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A History of Art for Beginners and Students

Relief by jacopo della quercia


1408 Quercia went to Ferrara, where he did several works. While there he was called by the Signory of Siena to make a new fountain in the Piazza del Campo. This was a beautiful work, and even in this century, though much injured, its remaining sculptures prove that it must have been a wonder in its day. It has been restored after the original model by Quercia, who was often called Jacopo della Fonte on account of this work. He executed some sculptures in Lucca, but his masterpiece was the decoration of the great portal of the Basilica of San Petronio, at Bologna. (Fig. 82.)

The fifteen reliefs here represent the history of Adam and Eve, and other stories from the creation to the deluge. They show the full freedom and power of Quercia's style, and are among the most attractive of all the Tuscan sculptures of this period. Duringd the last years of his life this artist was employed as superintendent of the works upon the Cathedral of Siena, in which city he died.

[Illustration: FIG. 82.--RELIEF BY JACOPO DELLA QUERCIA. _Bologna._]

We come now to speak of the famous LORENZO GHIBERTI (1378-1455), who was born in Florence, and was both a goldsmith and sculptor; and though his fame rests upon his bas-reliefs, yet the exquisite detail and careful finish in them came from his practice of the goldsmith's art. In 1398 a plague broke out in Florence, and Ghiberti fled to Rimini for safety.

While there he painted a few pictures; but his name is so linked with the splendid gates which he made for the Baptistery of Florence that it is of those that one naturally thinks when his name is heard.

We have spoken of the gates which Andrea Pisano had made to this Baptistery long before; these were for the south side; and when, in 1400, the plague again visited Florence the people believed that the wrath of Heaven should be appeased by a thank-offering. Accordingly the Guild of Wool-merchants promised to add gates on the north and east of the Baptistery of St. John the Baptist.

A time was appointed for the examination of designs, and many artists entered into the competition, and sent in their drawings and models. A great number of these represented the Sacrifice of Isaac. At length all the models were set aside but two, and these were made by Brunelleschi and Ghiberti; then the former declared that he thought his rival's design the best, thus showing a nobility of character which cannot be too much praised.

The commission was thus given to Ghiberti, who first executed the northern gates. He began them in 1403, and finished them twenty-one years later. They illustrate the life of Christ in twenty scenes; they have also the figures of the evangelists and the four Fathers of the Church in a beautiful framework of foliage, animals, and other ornamental figures, which divides and incloses the larger compositions. These gates are done in a manner much in advance of that of Pisano, and yet they retain some features of an earlier style which are not found in Ghiberti's later works. But from the first he showed original talent, as one may see by his model of the Sacrifice of Isaac, which is preserved in the Museum of the Bargello, beside that of Brunelleschi.

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