the carving of a high relief of Cardinal Antonio Casini presented to the Virgin by St. Anthony of Egypt, now on display in the Hall of Statues in the Cathedral Museum. Della Quercia finally passed away in October 1438. He was interred in the San Agostino church in Siena.

Sculptures by Jacopo della Quercia

Works by della Quercia can be seen in some of the best art museums and churches in Europe.

- Madonna (Silvestri Madonna) (1403-6) Marble, Cathedral, Ferrara
- Tomb of Ilaria del Carretto (1406-13) Marble, Cathedral San Martino, Lucca
- Acca Larentia (1414-19) Marble, Palazzo Pubblico, Siena
- Fonte Gaia Fountain (1414-19) Palazzo Pubblico, Siena
- Rhea Sylvia (1414-19) Marble, Palazzo Pubblico, Siena
- Virtue (1414-19) Marble, Palazzo Pubblico, Siena
- Hope (1414-19) Marble, Palazzo Pubblico, Siena
- Expulsion of Adam and Eve (1414-19) Marble, Ospedale della Scala, Siena
- Baptismal font (c.1417) Marble, gilded bronze, and enamel, Baptistry, Siena
- Annunciation: the Angel Gabriel (1421-26) Wood, Collegiata, San Gimignano
- Annunciation: the Virgin (1421-26) Wood, Collegiata, San Gimignano
- Trenta Altar (1422) Marble, San Frediano, Lucca
- Porta Magna (Main Doorway) (1425) Istrian stone, San Petronio, Bologna
- The Creation of Adam (1425-35) Istrian stone, San Petronio, Bologna
- Temptation (1425-28) Marble, San Petronio, Bologna
- Fountain & Statuette of John the Baptist (1427) Baptistry of Siena Cathedral
- Zacharias in the Temple (1428-30) Gilt bronze relief, Baptistry, Siena
- Expulsion of Adam and Eve (c.1435) Marble, San Petronio, Bologna

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