Renaissance Sculptors
15th-Century/ 16th-Century Carvers, Sculptors in Bronze, Marble, Wood.

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Il Zuccone (1423–35) Florence,
Museo dell'Opera del Duomo.
By Donatello, the greatest
sculptor of the Early Renaissance.

See: History of Sculpture.

Renaissance Sculptors (1400-1600)
In Italy, France, Spain, Germany


Italian Early Renaissance Sculpture (1400-90)
Italian High Renaissance Sculpture (1490 onwards)
French Renaissance Sculpture (1400-1600)
Spanish Renaissance Sculpture (1400-1600)
German Renaissance Sculpture (c.1450-1600)

Italian Early Renaissance Sculpture (c.1400-1490)

The patronage of Renaissance art in Italy derived mainly from families like the Medici in Florence, the Visconti and Sforza in Milan, the Gonzaga family at Mantua, the Bentivoglio in Bologna, the Montefeltro at Urbino, the Malatesta at Rimini, and the Este at Ferrara and Modena. In Rome, patronage of painting and sculpture was frequently a papal priority, as in the times of Pope Sixtus IV and Julius II. Like painting, Italian Renaissance sculpture was significantly influenced by a revival of classical subjects and forms. Medieval Italy never forgot either Greek sculpture or Etruscan and Roman sculpture, during the period 800-1400, but this classical inspiration was seriously checked by German and Lombard and Frankish influences. The return to antique forms may be said to have begun at the time of the Apulian sculptor Niccola Pisano (c.1206-1278), and though a number of Gothic traditions survived, typically they took a progressively more "classical" form.

The famous Equestrian Monument
of Bartolommeo Colleoni (c.1483-88)
Campo dei Santi Giovanni e Paolo.
By Andrea del Verrocchio.

St Sebastian (1526-32)
Polychrome wood carving
National Museum of Religious
Carvings, Valladolid. By the
Spanish sculptor, painter and
architect, Alonso Berruguete.

See: Greatest Sculptures Ever.

See: Greatest Sculptors.

Medieval Sculpture (c.400-1000)
From Late Antiquity to Romanesque
Romanesque Sculpture (1000-1200)
Rounded-arch Architecture/Sculpture

Italian Renaissance sculpture was greatly influenced by a revival of classical subjects and forms. Medieval Italy never forgot either Greek sculpture or Etruscan and Roman sculpture, during the period 800-1400, but this classical inspiration was seriously checked by German and Lombard and Frankish influences. The return to antique forms may be said to have begun at the time of the Apulian sculptor Niccola Pisano (c.1206-1278), and though a number of Gothic traditions survived, typically they took a progressively more "classical" form.

Another characteristic of Early Renaissance sculpture was its naturalism. This is evident from the increase of contemporary subjects as well as in the change from a conventional to a more naturalistic and realistic treatment of proportions, anatomical structure, drapery, and perspective.

Religious Demand & Subject Matter

The demand for sculpture during the quattrocento (15th-century) and cinquecento (16th-century) was mainly a religious one. Church exteriors were ornamented with sculptures, not just around the portals, but often the entire outer facade was covered with statues and reliefs. Church interiors were filled with altarpiece art, canopies, pulpits, choirs, baptismal fonts, and tabernacles, as well as individual statuary of saints and angels. Doors were often cast in bronze and decorated with reliefs, while choir areas were embellished with figurative carvings. Interior walls of Renaissance churches were inset with funerary tombs and sarcophagi, commemorating archbishops, bishops, generals, politicians, and aristocrats.

Sculptural decorations in the form of statuary and reliefs were also designed for secular palaces and mansions, while public squares and gardens were decorated with statues and fountains and vases, often created by the most eminent Renaissance sculptors.

Subjects for Early Renaissance ecclesiastical sculpture were taken from the Old or New Testaments of the Bible - the most popular theme being The Madonna with the Child. During the High Renaissance she would frequently appear in the company of saints. Stories from the life of Christ, of the Madonna, of Saint Francis and other saints, were as common in sculpture as in painting. As the Renaissance developed, some ecclesiastical legends were set in a classical background, as were numerous secular civic sculptures. In line with classical values, nudity was common. For a brief survey of the human form in Renaissance painting/sculpture, see: Female Nudes in Art History (Top 20), and also see Male Nudes in Art History (Top 10).

For another type of 3-D
carving, see:
Marble Sculpture
Pentelic, Carrara, Parian marbles.

For an introduction to Flemish
and Dutch oil painting, see:
Netherlandish Renaissance Art.
For painting and wood carving
in Germany (1430-1580), see:
German Renaissance Art.

Materials & Methods

Renaissance sculpture attached less importance to the use of precious metals, like gold and silver, than Gothic sculpture. However, bronze became a favourite material with Renaissance sculptors - not just because of its ductility and durability, but also due to its brilliance when gilded - being employed first for reliefs, then for statues, portrait busts, and minor items. Even so, bronze-casting remained problematic for some time and early bronzes were not highly polished. High Renaissance sculptors would overcome these difficulties during the 16th-century.

The growing demand for intricate decorative detail in stone sculpture led to a significant increase in the use of marble as well as calcareous stone, like the pietra d' Istria, and fine sandstone, such as pietra serena. White Carrara marble was popular for monumental sculpture, and was often softened in colour by the use of wax. Highly coloured marble sculpture was rare. Meanwhile, fine details like angels' wings, hair, and ornaments of robes were usually gilded.

The range of sculpture was considerably extended by a greater introduction of terracotta, which was a much cheaper substitute for marble and, when glazed and fired, equally durable. Terracotta was soon employed for altar-pieces, pulpits and fonts, as also was an ever cheaper type of stucco made from marble dust and sand. Wood-carving was also not uncommon, but only in forested regions - hence the preeminence of southern German wood-carvers.

In matters of practical technique, such as the use of tools and implements, Renaissance sculptors generally followed the methods of classic sculptors, although there was a much greater emphasis on the pictorial and on graphic aids. In keeping with Renaissance fine art philosophy, "disegno" was seen as paramount, thus designs on paper were an important feature of the sculpting process. Indeed, preliminary studies incorporating clay, wax or wood models were sometimes developed to the point where the actual execution of the work (in bronze or marble) could be done by an artisan or skilled apprentice.


Note About Sculpture Appreciation
To learn how to assess sculptors of the Early and High Renaissance, see: How to Appreciate Sculpture. For later works, please see: How to Appreciate Modern Sculpture.

Early Renaissance Florentine School of Sculpture

The sculptors working on the Cathedral of Florence at the end of the 14th-century, especially Piero di Giovanni Tedesco, were already creating naturalistic sculptures and combining classic with Christian themes. The top sculptors of the early Renaissance in Florence were Lorenzo Ghiberti (1378-1455), Donatello (1386-1466) and Nanni di Banco (died 1421).

In many ways, the works of Donatello most accurately reflect the changing spirit of the times. As late as 1425 his sculpture was emphatically Gothic in treatment. His statues for the Florence Cathedral, for the Campanile, and for Orsan Michele are relatively inelegant and heavy with drapery: Prophets and Evangelists (excepting St George) are hardly more than portraits of his own contemporaries. During the period 1425-1444, Donatello produced his best sculptures acquiring a countrywide reputation in the process. In his relief sculpture Donatello demonstrated perspective through the use of retreating flat planes, notably on the Font for the Siena Baptistery. His earlier realism was now replaced by a refined classicism - as in his bronze statue David - along with a noticeable sense of drama. See: David by Donatello for details. Michelozzo Michelozzi (1391-1473) was closely associated with Donatello during this time. A third and final period, which runs from 1444 until his death in 1466, witnessed the full development of this sense of drama, usually at the cost of exaggerated and unbalanced compositions. Two other followers of Donatello include: Bernardo Ciuffagni (1385-1456), creator of the seated St. Matthew in Florence Cathedral; and Agostino di Duccio (1418-1481) creator of the mannered column-statues on the facade of S. Bernardino at Perugia and the relief-sculptures in S. Francesco at Rimini. Like his uncle Luca Della Robbia (1400-1482), Andrea della Robbia (1437-1528) was a highly distinguished exponent of terracotta sculpture, who was noted for his Bambino Tondi.

During the latter half of the 15th-century the demand for monumental works of marble and bronze sculpture grew significantly. Churches received sculpted altarpieces, pulpits, tombs and statuary, while secular palaces were decorated with sculptured doorways, friezes, reliefs and portrait busts. The most talented marble sculptors of the time included Bernardo Rossellino (1409-1464), Desiderio da Settignano (1428-1464), Antonio Rossellino (1427-1478), Mino da Fiesole (1431-1484), Matteo Civitali (1435-1501) and Benedetto da Majano (1442-1497). The top bronze sculptors were Antonio Pollaiuolo (1432-98) and Andrea del Verrocchio (1435-88).

Although the Florentine Renaissance remained the driving force of sculpture during the 15th-century, other centres soon appeared, such as Siena, Milan, Venice, and Padua each of whom trained talented sculptors of independent status and influence.

Early Renaissance Sienese School of Sculpture

Differing artistic traditions meant that Gothic sculpture endured longer in Siena than in Florence. Siena's most distinguished sculptor, Jacopo della Quercia (1371-1438), developed in similar ways to Donatello. His earliest works, as exemplified by the Fonte Gaja (1409-1419), were robustly Gothic in character. After this came a more classical period, and lastly a more dramatic period. Quercia's early Gothic manner was reflected in the work of Lorenzo Vecchietta (1410-1480), while his classic manner found expression in works by Antonio Federighi (c.1420-1490). Other noted Sienese sculptors included the bronze artist Giacomo Cozzarelli (1453-1515) and Lorenzo di Mariano (died 1534).

Early Renaissance Milanese School of Sculpture

In Lombardy, as in Siena, Gothic traditions were more firmly established than in Florence. There was a demand for more elaborate decoration. Eminent sculptors from Milan include Cristoforo Mantegazza (died 1482), Antonio Mantegazza (died 1495), Giovanni Antonio Amodeo (1447-1522), the virtuoso goldsmith and terracotta relief sculptor Caradosso (1445-1527), Agostino Busti (1480-1548) and Cristoforo Solari called "Il Gobbo" (the hunchback) (active 1489-1520).

Early Renaissance Venetian School of Sculpture

If Milanese artists looked to Genoa, Bergamo, Brescia, and other North Italian towns for their livelihood, Venetian sculptors dominated in the east. Their influence extended to Istria and Dalmatia on the one hand, to Verona and Brescia and to Ravenna, Cesena, Faenza, and Ancona. Venice represented a taste for rich decorative works, notably less banal than those of Milan, more sentimental than those of Florence. In essence, Renaissance art in Venice appealed to the pleasurable emotions while Milan and Florence both appealed to the intellect. Notable Venetian sculptors included: Bartolommeo Buon, Pietro Lombardo (1435-1515), and Alessandro Leopardi (died 1522).

Other Famous Early Renaissance Sculptors

These include: Niccolo da Bari, known as Niccolo dell' Arca (1414-1494) of Bologna; Guido Mazzoni (1450-1518) from Modena, who - like the della Robbia family of sculptors - preferred terracotta to stone or bronze; the earlier sculptors Andrea Ciccione and Antonio di Domenico da Bamboccio (1351-1422) of Naples; the Dalmatian Francesco da Laurana, as well as Domenico Gagini and his son, Antonio Gagini (1478-1536) from Sicily. As for Roman sculpture, this would have to wait until the later Renaissance in Rome.

Early Italian Renaissance sculpture is well represented in the churches and public buildings of Florence, Milan, Venice, Padua, and Rome, as well as in museums such as the Louvre (Paris), the Museo Nazionale (Florence); and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

Italian High Renaissance Sculpture and Beyond (c.1490-1530)

During the High Renaissance in Italy, sculpture became much less dominated by architecture and painting. Sometimes it even dominated her sister arts. For example, architecture became more sculpture-like (pilasters were replaced by columns) while in painting, modelling and perspective superceded outline and composition. Taste in sculpture also changed. Intricate decorative low-relief was largely replaced by high-relief and sculpture in the round. Nobility of design became less important than modelling, posture (of arms and legs), and movement in drapery. Effect was all-important, and though the influence of classic sculpture was maintained, only occasionally did it lead to the reproduction of antique forms.

Florentine Sculptors of the High Renaissance

Leading sculptors in Florence during this time included: Andrea Sansavino (1460-1529), his pupil Francesco di San Gallo (1493-1570), the more influential Benedetto da Rovezzano (1476-1556), Piero Torrigiano (1472-1522), who went to England and made the tomb of Henry VII and Queen Elizabeth in Westminster Abbey.

In Milan and Pavia the line of talented sculptors ended with Agostino Busti. In Modena, there was Antonio Begarelli (1479-1565), in Bologna Alfonso Lombardi of Lucca (1497-1537) and the sculptress, Properzia de' Rossi (1490-1530), and Niccole Pericoli (1485-1550).

In Venice the top sculptor was the Florentine Jacopo Sansovino (1486-1570). His pupils, such as Tommaso Lombardo, Girolamo Lombardo, Danese Cattaneo, and Alessandro Vittoria (1525-1608) continued his traditions, although with exaggeration.

Roman Sculptors of the High Renaissance

If during the Early Renaissance Florence supplied Rome with artists, the roles were reversed during the High Renaissance, when Rome, principally through Michelangelo (1475-1564), influenced the development of sculpture across Italy.

Michelangelo, equally famous as architect, sculptor, and painter, was primarily a sculptor in all his work, concerned above all with the human form. His first period (roughly 1488-1496) is comparable with that of Donatello, except it was freer and more classic. He portrayed the Madonna and Child with the same degree of dignity and humanity that are found in Greek reliefs. He rejoiced in his study of the nude human form in his Battle of the Centaurs. His second period (c.1496-1500) demonstrated yet further his focus on the human body. Its heavy drapery aside, how soulful is his Pieta, at St. Peter's. How noble his David. His final style (c.1500-1564), as exemplified by the Moses (from the tomb of Pope Julius II) and by the figures on the Medici tombs, showed greater harmony of treatment. His sculptures' modelling, posture, drapery, expressiveness, are more finely balanced.

Other noteworthy High Renaissance sculptors from Rome include: the Michelangelo-wannabe Baccio Bandinelli (1487-1559), the younger Bartolommeo Ammanati (1511-1592), Raffaello da Montelupo (1505-1566), and Fra Giovan' Angelo Montorsoli (1507-1563).

Rome-based High Renaissance bronze sculptors include Benvenuto Cellini (1500-1572), creator of the magnificent Perseus (1545-54) and the Flemish genius Giambologna (1524-1608) specializing in classical themes such as Neptune, The Flying Mercury, The Rape of the Sabine Women, Hercules and Nessus. Giambologna had a huge influence on a wide range of pupils and contemporary artists. A good example is the Dutch bronze sculptor Adriaen de Vries (1560-1626), who trained in Italy under Giambologna, and worked mainly in Prague and Augsburg. One of the last Mannerist sculptors of Rome, whose naturalistic unposed marble statue of Saint Cecilia led into the Baroque era and Bernini, was Stefano Maderno (1576-1636).

Renaissance Sculpture In France

15th Century

The Renaissance took a unique form inside Italy - it was, in effect, a rebirth of the national spirit. In other nations outside Italy, however, it was no more than a blending of Italian art with the national style. Thus in France, which had given birth to the magnificent movements of Romanesque and Gothic sculpture and architecture, the Italian Renaissance had a far less revolutionery effect, although its simple, classical forms were a welcome replacement for the rather tired Gothic style. Another important factor was the transformation of French feudal castles into chateaux of pleasure, triggering numerous commissions for the new Renaissance-style sculpture in the process. Many sculptors from Northern Italy moved to France to accomodate this new demand - settling in Tours, Paris, and Fontainebleau - joining others who had settled before them, like Guido Mazzoni, Girolamo da Fiesole, Girolamo della Robbia, and Benedetto da Rovezzano.

The first school of French sculpture to exhibit the new Italian Renaissance influence was that of Tours. Its chief representative, Michel Colombe (1432-1515), is comparable with the best Italian sculptors of the Early Renaissance. His relief of St. George and the Dragon, sculpted in 1508 for the high altar of the Chateau de Gaillon, stands alongside Donatello's work on the same subject. Other French sculptors working in the Italian style included Perreal, as well as the French-Italian Antoine Juste (1479-1519) and his brother Jean Juste (1485-1534).

16th Century

The Franco-Italian style of sculpture spread quickly throughout France during the first half of the 16th-century, thanks to the vigorous patronage and support of Francois I. The great chateaux at Blois, Chambord, Fontainebleau, and St Germain were refurbished in accordance with the new style of early Renaissance Florentine sculpture.

The First Fontainebleau School, patronised by King Francis I (ruled 1515-47) and led by Francesco Primaticcio, was followed in the 1690s by the less important Second School of Fontainebleau, supported by King Henry IV (1589-1610) and led by artists such as Ambroise Dubois (1542-1614), Toussaint Dubreuil (1561-1602) and Martin Freminet (1567-1619).

Next came public buildings and private houses at Tours, Angers, Orleans, Rouen, Reims, and Toulouse, followed by churches, whose doorways, altarpieces, choir screens, and stalls were redecorated with Renaissance reliefs, friezes, and statuary.

Later, during the second half of the century the influence of Catherine de' Medici over the house of Valois led to greater Italian influence over French art. Gothic architecture no longer determined structural forms, and sculpture became much more independent. The three great sculptors of the age were, Pierre Bontemps (active mid-century), Jean Goujon (Active 1540-1563), and Germain Pilon (1529-1590). Pilon's best pupil was Barthelemy Prieur (1536-1611).

Other schools of French Renaissance sculpture included the school of Toulouse, represented by Nicholas Bachelier, and the school of Troyes, exemplified by Francois Gentil. Another strong tradition, the Burgundian school, established strong artistic links with Charles I in Spain.

Spanish Renaissance Sculpture (1400-1600)

Early Renaissance sculptors in Spain of the 15th century were much less advanced than their colleagues in Italy. Indeed it is not easy even to date the beginning of a proper Renaissance in the Iberian Peninsula. Spanish artists had none of the ambitious patrons of the arts like the Medici family of Florence, or the Papal patrons in Rome. What's more, although the new Renaissance style in Spain was characterized by greater freedom and naturalism, sculptors retained most of their traditional religious iconography along with a number of Gothic essentials.

During the High Renaissance (c.1490-1530), numerous artists settled in Spain from Flanders, France and Italy. These individuals helped to further the humanist Renaissance spirit, but generally within the context of Spanish traditions. The Frenchman Philip Vigarny (Felipe Bigarny) (c.1470-1543), worked in Burgos, carving the alabaster reliefs in thecathedral. He also created part of the great retables of Toledo and Palencia cathedrals. From time to time he worked alongside Diego de Siloe (c.1495-1563), and Alonso Berruguete (1488-1561), being considered the most restrained, naturalistic, and Renaissance-oriented of the three. Diego de Siloe, influential in both Andalusia and Castile, was noted for the Golden Staircase and the Christ and the Virgin and Child in the Cathedral of Burgos. The Burgos native sculptor Bartolome Ordonez (c.1490-1520) was noted for his harmonious reliefs and marble panels, and the tomb of Don Felipe and Dona Juana in the Royal Chapel of Granada.

In Palencia, then an important cultural centre, the plastic arts were led by the Gothic sculptor Juan de Valmaseda (b.1490), noted for the Calvary of the retable of Palencia cathedral. In Toledo, the main artistic centre of New Castile, the Renaissance style arrived early, thanks to Vasco de la Zarza, noted for the tomb of Don Juan Carrillo de Albornozin in Toledo cathedral, and the tomb of Don Alonso de Madrigal in Avila cathedral. Vasco de la Zarza's influence extended to Toledo, Avila, and Segovia.

In Andalusia, the Renaissance caught on thanks to Jorge Fernandez, noted for various Gothic-style sculptures in the Royal Chapel of Granada. In Aragon, the Renaissance relied on the sculptor Gil Morlanes the Elder, renowned for the alabaster retable of the monastery of Montearagon (Huesca cathedral). Another significant Spanish carver of the 16th-century was Damian Forment (1480-1540) - noted for the superb retable of Nuestra Senora del Pilar, the retable of Huesca cathedral and the great retable of the monastery of Poblet - who worked in Valencia then Saragossa.

The period 1530-1570 witnessed the highpoint of Spanish Renaissance sculpture. This era was led by the genius Alonso Berruguete (1488-1561), son of the painter Pedro Berruguete (1450-1504) and a pupil of Michelangelo. Noted for the retable of the Mejorada, the retable of San Benito de Valladolid, the choir-stall reliefs in Toledo cathedral, and the tomb of Cardinal Tavera. One of the more innovative of the French Renaissance sculptors who worked in Spain at this time is the Burgundian artist Juan de Juni (Jean de Joigny) (1507-1577), noted for the expressive spirituality of his works, such as the Entombment, preserved in the Museum in Valladolid.

From about 1570 to 1600, we see the rise of Spanish Mannerism under Spanish sculptors like Juan de Anchieta (b.1540), and foreign artists like the Italians Leone Leoni (1509-1590) and Pompeo Leoni (1533-1608). Combining Mannerism and Academicism, their style is exemplified by the bronze effigies of the Empress Isabella and Philip II (Prado Museum), and the groups of carvings belonging to the tombs of Charles V and Philip II (Escorial).

German Renaissance Sculpture (c.1450-1600)

15th Century German Sculptors

The influence of Claus Sluter (c.1340-1406), already visible in the work of Hans Multscher in Ulm, spread to the Rhineland, Swabia, Franconia and south as far as Austria through the influence of Nikolas Gerhaert von Leyden (active 1462-1473) and his followers. An attachment to excessive decoration, a characteristic feature of late Gothic style, prevented the creation of any monumental stone sculptures.

This decorative drive, arising within a thickly forested region, led to wood-carving becoming the preferred media of German artists and was used extensively for ecclesiastical furnishings (eg. choir stalls), and altarpieces. The leading German wood-carvers of the Renaissance included: Jorg Syrlin of Ulm; Gregor Erhart (c.1460-1540) of Ulm and Augsburg); Veit Stoss (c.1447-1533) of Nuremberg, noted for the Altarpiece of the Virgin, church of St Mary at Krakow, 1486; and Nikolas von Hagenau (recorded 1485-1526) of Strasbourg. In Nuremberg Adam Kraft (c.1455-1509), noted for tabernacle in the Church of Saint Lorenz, demonstrated all the technical skill and exuberance of wood-carving, but in stone. (See: German Renaissance Art.)

Although there was a noticeable relaxation in some of their sculptures, German carvers found it difficult to adapt to the balanced forms of Renaissance art. Leading figures like Veit Stoss, Tilman Riemenschneider (c.1460-1531), Master H.L. (noted for the Breisach Altarpiece), and Hans Backofen (d.1519) retained a strong affection for the late Gothic style. More committed exponents of the new Renaissance style included the Augsburg artist Adolf Daucher (1460-1524); the Nuremberg sculptor Peter Vischer the Elder (c.1460-1529), noted for the shrine of St Sebaldus. Later, Peter Vischer the Younger (1487-1528) and the goldsmith Peter Flotner (d.1546) took up small-scale Renaissance sculpture. Meanwhile, Alexander Colyn of Mechelen (d.1612), noted for the Ottheinrich wing, introduced the decorative idiom of the Flemish Renaissance to the city of Heidelberg. During the second half of the 16th-century, the Renaissance style finally began to take hold as Augsburg and Munich became centres of Italianism.

• For the history and types of sculpture, see: Homepage.
• For the evolution and development of the visual arts, see: History of Art.

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