Temptation in the Garden of Eden. Marble, 1425-1428. San Petronio, Bologna.

JACOPO DELLA QUERCIA (circa 1367-1438)

Vasari's Lives of the Artists

THE SCULPTOR JACOPO, son of Maestro Piero di Filippo of La Quercia, a place in the district of Siena, was the first--after Andrea Pisano, Orcagna, and the others mentioned above--who, laboring in sculpture with greater zeal and diligence, began to show that it was possible to make an approach to nature, and the first who encouraged the others to hope to be able in a certain measure to equal him. His first works worthy of account were made by him in Siena at the age of nineteen, with the following occasion. The people of Siena having their army in the field against the Florentines under the captainship of Gian Tedesco, nephew of Sacone da Pietramala, and of Giovanni d'Azzo Ubaldini, this Giovanni d' Azzo fell sick in camp and was carried to Siena, where he died; wherefore, being grieved at his death, the people of Siena caused to be made for his obsequies, which were most honourable, a catafalque of wood in the shape of a pyramid, and on this they placed the statue of Giovanni himself on horseback, larger than life, made by the hand of Jacopo with much judgment and invention.

For he, in order to execute this work, discovered a method of making the skeletons of the horse and of the figure which had never been used up to that time--namely, with pieces of wood and planking fastened together, and then swathed round with hay, tow, and ropes, the whole being bound firmly together; and over all there was spread clay mixed with paste, glue, and shearings of woollen cloth. This method, truly, was and still is better than any other for such things, for, although the works that are made in this fashion have the appearance of weight, none the less after they are finished and dried they turn out light, and, being covered with wile, look like marble and are very lovely to the eye, as was the said work of Jacopo. To this it may be added that statues made in this fashion and with the said mixtures do not crack, as they would do if they were made simply of pure clay. And in this manner are made to-day the models for sculpture, with very great convenience for the craftsmen, who, by means of these, have ever before them the patterns and the true measurements of the sculptures that they make; and for this method no small obligation is owed to Jacopo, who is said to have been its inventor.

After this work, Jacopo made in Siena two panels of limewood, carving the figures in them, with their beards and hair, with so great patience that it was a marvel to see. And after these panels, which were placed in the Duomo, he made some prophets in marble, of no great size, which are in the facade of the said Duomo; and he would have continued to labour at the works of this building, if plague, famine, and the discords of the citizens of Siena had not brought that city to an evil pass; for, after having many times risen in tumult, they drove out Orlando Malevolti, by whose favour Jacopo had enjoyed creditable employment in his native city. Departing then from Siena, he betook himself by the agency of certain friends to Lucca, and there, in the Church of San Martino, he made a tomb for the wife, who had died a short time before, of Paolo Guinigi, who was Lord of that city; on the base of which tomb he carved some boys in marble that are supporting a garland, so highly finished that they appeared to be of flesh; and on the sarcophagus laid on the said base he made, with infinite diligence, the image of the wife of Paolo Guinigi herself, who was buried within it, and at her feet, from the same block, he made a dog in full relief, signifying the fidelity shown by her to her husband. After Paolo had departed, or rather, had been driven out of Lucca in the year 1429, when the city became free, this sarcophagus was removed from that place and was almost wholly destroyed, by reason of the hatred that the people of Lucca bore to the memory of Guinigi; but the reverence that they bore to the beauty of the figure and of the so many ornaments restrained them, and brought it about that a little time afterwards the sarcophagus and the figure were placed with diligence near the door of the sacristy, where they are at present, while the Chapel of Guinigi was taken over by the Commune.

Meanwhile Jacopo had heard that the Guild of the Merchants of Calimara in Florence wished to have a bronze door made for the Church of San Giovanni, where, as it has been said, Andrea Pisano had wrought the first; and he had come to Florence in order to make himself known, above all because this work was to be allotted to the man who, in making one of those scenes in bronze, would give the best proof of himself and of his talent. Having therefore come to Florence, he not only made the model, but delivered one very well executed scene, completely finished and polished, which gave so great satisfaction, that, if he had not had as rivals those most excellent masters, Donatello and Filippo Brunelleschi, who in truth surpassed him in their specimens, it would have fallen to him to make this work of so great importance. But the business having concluded otherwise, he went to Bologna, where, by the favour of Giovanni Bentivogli, he was commissioned by the Wardens of Works of San Petronio to make in marble the principal door of that church, which he continued in the German manner, in order not to alter the style wherein it had already been begun, filling up what was lacking in the design of the pilasters that support the cornice and the arch, with scenes wrought with infinite love within the space of the twelve years that he was engaged in this work, wherein he made with his own hand all the foliage and ornamentation of the said door, with the greatest diligence and care that he could command.

On each of the pilasters that support the architrave, the cornice, and the arch, there are five scenes, and five on the architrave, making fifteen in all; and in them all he carved in low-relief stories from the Old Testament--namely, from the Creation of man by God up to the Deluge and Noah's Ark, thus conferring very great benefit on sculpture, since from the ancients up to that time there had been no one who had wrought anything in low-relief, wherefore that method of working was rather out of mind than out of fashion. In the arch of this door he made three figures in marble, as large as life and all in the round--namely, a very beautiful Madonna with the Child in her arms, St. Petronius, and another Saint, all very well grouped and in beautiful attitudes; wherefore the people of Bologna, who did not think that there could be made a work in marble, I do not say surpassing, but even equaling that one which Agostino and Agnolo of Siena had made in the ancient manner on the high altar of San Francesco in their city, were amazed to see that this one was by a great measure more beautiful.

After this, being requested to return to Lucca, Jacopo went there very wilingly,and made on a marble panel in San Friano, for Federigo di Maestro Trenta del Veglia, a Virgin with her Son in her arms, and St. Sebastian, St. Lucia, St. Jerome, and St. Gismondo, with good manner, grace, and design; and in the predella below he made in half-relief, under each saint, some scene from the life of each, which was something very lovely and pleasing, seeing that Jacopo gave gradation to his figures from plane to plane with beautiful art, making them lower as they receded. In like manner, he gave much encouragement to others to acquire grace and beauty for their works with new methods, when he portrayed from the life the patron of the work, Federigo, and his wife, on two great slabs wrought in low-relief for two tombs; on which slabs are these words:


Afterwards, on Jacopo coming to Florence, the Wardens of Works of Santa Maria del Fiore, by reason of the good report that they had heard of him, commissioned him to make in marble the frontal that is over that door of the church which leads to the Nunziata, wherein, in a mandorla, he made the Madonna being borne to Heaven by a choir of angels sounding instruments and singing, with the most beautiful movements and the most beautiful attitudes--seeing that they have vivacity and motion in their flight--that had ever been made up to that time. In like manner, the Madonna is draped with so great grace and dignity that nothing better can by imagined, the flow of the folds being very beautiful and soft, while the borders of the draperies are seen following closely the nude form of the figure, which, with its very covering, reveals every curve of the limbs; and below this Madonna there is a St. Thomas, who is receiving the Girdle. In short, this work was executed by Jacopo in four years with all the possible perfection that he could give to it, for the reason that, besides the natural desire that he had to do well the rivalry of Donato, of Filippo, and of Lorenzo di Bartolo, from whose hands there had already issued some works that were highly praised, incited him even more in the doing of what he did; and that was so much that this work is studied eve to-day by modern craftsmen, as something very rare. On the other side of the Madonna, opposite to St. Thomas, Jacopo made a bear that is climbing a pear-tree; and with regard to this caprice, even as may thing were said them, so also there could be others said by me, but I will forbear, wishing to let everyone believe and think in his own fashion in the matter of this invention.

After this, desiring to revisit his own country, Jacopo returned to Siena, where, on his arrival, there came to him, according to his desire, an occasion to leave therein some honourable memorial of himself. For the Signoria of Siena, having resolved to make a very rich adornment in marble for the waters that Agostino and Agnolo of Siena had brought into the square in the year 1343, allotted that work to Jacopo, at the price of 2,200 crowns of gold; wherefore he, having made the model and collected the marbles, put his hand to the work and finally completed it so greatly to the satisfaction of his fellow-citizens, that he was ever afterwards called, not Jacopo della Quercia, but Jacopo della Fonte.

In the middle of this work, then, he carved the Glorious Virgin Mary, the particular Patroness of that city, a little larger than the other figures, and in a manner both gracious and singular. Round her, next, he made the seven Theological Virtues, the heads of which are delicate, pleasing, beautiful in expression, and wrought with certain methods which show that he began to discover the god and the secrets of the arts, and to give grace to the marble, sweeping away that ancient manner which had been used up to that time by the sculptors, who made their figures rigid and without the least grace in the world; whereas Jacopo made them as soft as flesh, giving finish to his marble with patience and delicacy.

Besides this, he made there some stories from the Old Testament--namely, the Creation of our first parents, and the eating of the forbidden fruit, wherein, in the figure of the woman, there is seen an expression of countenance so beautiful, with a grace and an attitude so deferential towards Adam as she offers him the apple, that it appears impossible for him to refuse it; to say nothing of the remainder of the work, which is all full of most beautiful ideas, and adorned with the most beautiful children and other ornaments in the shape of lions and she-wolves, emblems of the city, all executed by Jacopo with love, mastery, and judgment in the space of twelve years. By his hand, likewise, are three very beautiful scenes in half-relief from the life of St. John the Baptist, wrought in bronze, which are round the baptismal font of San Giovanni, below the Duomo; and also some figures in the round, likewise in bronze, one braccio in height, which are between each of the said scenes, ad are truly beautiful and worthy of praise.

Wherefore, by reason of these works, which showed his excellence, and of the goodness and uprightness of his life, Jacopo was deservedly made chevalier by the Signoria of Siena, and, shortly afterwards, Warden of the Works of the Duomo; which office he filled so well that neither before nor since were these Works better directed, for, although he did not live more than three years after undertaking this charge, he made many useful and honourable improvements in that Duomo.

And although Jacopo was only a sculptor, nevertheless he drew passing well, as is demonstrated by some drawings made by him, to be found in our book, which appear to be rather by the hand of an illuminator than of a sculptor. And his portrait, similar to the one that is seen above, I had from Maestro Domenico Beccafumi, painter of Siena, who has related to me many things about the excellence, goodness, and gentleness of Jacopo, who finally died, exhausted by fatigues and by continuous labor, at the age of sixty-four, and was lamented and honorably buried in Siena, the place of his birth, by his friends and relatives--nay, by the whole city. And truly it was no small good fortune for him to have his so great excellence recognized in his own country, seeing that it rarely comes to pass that men of excellence are universally loved and honoured in their own country.

A disciple of Jacopo was Matteo, a sculptor of Lucca, who made the little octagonal temple of marble--in the Church of San Martino in his own city,in the year 1444, for Domenico Galigano of Lucca--wherein there is the image of the Holy Cross, a piece of sculpture miraculously wrought, so it is said, by Nicodemus, one of the seventy-two disciples of the Savior; which temple is truly nothing if not very beautiful and well-proportioned. The same man carved in marble a figure of St. Sebastian wholly in the round, three braccia high, and very beautiful by reason of its having been made with good design and in a beautiful attitude and wrought with a high finish. by his hand, also, is a panelwherein there are three very beautiful figures in three niches, in the church where the body of St. Regulus is said to be; and likewise the panelthat is in San Michele, wherein are three figures in marble; and in like manner the statue that is on the corner of the said church, on the outer side--namely, a Madonna, which shows that Matteo was ever striving to equal his master Jacopo.

Niccolo Bolognese was also a disciple of Jacopo, and he, among other works, brought to completion divinely well--having found it unfinished--the marble sarcophagus full of scenes and figures wherein lies the body of St. Dominic, a work made long ago by Niccola Pisano in Bologna; and he gained thereby, besides profit, that name of honour, Maestro Niccolo dell'Arca, which he bore ever after. He finished this work in the year 1460, and afterwards, for the facade of the palace where the Legate of Bologna now lives, he made a Madonna in bronze, four braccia high, and placed it in position in the year 1478. In a word, he was a able master and a worthy disciple of Jacopo della Quercia of Siena.

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