Sculptor of Florence

MODESTY is indeed praiseworthy and virtuous at times, and so are the amiability and the rare talents which adorned the life of Antonio Rossellino the sculptor. He practiced his art with such grace that he was valued as something more than a man by those who knew him, 1 who well-nigh adored him as a saint for those preeminent qualities which he possessed in addition to his talents. Antonio was called to Rossellino del Proconsolo because his workshop was in a place of that name in Florence.

His works were so soft and delicate, the finesse and polish so perfect, that his style may justly be called true and really modern. 2 For the palace of the Medici he made the marble fountain which is in the second court, containing children who hold dolphins spouting water, finished with the utmost skill and diligence. 3 In the church of S. Croce by the holy-water vessel he made the tomb of Francesco Neri with a Madonna in bas-relief above, and another Madonna in the house of the Tornabuoni, as well as many other things sent to divers parts, such, for example, as a marble tomb for Lyons in France. At S. Miniato al Monte, a monastery of the white monks outside the walls of Florence, he was employed to make the tomb of the Cardinal of Portugal, 4 which was executed so marvellously and with such diligence and art that no artist can ever expect to see anything to surpass it for finish and grace. To anyone looking at it, it seems not difficult but impossible that it should have been made so. It contains angels which in their grace and beauty, with their draperies and attitudes, seem not marble creations but living beings. One of them holds the cardinal's crown of virginity, as he is said to have died chaste; another raises the palm of victory which he won against the world. Among the many charming things there is a maeigno arch supporting a marble curtain hooked up, so that with the white of the marble and the grey of the stone it is much more like real cloth than marble. On the sarcophagus are some really lovely children, and the deceased prelate himself with a Madonna, in a circle very finely worked. The sarcophagus resembles the porphyry one on the Piazza della Rotonda at Rome. This tomb was set up in 1459, 5 and so pleased the Duke of Malfi, nephew of Pope Pius II., who was equally delighted with the architecture of the chapel, that he caused another to be made for his wife at Naples, similar in every respect except the effigy of the deceased. Antonio further made a bas-relief of the Nativity of Christ in the Manger, with angels dancing on the thatch, singing with open mouth, 6 so that with the sole exception of breath Antonio endowed them with every movement and gesture, and with such grace and finish that steel and genius could produce no more out of marble. For this reason his works have been highly praised by Michelagnolo and by every other artist of distinction.

For the Pieve of Empoli he made a marble St. Sebastian which is much admired, 7 his design for it being in our book, together with those for the architecture and figures of the chapel of St. Miniato in Monte, already mentioned, as well as his own portrait. Antonio died in Florence at the age of forty-six, leaving his brother Fernardo, an architect and sculptor. Bernardo made in S. Croce the marble tomb of M. Leonardo Bnini of Arezzo, 8 who wrote the history of Florence, and was a very learned man, as everyone knows. This Bernardo was highly valued as an architect by Pope Nicholas V., who thought much of him, and employed him on many of the works carried out during his pontificate. He would have done more had not death interrupted the works which the Pope had in his mind. Thus, if we may believe Giannozzo Manetti, he restored the piazza of Fabriano, where he remained for some months on account of the plague, enlarging it and improving its shape where it was narrow and ill-made, and surrounding it with rows of shops at once useful, commodious and beautiful. He then restored the church of S. Francesco in the same place, which was falling to ruin. At Gualdo he may be said to have rebuilt, with the addition of some fine structures, the‚church of S. Benedetto.

In Assisi he strengthened the foundations and repaired the roof of the church of S. Francesco, which was in ruins in some places and threatened to fall. At Civitavecchia he made many fine and magnificent buildings. At Civitacastellana he restored more than a third of the wall in a fine style. At Narni he restored and enlarged the fortress with strong walls. At Orvieto he made a large fortress with a magnificent palace, a work as costly as it was splendid. At Spoleto he enlarged and strengthened the fortress, making the dwellings inside so fine, so convenient and so well arranged that nothing better could be desired. He restored the baths of Viterbo at a great expense and in regal style, making apartments suitable not only for the sick, who daily go there to bathe, but worthy of the greatest princes. All these works were carried out by the Pope outside the city from Bernardo's designs.

In Rome he restored and in many places rebuilt the city walls, which were for the most part in decay, adding some towers and including in them a new fortress which he made outside the Castle S. Angelo, with many apartments and ornaments within. The Pope further conceived and in great part executed a project for restoring and rebuilding, so far as was necessary, the forty churches of the stations established by St. Gregory I. called the Great. He also restored S. Maria Trastevere, S. Prassedia, S. Teodoro, S. Pietro ad Vincola, and many others of less importance. In six of the largest and most important he carried this out with greater spint, ornament and diligence, namely in S. Giovanni Lateran, S. Maria Maggiore, S. Stefano on the Celian Mount, S. Apostolo, S. Paolo and S. Lorenzo extra micros. I do not include S. Pietro because that was a separate undertaking. It was this Pope again who thought of converting the Vatican into a fortress, making it like a separate city, and designing three ways leading to S. Pietro, I fancy where the old and new Forgo now are. These he covered with loggias here and there, and convenient shops separating the nobler and richer arts from the lesser, and putting each in a street by itself. He had previously made the round tower, still known as the tower of Nicholas. Over these shops and loggias were magnificent and convenient dwellings in beautiful architecture, so contrived as to be sheltered from all the pestiferous winds of Rome, all the impediments of water or refuse which engender bad air being removed. Nicholas would have finished it all if only he had lived a little longer. This pontiff was bold and resolute and so well informed that he guided and controlled the artists no less than they did him, an arrangement which brings about the speedy completion of great undertakings, the patron being skilled in the subject and capable of making up his mind quickly, whereas an irresolute and ignorant man would lose much time in wavering between yes and no, and between various designs and opinions, the work standing still meanwhile. Of this design of Nicholas it is unnecessary to say more than that it was not carried out.

He also wished to build the papal palace with such magnificence and grandeur, united to convenience and beauty, that it would have been the finest building in Christendom. He desired that it should serve not only the pontiff and head of Christendom, with the sacred college of cardinals, which advised and assisted him and which he wished to be always about him, but also that all affairs, expeditions, and judgments of the court should take place there; and this gathering together of all the offices and courts would have made a magnificent and grand edifice with incredible pomp, if the word is permissible in this connection, and what is of infinitely more importance, it was to receive emperors, kings, dukes and other Christian princes who visited the Most Holy Apostolic See either to make their devotions or on their affairs. It seems incredible that he even intended to erect a theatre for the coronation of the Pope, and gardens, loggias, aqueducts, fountains, chapels, libraries, and a separate conclave hall, of great splendour. In short this (I know not whether to call it palace, castle or city) would have been the most superb creation since the beginning of the world so far as we know. What greatness would have belonged to the Holy Roman Church had its chief pontiff and head gathered together all the ministers of God inhabiting Rome into a kind of famous and sacred monastery, there to live as in a new earthly paradise, a celestial, angelical and holy life, affording an example to all Christendom and kindling the minds of unbelievers to the true worship of God and of Jesus Christ. But this great work was left unfinished as it was barely begun at the time of the Pope's death. The little that was done may be recognised by the Pope's arms, or what he used as arms, namely two keys in saltire on a red field.

The last of the five things which he intended to do was the church of S. Pietro, which he wished to make so large, so rich and so ornate that I shall do better to keep silence than to attempt to depict that which is utterly indescribable, especially as the model was afterwards destroyed and others were made by other architects. If anyone desires to know fully the great mind of Pope Nicholas V., let him read what Giannozzo Manetti, a noble and learned citizen of Florence, has written in detail upon the life of that Pontiff. In all these designs Nicholas employed the abilities and industry of Bernardo Rossellino, as well as others, as I have said. Antonio, the brother, to return to the point where I started, produced his sculptures about the year1490. The extraordinary diligence and mastery of difficulty displayed in his work have excited general wonder, so that he merits fame and honour as being the best example from whom the moderns have been able to learn how statues should be made, to win praise and fame overcoming difficulties. After Donatello he added a certain polish and completeness to the art of sculpture, seeking to turn his figures so that they should appear entirely round and finished, a matter which had not been previously perfected. As he was the first to introduce this style, it appeared marvellous in the following age, and does so even in our own day.

  • 1 S. Maria di Mezzaratta
  • 2 Cosimo Tura, 1420-95.
  • 3 Probably the one now at Casteilo.
  • 4 James of Portugal died 1459.
  • 5 It was not began till 1461.
  • 6 Now at S. Maria di Monte, Naples.
  • 7 About 1457.
  • 8 In 1444.

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