Jacopo della Quercia

(c. 1374—1438) Italian sculptor

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(b Siena, c.1374; d Siena, 20 Oct. 1438).

The greatest sculptor of the Sienese School, the son of an undistinguished goldsmith and woodcarver, Piero diAngelo (Quercia, from which Jacopo takes his name, is a district of Siena). Like his father, he carved in wood and also worked in bronze, but marble was his preferred material. He was one of the outstanding figures of his generation in Italian sculpture, the only non-Florentine who can be mentioned in the same breath as Donatello and Ghiberti, but his career is difficult to follow, as he worked in numerous places and sometimes left one commission unfinished while he took up another elsewhere. Contrary to Vasari's assertion that he led a ‘well-ordered life’, he seems to have been inveterately dilatory. He is first firmly documented in 1401, unsuccessfully competing for the commission (won by Ghiberti) for the Baptistery doors in Florence. His first surviving works are generally agreed to be a marble statue of the Virgin and Child, commissioned in 1403 for Ferrara Cathedral (now Cathedral Mus.), and the tomb of Ilaria del Carretto, wife of the ruler of Lucca, Paolo Guinigi (c.1406, Lucca Cathedral), which was eulogized by Ruskin. There are Renaissance putti and swags round the base of the tomb, but the serene and graceful effigy is in the northern manner and suggests that Jacopo had knowledge of work done in the circle of Claus Sluter in Burgundy. His major work for his native city was a fountain called the Fonte Gaia (commissioned in 1408, executed 1414–19), which is now—much damaged—in the loggia of the Palazzo Pubblico (a copy stands in the Piazza del Campo, where the original was first located). Its relief carvings include some beautifully draped female figures and a badly battered but still awesomely powerful panel of the Expulsion from Paradise. Between 1417 and 1430 Jacopo worked on reliefs for the font in the Baptistery at Siena (Donatello and Ghiberti were also involved in this commission), and in 1425 he began his last great work (left unfinished at his death), the sculptural decoration of the main doorway of S. Petronio, Bologna. The principal feature of the doorway is a series of relief panels with subjects taken from Genesis and the Nativity of Christ. The figures—usually only two or three to a relief, in contrast to the crowded panels of Ghiberti—have a directness and strength that won the admiration of Michelangelo, who visited Bologna in 1494. Several of the motifs are to be found, reinterpreted, on the Sistine Ceiling.

Subjects: Art.

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