Late Gothic & Early Renaissance

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Late Gothic & Early Renaissance

Nanni di Banco
Agostino Di Duccio
Bertoldo di Giovanni
Mino da Fiesole

Desiderio da Settignano
Andrea Bregno
Pietro Lombardo
Antonio Lombardo
Tullio Lombardo
Giovanni Antonio Amadeo
Francesco di Giorgio Martini
Benedetto da Maiano
Luca Della Robbia
Andrea della Robbia

Bernardo Rossellino
Antonio Rossellino
Antonio del Pollaiuolo
Niccolò dell’Arca
Andrea del Verrocchio

When we discussed the new style of painting that arose in Flanders about 1420, we avoided suggesting why this revolution took place at that particular time and in that particular area. This does not mean, however, that no explanation is possible. Unless we believe in sheer fate or chance, we find it difficult to place the entire burden of responsibility on the Master of Flemalle and the brothers Van Eyck. There must, we feel, be some link between their accomplishment and the social, political, and cultural setting in which they worked, but it is not yet well understood. We have more insight into the special circumstances that help to explain why the Early Renaissance was born in Florence at the beginning of the fifteenth century, rather than elsewhere or at some other time.

In the years around 1400, Florence faced an acute threat to its independence from the powerful duke of Milan, who was trying to bring all of Italy under his rule. He had already subjugated the Lombard plain and most of the Central Italian city-states. Florence remained the only serious obstacle to his ambition. The city put up a vigorous and successful defense on the military, diplomatic, and intellectual fronts. Of these three, the intellectual was by no means the least important. The duke had eloquent support as a new Caesar, bringing peace and order to the country. Florence, in turn, rallied public opinion by proclaiming itself as the champion of freedom against unchecked tyranny.

This propaganda war was waged on both sides by humanists, the heirs of Petrarch and Boccaccio, but the Florentines gave by far the better account of themselves. Their writings, such as Praise of the City of Florence (1402-3) by Leonardo Bruni , give renewed focus to the Petrarchan ideal of a rebirth of the Classics. The humanist, speaking as the citizen of a free republic, asks why, among all the states of Italy, Florence alone had been able to defy the superior power of Milan. He finds the answer in her institutions, her cultural achievements, her geographical situation, the spirit of her people, and her descent from the city-states of ancient Etruria. Florence, he concludes, assumes the same role of political and intellectual leadership as that of Athens at the time of the Persian Wars.

The patriotic pride, the call to greatness, implicit in this image of Florence as the "new Athens" must have aroused a deep response throughout the city, for just when the forces of Milan threatened to engulf them, the Florentines embarked on an ambitious campaign to finish the great artistic enterprises begun a century before at the time of Giotto. Following the competition of 1401-2 for the bronze doors of the Baptistery, another extensive program continued the sculptural decoration of Florence Cathedral and other churches, while deliberations were resumed on how to build the dome of the Cathedral, the largest and most difficult project of all. The campaign lasted more than 30 years; it gradually petered out after the completion of the dome in 1436. Although difficult to express in present-day financial terms, its total cost was comparable to the cost of rebuilding the Acropolis in Athens. The huge investment was itself not a guarantee of artistic quality, but, stirred by such civic enthusiasm, it provided a splendid opportunity for the emergence of creative talent and the coining of a new style worthy of the "new Athens."

From the start, the visual arts were considered essential to the resurgence of the Florentine spirit. Throughout antiquity and the Middle Ages, they had been classed with the crafts, or "mechanical arts." It cannot be by chance that the first explicit statement claiming a place for them among the liberal arts occurs around 1400 in the writings of the Florentine chronicler Filippo Villani. A century later, this claim was to win general acceptance throughout most of the Western world. What does it imply? The liberal arts were defined by a tradition going back to Plato and comprised the intellectual disciplines necessary for a "gentleman's" education: mathematics (including musical theory), dialectics, grammar, rhetoric, and philosophy. The fine arts were excluded because they were "handiwork" lacking a theoretical basis. Thus when artists gained admission to this select group, the nature of their work had to be redefined. They were acknowledged as people of ideas, rather than mere manipulators of materials, and works of art came to be viewed more and more as the visible records of their creative minds. This meant that works of art need notindeed, should notbe judged by fixed standards of craftsmanship. Soon everything that bore the imprint of a great master was eagerly collected, regardless of its incompleteness: drawings, sketches, fragments, unfinished pieces.

The outlook of artists, too, underwent important changes as well. Now in the company of scholars and poets, they themselves often became learned and literary. They might write poems, autobiographies, or theoretical treatises. As another consequence of their new social status, artists tended to develop into one of two contrasting personality types: the person of the world, self-controlled, polished, at ease in aristocratic society: or the solitary genius, secretive, idiosyncratic, subject to fits of melancholy, and likely to be in conflict with patrons. It is remarkable how soon this modern view of art and artists became a living reality in the Florence of the Early Renaissance. However, such an attitude did not take immediate hold everywhere, nor did it apply equally to all artists. England, for example, was slow to grant them special status, and women in general were denied the professional training and opportunities available to men.


The first half of the fifteenth century became the heroic age of the Early Renaissance. Florentine art, dominated by the original creators of the new style, retained the undisputed leadership of the movement. To trace its beginnings, we must discuss sculpture first, for the sculptors had earlier and more plentiful opportunities than the architects and painters to meet the challenge of the "new Athens."

The artistic campaign had opened with the competition for the Baptistery doors, and for some time it consisted mainly of sculptural projects. Ghiberti's trial relief, we recall, does not differ significantly from the International Gothic; nor do the completed Baptistery doors, even though their execution took another 20 years. Only in the trial panel can Ghiberti's admiration for ancient art, as demonstrated by the torso of Isaac, be linked with the classicism of the Florentine humanists around 1400. Similar instances occur in other Florentine sculpture at that time. But such quotations of ancient sculpture, isolated and small in scale, merely recapture what Nicola Pisano had done a century before.


A decade after the trial relief, we find that this limited medieval classicism has been surpassed by a somewhat younger artist, Nanni di Banco (c.
1384-1421). The four saints, called the Quattro Coronati, which he made about 1410-14 for one of the niches on the exterior of the church of Or San Michele, demand to be compared not with the work of Nicola Pisano but with the Reims Visitation. The figures in both groups are approximately lifesize, yet Nanni's give the impression of being a good deal larger than those at Reims. Their quality of mass and monumentality was quite beyond the range of medieval sculpture, even though Nanni depended less directly on ancient models than had the sculptor of the Visitation or Nicola Pisano. Only the heads of the second and third of the Coronati directly recall examples of Roman sculpture, specifically those memorable portrait heads of the third century A.D. Nanni was obviously impressed by their realism and their agonized expressions. His ability to retain the essence of both these qualities indicates a new attitude toward ancient art, which unites classical form and content, instead of separating them as medieval classicists had done.

Nanni di Banco

Nanni di Banco, (born 1384/90?, Florence [Italy]—died 1421, Florence), Florentine sculptor whose works exemplify the stylistic transition from the Gothic to the Renaissance that occurred in Italy in the early 15th century.

Nanni was trained by his father, Antonio di Banco, a sculptor who worked with Niccolò d’Arezzo on the Cathedral of Florence. It is not surprising, therefore, that Nanni’s first important work, a life-size marble statue of the prophet Isaiah, was commissioned for the cathedral. Installed on the cathedral’s western facade, this figure is more Gothic in feeling than his later, more classical works for the guilds of the Or San Michele in Florence. Of the latter, the “Quattro Coronati” (“Four Crowned Saints”; c. 1411–13) is considered his masterpiece. Influenced by antique art, the four saints are dressed in firmly modeled Roman togas and have heads that strongly resemble the ancient portrait busts of Roman senators that Nanni had studied. The group of figures is bound together by the spatial relation of each to the other and by a kind of mute conversation in which they all seem to be engaged.

A relief of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary that was placed above the Mandorla Gate (Porta della Mandorla) was begun about 1414. This was his last major work and was probably finished posthumously by Luca della Robbia, who is generally thought to have been Nanni’s student.

Encyclopædia Britannica

Four Saints (Quattro Coronati).

. 1410-14.
Marble, about lifesize.
Or San Michele, Florence

Four Saints (Quattro Coronati), head of second figure from left (fig. 566)
Portrait of a Roman. Early 3rd century A.D. Marble, lifesize. Antikensammlung, Staatliche Museen, Berlin

NANNI DI BANCO. Quattro Santi Coronati. 1408-13. Marble, height: c. 185 cm. Orsanmichele, Florence

NANNI DI BANCO. Sculptors at work. c. 1416. Marble. Orsanmichele, Florence

NANNI DI BANCO. Porta della Mandorla. 1414-21. Marble. Duomo, Florence
NANNI DI BANCO. Assumption of the Virgin. 1414-21. Marble. Duomo, Florence

NANNI DI BANCO. Esaias. 1408. Marble, height: 193 cm
Museo dell'Opera del Duomo, Florence

NANNI DI BANCO. St. Luke. 1408-15. Marble, height: 208 cm. Museo dell'Opera del Duomo, Florence