JACOPO DALLA QUERCIA
Sculptor of Siena
(1371-1438)

Jacopo was the son of Master Piero di Filippo of a Quercia, a place in the territory of Siena, and he was the first sculptor after Andrea Pisano, Orcagna, and the others named above, who, by applying himself with greater study and dili0trence to sculpture, began to show that it was possible to approach Nature, and was also the first to inspire others with courage and the belief that it would be possible to equal her in some sort. His first works of importance were done at Siena, at the age of nineteen, under these circumstances. The Sienese had an army out against the Florentines under the captains Gian Tedesco, nephew of Saccone da Pietramala, and Giovanni d'Azzo Ubaldini. The latter fell sick in the country, and when brought to Siena he died. 1 His death was a great blow to the Sienese, and at his obsequies, which were very splendid, they caused a wooden erection in the form of a pyramid to be made, on which was placed an equestrian statue of the general by Jacopo's hand, of more than life-size, executed with much judgment and invention. In the execution of this work, Jacopo employed a device not in use up to that time, of constructing a framework for the horse and figure of pieces of wood and laths fitted together, wrapped about with straw, tow and hemp, the whole being tightly bound together, and then covered with the clay mixed with a cement composed of woollen cloth, paste, and glue. This method of construction was, and is, undoubtedly the best for such things, because, although they appear to be heavy, yet after they are finished and dry they prove to be light, and being covered with white they resemble marble, and are very pleasing to the eye, as was this work of Jacopo. In addition to these advantages, such works do not crack as they would do if they were made of dried clay only. In this style the models for sculptures are made to-day, to the great convenience of Artists, who in this way always have a model before them of the exact proportions of the sculptures upon which they are engaged, so that they are under no small obligation to Jacopo, who is said to have been the inventor of this device. Jacopo next made two panels of hard wood, carving on them the figures, beards and hair with such patience that they were a marvel to behold. After these panels, which were placed in the Duomo, he did some prophets of moderate size in marble, which are on the front of that building, and he would have pursued this work had it not been for the plague, famine and the civil discords of the Sienese, who, after several revolts, had thrown the city into disorder, and driven out Orlando Maleyolti, 2 by whose favour Jacopo had been employed in his native place with much honour. Accordingly he left Siena, and through the efforts of some friends he was invited to Lucca, and there made a tomb for the wife of Paulo Guinigi, the lord of the city, who had recently died, in the church of S. Martino. 3 On the pedestal of this he made some infants in marble bearing a festoon, so beautifully finished that they are like living flesh and blood. On the sarcophagus which is upon this pedestal he did the effigy of Paulo's wife, who was buried there, with admirable finish, and at her feet, and on the same stone, he made a dog in full relief, emblematical of her fidelity to her husband. After the departure, or rather the expulsion, of Paolo from Lucca in the year 1429, 4 when the city won its freedom, this sarcophagus was removed from its place and all but entirely destroyed because of the hatred which the Lucchese bore to the memory of Guinigi. Yet the reverence which they felt for the beauty and the ornamentation restrained them, and led them soon after to set up the sarcophagns and the effigy at the entrance door of the sacristy, with great care, where they now are, the chapel of Guinigi becoming the property of the community. About this time Jacopo learned that the art of the merchants of the Calimara of Florence proposed to have a bronze door made for the church of S. Giovanni, where Andrea Pisano had previously laboured, as already narrated.

He went to Florence 5 to make himself known, more especially because this work was to be entrusted to the one who should display the best evidence of his skill in producing one of the scenes in bronze. Arrived at Florence he not only made the model, but completed and finished a well-conceived scene, which gave so much satisfaction that, had not the excellent Donatello and Filippo Brunelleschi been among his rivals, their knowledge surpassing his, he would have secured this important work. But as matters turned out otherwise, he left for Bologna, where, by means of the favour of Giovanni Bentivogli, he was commissioned 6 by the overseers of the church of S. Petronio to make the principal door of that building in marble. Here he adopted the Gothic style in order not to depart from the manner in which the building had already been begun, filling the spaces which interrupt the rows of pillars bearing this corner and tympanum with scenes executed with great devotion. To this work he gave twelve years, doing with his own hand the foliage and ornamentation of the door with the greatest imaginable diligence and care. Each of the pilasters bearing the architrave, cornice and tympanum contains five bas-reliefs, and there are five in the architrave, making fifteen in all. In these he carved scenes from the Old Testament, from the creation of man by God to the Flood and Noah's arc, giving a great aid to sculpture, as from the time of the ancients until then there had been no one to produce works in bas-relief, so that that species of work was rather lost than degenerate. In the tympanum he made three marble figures of life-size in full relief, namely Our Lady with the Child, very beautifully done, S. Petronius and another saint all well arranged in fine attitudes. The Bolognese, who had imagined that it would not be possible to produce any marble work equal, much less superior, to that which Agostino and Agnolo of Siena had done on the high altar of S. Francesco in that city, in the old style, had to admit that they were mistaken when they perceived how much finer these were. Being next requested to return to Lucca, Jacopo did so very readily, and for Federigo di maestro Trenta del Veglia he did a marble slab in S. Friano 7 there, with the Virgin and Child, St. Sebastian, St. Lucy, St. Jerome and St. Sigismund, in a good style with grace and design, and in the predella beneath he did scenes from the life of each saint, in half-relief. This was a very pretty and pleasing work, as Jacopo had displayed much art in making his figures retire gradually on the different planes, and in diminishing those which were farthest away. In like manner he encouraged others to endow their works with grace and beauty by new methods, and on two large stones he made the effigies of Federigo, the donor of the work, and his wife, in bas-relief, for their two tombs. On these stones are the words

Hoc opus fecit Jacobus magistri Petri de Senis, 1422.

When Jacopo afterwards proceeded to Florence, the wardens of S. Maria del Fiore, having heard a good report of him, employed him to make the marble front which is over the door of that church, leading to the Nunziata. 8 Here he represented a Madonna in a mandorla 9 carried to heaven by a choir of angels, who are playing and singing, displaying the most beautiful movements and attitudes, for there is vigour and decision in their flight, such as had never been seen before. In like manner the Madonna is clothed so gracefully and simply that nothing better could be desired, for the folds of the drapery are soft and beautiful, the clothes following the lines of the figure, and while covering the limbs disclose every turn. Under this Madonna is a St. Thomas receiving the girdle. In short, this work, completed by Jacopo in four years, represents his powers at their highest, for, besides his natural desire to do well, the rivalry of Donato, Filippo and Lorenzo di Bartolo, some of whose works had already appeared and were much admired, proved an even greater stimulus. His work was so good that even to this day it is regarded by modern artists as most rare. On the other side of the Madonna opposite St. Thomas Jacopo made a bear climbing a pear-tree. Upon this caprice of his many things were related at the time, and I might add some more, but I refrain in order to leave everyone free to follow his own belief and judgment. After this Jacopo, wishing to see his native country again, returned to Siena, and on his arrival seized the opportunity which he hadé desired of leaving an honourable memorial of himself there. The Signoria of Siena had decided to erect a very rich marble ornament for the water which Agnolo and Agostino of Siena had brought to the piazza in the year1343 and this work they entrusted to Jacopo for the price of 2200 gold crowns. Accordingly he made a model and fetched the marble, set to work, and completed it to the great satisfaction of his fellow citizens, who no longer called him Jacopo dalla Quercia but Jacopo dalla Fonte ever after. 10 In the midst of this work he carved the glorious Virgin Mary, the special protector of the city, making her rather larger than the other figures and in a graceful and original style. About her he put the seven Theo- logical Virtues, whose soft and delicate heads he made with a beautiful expression and in such fashion that it is clear that he was making advances towards excellence, overcoming the difficulties of the art and giving grace to the marble, shaking off the old-fashioned style employed by sculptors up to that time, who made their figures without a break and devoid of the least grace, whilst Jacopo rendered his soft and flesh-like, finishing the marble with patience and delicacy. Besides these he did some scenes of the Old Testament, namely, the creation of our first parents and the eating of the forbidden fruit, in which the woman's face is beautiful and gracious, and her comportment exhibits such reverence to Adain in placing him first that it does not seem as if he could possibly refuse her. Besides this, the remainder of the work is full of beautiful ideas and adorned with lovely children and other ornaments of lions and wolves, tile arms of the city, all produced by Jacopo with devotion, skill and judgment in the space of twelve years. By his hand also are three very fine scenes in bronze of the life of St. John the Baptist, in half-relief, 11 which are about the font of S. Giovanni below the Duomo, as well as some other bronze figures in full relief, one braccia high between the two scenes, which are really excellent and admirable. For the excellence of these works, and for the goodness of his well-ordered life, Jacopo deserved the honour of knighthood accorded to him by the Signoria of Siena, 12 as well as his subsequent appointment to be one of the wardens of the Duomo. This latter office he discharged so well that the building was never better managed either before or after, as although he only lived three years after the charge was entrusted to him, yet he made a number of useful and notable repairs. though Jacopo was only a sculptor, yet he could design very fairly, as is shown by some sheets of his in our book, which rather resemble the work of an illuminator than that of a sculptor. His portrait, at the head of this Life, I had from Maestro Domenico Beccafumi, who told me many things about the virtue, goodness and kindness of Jacopo. Exhausted by his continual labours, he at length died at the age of sixty-four, and was honourably buried in his native Siena by his friends and relatives, lamented by the whole city. And he was certainly fortunate in that his worth was recognised by his fellow-citizens, since it rarely happens that men of ability are universally loved and honoured in their native land.

Matteo, sculptor of Lucca, was a pupil of Jacopo, who in the year1440 did the little octagonal marble temple in the cliurch of S. Martino in that city, for Domenico Galigano of Lucca. This contains the image of Holy Cross, which is said to have been miraculously carved by Nicodemus, one of the seventy-two disciples of Our Lord. The temple is really very fine and well proportioned. The same Matteo carved a marble figure of St. Sebastian in full relief, three braccia high and very finely designed, the attitude being excellent and the work well finished. By his hand also is a slab containing three figures in three niches, in the church which is said to contain the body of St. Regolo, another slab in S. Michele containing three marble figures, and the statue of Our Lady which is at one of the out- side angles of the same church, which show that Matteo strove hard to equal his master, Jacopo.

Niccolo Bolognese was another pupil of Jacopo, and among other things he completed in an exquisite manner the marble shrine at Bologna, full of scenes and figures, and containing the body of St. Dominic, which was left unfinished by Niccola Pisano. From this work he won such fame and profit that. He was ever afterwards known as Master Niccolo dell' Arca (of the Shrine). He completed this work in the year 1460, and then made a Madonna of bronze, four braccia high, for the front of the palace where the Legate of Bologna now dwells, putting it in its place in the year 1418. In fine, he was an excellent master and a worthy pupil of Jacopo dalla Querria of Siena.

  • 1 In 1390.
  • 2 She died in 1406, and the tomb was made in 1413.
  • 3 It happened in September 1430.
  • 4 In 1402.
  • 5 On 25 March,1425; but Giovanni Bentivogli was killed in June 1402.
  • 6 i.e. Frediano, done in 1413.
  • 7 The Porta della Cintola but it is the work of Nanni di Banco done in 1414-21.
  • 8 An almond-shaped glory suné rounding the entire figure.
  • 9 Begun in 1409 and finished 1419.
  • 10 Jacopo's panel is the angel appearing to Zacharias, done in1419, but not cast till 1430.
  • 11 In 1435.
  • 12 Matteo Civitali,1435-1501.






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