The Early Renaissance

Florence was the setting for important developments in art during the early fifteenth century which were to affect the very nature of the Italian Renaissance and the crucial part played in it by the classical tradition. The term 'renaissance' is not synonymous with the term 'classicism', because it is evidently possible to depict antique subject-matter in a non-antique and completely unclassical style; this is what Ghiberti does at the beginning of the century, and what Botticelli, the great inheritor of the Gothic manner, does towards its end. If, therefore, the study of Antiquity is the sine qua non of the Italian Renaissance, that study manifests itself in various styles not all of which are classical. Of course, Antiquity itself embraced figure styles which are much more 'Gothic' than classical, and some of these were certainly imitated by artists like Botticelli, whose work we can therefore describe as antiquarian but not classical, even anti-classical. The same problem of the great range of authentically antique styles will occur throughout the centuries influenced by the classical tradition.

Sculpture and civic pride

Because of her civic prosperity, the appetite of her intellectuals for antique literature and jurisprudence, and the belief of her citizens that she was the true successor to ancient Rome (see p. 45 above), Florence nurtured classicism long before any other Italian city.332

Lorenzo Ghiberti: The Sacrifice of Isaac. Relief for the competition of 1401 for a set of Baptistery doors. Florence, Bargello.

Coluccio Salutati, Chancellor of the Florentine Republic from 1375 to 1406, and a noted humanist, probably encouraged the commissioning of sculpture as a vehicle of civic pride.337'339 From the viewpoint of the classical tradition, painting was less advanced than sculpture in the fifteenth century;336 it has been suggested that, apart from the obvious shortage of antique examples in that medium, most painting was religious, intended to encourage other-worldly contemplation and therefore quite suitably couched in traditional styles. Sculpture, on the other hand, was frequently a public and hence a civic art which, as was well known from survivals and from antique literary descriptions, had served similar patriotic purposes in Antiquity. The same argument would attempt to draw contemporary political inferences from the 'advanced' antiquarian style of Masaccio,335 as well as from some of the work of Michelangelo334 and the High Renaissance. The use of a classical style during the Renaissance would imply not simply an aesthetic response to antique beauty, but rather the making of social, moral and political parallels with an antique ideal. One scholar has surmised that 'the grandiosity of the High Renaissance in both Florence and Rome may well have represented a symbolic response, on the plane of


fantasy, to crises that despite the most desperate efforts, neither the Florentine Republic nor the Papacy was powerful enough to solve in reality/335 During the Middle Ages, as we have seen, attachment to the idea of Rome had been much more than stylistic; for the Florentines, during a period of increasing antiquarian scholarship and therefore awareness of the past, it could not but be likewise.

The first monument to sculpture as a vehicle of civic pride was the Porta della Mandorla (1391-1422) of Florence Cathedral, to which both Donatello and Nanni di Banco were to contribute. Mainly a tribute to the Virgin, the iconography also includes a Hercules as For-titudo and, possibly, the other Cardinal Virtues of Prudence, Temperance and Justice as well. Of great interest is a jamb relief of a naked Hercules set amidst acanthus-leaf decoration, which is totally different from contemporary Florentine work, and very similar to a relief in the Grotte Vaticane. Whether its maker, perhaps Pietro di Niccolo Lamberti,333'338 had visited Rome is not known, but the work makes Nicola Pisano's Fortitudo on the Pisa Baptistery Pulpit, which might be a source, look vague and wooden.


It is against the background of the encouragement of classical scholarship among the culture-hungry nobility of Florence that the references to antique sculpture in the famous competition reliefs of Brunelleschi and Ghiberti can be understood. The rules of the competition of 1401 for a new set of doors for the Baptistery might have stipulated such references, or perhaps they were simply known to be acceptable. Hence the kneeling barbarian prisoner (Isaac) and the Spinario (left-hand attendant) in Brunelleschi's relief, and the kneeling son of Niobe (Isaac) and groups from a Pelops sarcophagus (the two attendants) in Ghiberti's panel. Neither panel displays a truly classical manner. Ghiberti (who probably won because his work was easier to cast) uses an elegant International Gothic manner. Brunelleschi is all brutality and dash (as befits his antique sources), and


presents a scene more violently realistic than Ghiberti's graceful diagonals, with swinging drapery and angel in cunning foreshortening. The doors as built (after a change to New Testament subjects, the Four Doctors of the Church and the Four Evangelists) show few references to the antique, and little in the way of classical style, except certain heads decorating the frame. Indeed, Ghiberti does not seem to have really interested himself in Antiquity until he came under the twin spurs of Donatello and Rome.340

Thus the decorative and linear style of the North Doors is echoed in Ghiberti's contemporary sculpture in the round, such as the St John Baptist of 1412 or the St Stephen, for that showpiece of fifteenth-century sculpture, the niches on the four facades of Orsanmichele. It is the swinging draperies, cascading under their own momentum, which construct these figures, not the anatomy underneath. The dizzy sway rubs away any sense of personality, and the blank mindlessness contrasts strongly with the forcefulness of Donatello's St Mark of 1411 for the same guild church; in the latter work the drapery actually enhances thecontrap-posto of the stance, and helps the gestures and expression to render the impression of a living, thinking consciousness. Faced with a work like this, or with groups like Nanni di Banco's Four Saints (Orsanmichele, 1413), we can see Ghiberti's St Matthew (1419-21) for the same church as a highly uncharacteristic classical response to Donatello's spirit and Nanni's overt antiquarianism. The folds of drapery, still conspicuously lilting, are now controlled by the weight-bearing left leg and the graceful trail of the right leg, although the usual elegance in the folds over the torso and the right arm is undiminished.

The appearance of this toga-clad philosopher type in Ghiberti's work may also have been the result of his visits to Rome, one of which was probably undertaken before 1416, when he was working on the frame for the North Doors of the Baptistery. Krautheimer has listed motifs by Ghiberti from antique sculpture on view in Rome and Pisa, of widely differing styles.339 He must have noted his observations in large sketch-books, and


Lorenzo Ghiberti: St Matthew. Florence, Orsanmichele, 1419-21.

Lorenzo Ghiberti: St Stephen. Florence, Orsanmichele, c. 1426.

Donatello: St Mark. Florence, Orsanmichele, 1411.

borrowed from them poses, gestures and compositions, particularly for the ten panels and the frame of the Baptistery Gates of Paradise (so called by Michelangelo, according to Vasari). These were commissioned from him in 1425 without competition and finished only in 1452, although the panels themselves were cast by 1436. As Ghiberti tells us in his Commentari (c. 1447), he visited Rome again during the 440th Olympiad, between 1425 and 1430 (most probably in 1429), a slack period in his work. Between 1420 and 1430, his collection of antiques seems to have increased greatly, fed perhaps by a conjunction of money and inclination. On the Gates of Paradise, in spite of the extensive use of antique quotations, and of the new mathematical system of perspective, there is little of that sobriety and nobility of moral purpose which we have seen in Giotto. The long-legged, high-waisted, slender bodies are suffused with elegance, not moral energy; Ghiberti, who modelled his Commentari on Pliny and Vitruvius, and probably based his Gates of Paradise on ideas about Antiquity in Alberti's Treatise on Painting (c. 1435), remained an International Gothic artist from first to last, except in his treatment of the St Matthew. In his work is is obvious that classicism is not synonymous with the use of antique motifs.


In contrast to Ghiberti, Donatello's versatility in style and medium is astonishing. In reliefs and statues large and small, in both bronze and marble, Donatello ranges from the Ghibertian elegance of the bronze David (Florence, Bar-gello, c. 1430) and the vivid theatricality of the Habbakuk (one of a series of prophets for the Cathedral campanile, 1427/35, now in the Museo dell'Opera del Duomo), to the meticulous horror of the Judith and Holofernes (c. 1457-60, Florence, Piazza della Signoria)344 and the emotional confusion of the two pulpits for S. Lorenzo, Florence (begun c. 1461). His great contribution to the classical tradition is his demonstration of how to embody in marble or bronze the thoughts and mental attitudes of Man, the 'motions of the soul', as Leonardo was to call them. Such qualities had not really been attempted before Giotto or Nicola Pisano. In Antiquity the concern had largely been with bodily beauty, or physical power or pain; subtlety of emotion, or will-power, or the overt expression of moral attitudes, were less in evidence. The favourite antique statues of the Renaissance, the Laocoon and the Apollo Belvedere (not known until the turn of the



Donatella: Judith and Holofernes. Florence, Piazza della Signoria. The anti-classical horror of Holofernes' dangling legs indicates the breadth of Donatella's styles.

fifteenth century) demonstrate this point; sarcophagus and other reliefs, for all their vitality and complex compositional ideas, portrayed the gods, not the human predicament. This psychological emphasis was to be the innovation of the Renaissance, built, it is true, on the inspiration of antique Roman portrait sculpture. Just as there is no account of Man's indecision in ancient literature to compare with Hamlet, so nothing approaches the complexity of the mental stance of Donatello's St George.

Nanni di Banco's Four Saints on the north facade of Orsanmichele, although robed like Roman senators and dripping gravitas from their drilled hair and from every heavy fold of their togas, give no impression either of thought or of communicable emotion. The St George, however, in a neighbouring niche (c. 1415?; original now in the Bargello), stands in an equivocal legs-astride posture which hesitates between unease and defiance. This ambivalence is concentrated by the smallness of the figure within a tall but shallow niche, and by the outward-pointing sword or spear which the saint originally held. Donatello contrives to



Donatella: St George. Originally as shown, in niche on facade of Orsanmichele, Florence.

convey spiritual as well as physical energies by gesture, expression, stance and drapery, all of which he adjusts according to the work's destined location. The expressiveness of two prophets for the Cathedral campanile, the Jeremiah (1423-6?) and the Habbakuk (1427-36?), the one fraught with holy terror, the other more starkly benign, supports Vasari's story of the sculptor pleading with the Habbakuk to speak. The mechanics of the way in which Donatello made his figures 'think' were to be studied with great attention throughout the Renaissance, for their involved psychological nature was recognized and imitated. 341'350

Such considerations do not, of course, negate the strong antique inspiration of the majority of Donatello's work.348'362 They underline, however, the innovatory aspect of the Italian Renaissance which, while building on foundations laid by Antiquity, produced works quite distinct from its models.356 Antique traditions provided the strength of classicism: modern reinterpretation provided the vitality and renewal necessary for its lasting importance.


Nanni di Banco: Four saints, Florence, 1410-15. Orsan-, michele.

It is to be expected of an artist as varied as Donatello that his interpretations of Antiquity should often be more personal than the tenets of classicism allow, for his response to antique art (and hence to the Middle Ages) was scarcely that of an antiquarian. Sometimes he takes classical art to pieces and reconstructs it differently, as in the Cavalcanti Altar (Florence, S. Croce, c. 1435), where the tabernacle is certainly antique in its separate elements; but these are put together with a supreme disregard for the syntax of classical architecture. A comparison between his Singing Gallery for Florence Cathedral (1433-9) and Luca della Robbia's Singing Gallery, also for the Cathedral (begun 1432; both works now in the Museo dell'Opera del Duomo) shows the contrast between Luca's naturalistic and controlled classicism and the demonic character Donatello gives to the rowdy putti who race across his Gallery. Luca's figures are elegant in proportion and in rhythmic movement, clearly spaced the length of the work; Donatello has borrowed his nearly naked putti from some bacchic sarcophagus: they shove, kick and crowd each other behind the architectural members which are again derived, if distantly, from antique models. Luca's work is a studious revival of antique forms, but it lacks the spirit of vitality which Donatello learned also from the antique and applied to his creations. Another comparison would be with work


Luca della Robbia: Singing Gallery, detail. Florence, Museo dell'Opera del Duomo. c. 1432.

Donatello: Singing Gallery, detail. Florence, Museo dell'Opera del Duomo. 1433-9.


carried out by Michelozzo, his partner for about ten years from c. 1423.353-354 Together they made two tombs: that of Cardinal Bran-cacci (1427; made in Pisa, shipped to S. Angelo a Nilo, Naples), where Michelozzo's pensive figures in double-tucked chiton who hold back the curtain of the bier contrast with the rustic-featured and dramatic plaque of The Assumption of the Virgin by Donatello.355 In the other tomb, of the anti-pope John XXIII (Florence, Baptistery, finished c. 1426), the uncompromising realism of Donatello's effigy again offsets Michelozzo's blank-faced, toga-clad figures in their antique shell-adorned niches on the tomb chest, which is a direct imitation, we may be sure, of some antique prototype.


Donatello: David. Florence, Bargello.

Donatello's highly coloured interpretation of Antiquity probably began with a visit to Rome, placed by Vasari in late 1401, but in fact probably c. 1410, for it is only with his St Mark (1411) on Orsanmichele that Donatello's work takes on any reminiscence of antique con-trapposto, facial characteristics, or drapery effects. Donatello supposedly made the visit with Brunelleschi: 'They left no place un-visited, either in Rome or its neighbourhood, and took measurements of everything when they had the opportunity', writes Vasari. A later visit, perhaps in 1430-3, not only gave him work (the Tabernacle of the Sacrament, now in St Peter's, Rome, derived from a Meleager Sarcophagus) but may well have introduced him to Leon Battista Alberti. Alberti was the son of a family banished from Florence, and worked from 1428 to 1431 for Cardinal Alber-gati, a powerful figure in the Papal Curia; he then worked as secretary to the Chancellor B. Molin until 1434, when he went to Florence, probably for the first time in his life (see pp. 128ff.,). Evidence for a friendship with Donatello is a warm reference to him in the preface to Delia Pittura, written in 1435: 'After I had returned from exile ... I recognised in many, but foremost in you, Filippo [i.e. Brunelleschi], and in that very good friend of ours, Donate the sculptor, and in ... Masaccio, a genius for all praiseworthy endeavours not inferior to that of the famous ancients . . .' It has also been shown that the proportions of Donatello's bronze David, and the later one in marble (now in Washington) adopt similar proportions to those suggested in Alberti's De Statua, written c, 1433.361 Perhaps we may therefore imagine Donatello welcomed into the humanist circle in Rome, which included Poggio Bracciolini, Bartolomeo Aragazzi, and Cardinals Niccolo Albergati and Prospero Colonna, as well as Alberti, all men involved in the study of Antiquity in its various forms. He surely saw the sights with them, and shared their enthusiasm for those reminders of a time when Rome


Uccello: detail of monument to Sir John Hawkwood, 1436. Florence Cathedral.

Donatello: Gattamelata, c. 1443-53. Padua, Piazza del Santo.

was great, frena orbis rotundi. We know from Alberti's works that a revival of the arts, following an antique pattern, was taxing his thoughts during the very years of Donatello's visit. Was one of the heroes of that revival, Donatello, able to talk of theory with the humanist, and help to mould his ideas? Was the bronze David (Florence, Bargello), of this period and derived from the antique Antinous type, influenced by Alberti's ideas, or did Donatello's work inspire Alberti?

In 1443 Donatello left Florence for Padua, leaving the field clear for a type of sculpture, the 'sweet style' of artists like Antonio and Bernardo Rossellini, and Desiderio da Set-tignano,358'359 which drew inspiration from his own more approachable works, like the Pazzi Madonna (c. 1422, Berlin). At this date, furthermore, Ghiberti's Gates of Paradise were not in place, and Luca della Robbia was also working in a less demanding manner than, for example, Donatello on his prophets for the Cathedral campanile.

In Padua, Donatello produced two works which were to be of vital importance to the development of classicizing painting and sculpture: the Equestrian Monument to Gatta-melata (c. 1443-53, Padua, Piazza del Santo) and the series of seven free-standing bronze statuettes under an architectural canopy, with twenty-one bronze plaques and one stone plaque disposed around the base, for the High Altar of the Basilica of St Anthony (c. 1446-50) called the Santo Altar. The figures were of the Virgin and Child with saints—a sacra conversazione—the plaques depicting scenes from the Passion, and from the life of St Anthony.

The Gattamelata is the most impressive example of a growing tendency to exalt great men in sculpture, painting and architecture, in a re-creation of ancient Roman virtus. This is not the Christian virtue of saintliness, but rather an amalgam of wisdom balanced by heroism, or a rational equilibrium, with the qualities of courage, patriotism and steadfastness also suggested.346'349 Antique equestrian parallels existed360: the Marcus Aurelius347 in Rome, the great statue of Justinian352 in Constantinople, the Regisole342 in Pa via and a modern monument by Florentine sculptors to Niccolo III d'Este in Ferrara (1441-2) possibly derived from the Regisole. Near at hand were direct models for the horse: the antique quadriga, booty from Constantinople, on St Mark's, Venice. Other precedents included the Scaliger Tombs in Verona, and Uccello's fresco of Sir John Hawkwood in Florence Cathedral, of 1436. Uccello, working in Venice 1425-c. 1430, used the bronze quadriga as a model for his horse, but, whereas he painted his mercenary in contemporary dress, Donatello dressed Gattamelata in a curious amalgam of ancient and



Donatella: Virgin and Child, from the Santo Altar, Padua.

modern, and made his head a Roman portrait with a fair resemblance to Julius Caesar. The group is on a high pedestal, with one satisfactory view: seen from the left side, we can contemplate its silhouette and admire the control the man exercises over his horse and hence over himself. The whole composition is controlled by a rigorous geometry which, while it


does not explain the 'meaning', does give to the figure a structural backbone: horizontals and verticals augment the austere sense of unswerving purpose. As in the art of Giotto, composition may be said to clarify and support meaning: we shall find similar qualities of balance and restraint, moral as well as physical, in composition and subjectJmatter throughout the classical tradition.

The Santo Altar363 raises wider questions about Donatello's involvement with the past. Is the group of Virgin and Child derived from Etruscan sources or, as seems more likely, from Romanesque groups of the Madonna in Majesty!3*5 What did the architectural canopy look like, and is Mantegna's altar piece for S. Zeno in Verona a reflection of the arrangement? What contacts did Donatello have with the scholars of Padua, a well-known centre for the study and indeed forgery of antiquities ? Certainly, the Altar is monumental in its heroic intention, in the grand seriousness of the figures and in its use of the antique.343 Some reliefs, such as The Miracle of the Mule, enhance the glory of the Church by the grandeur of the architecture: that relief has great Roman barrel vaults, complete with trumpeting figures, which tower above and beyond the frieze arrangement of the figures watching the miracle. Others, such as the Pieta, attain a pathos which is truly antique. In the Altar, as in certain of the scenes on the pulpits for S. Lorenzo in Florence, on which he was working when he died, Donatello invests antique references with an imaginative power which, redolent of heightened emotion, sometimes departs from the norms of classicism into a more private world.351 His art is, however, crucial for the classical tradition because he demonstrates how to make pieces of stone look and act like living, thinking beings, and how to impart to them a sense of high purpose. Raphael and Michelangelo, as we shall see, are greatly in his debt.



Masaccio: ABOVE Trinity, fresco, detail, c. 1426. Florence, S. Maria Novella.


If Donatello's St George transformed sculpture, then the frescoes of his friend Masaccio recreated the manner of Giotto in painting. Yet Masaccio's example led to no immediate conversion to a classical manner in Florence, where Pisanello, Benozzo Gozzoli and Gentile da Fabriano, the counterparts to Lorenzo Ghib-erti in sculpture, worked in the popular International Gothic style long after his death. Masaccio's two most important works are a Holy Trinity with Donors (c. 1426, Florence, S. Maria Novella), and part of a series of the Life of St Peter (1427, Florence, S. Maria del Carmine, Brancacci Chapel).

The Holy Trinity364 must have amazed contemporaries in its demonstration of the new science of perspective, invented by Brunel-leschi and first demonstrated in the bas-relief on the pedestal of Donatello's St George (perhaps c. 1417; some scholars place it in the 1430s). The eye looks up to the towering figures of the Virgin and St John, into the barrel-vaulted church nave in which is the Trinity. The pseudo-architecture366 is close to the manner of Brunelleschi. Before the entrance to this painted nave is a painted tomb, bearing the skeleton of the First Adam, who did not die in vain, for we see the Second Adam, with Father and Holy Ghost, apparently moving in our space. Masaccio's settings are as tightly constructed, his figures as credible, even when he has no architecture to echo antique nobility. In The Tribute Money (Brancacci Chapel),365 the holy figures are palpably of our world because he clothes them


Masaccio: The Tribute Money, fresco. Florence, S. Maria del Carmine, Brancacci Chapel.


Piero della Francesca: Flagellation. Urbino, National Gallery, Palazzo Ducale. 'A painting is nothing else than the demonstration of bodies and surfaces which experience diminution or forshortening ... 7 consider it necessary to have prospectiva, which proportionally distinguishes all the dimensions from one another as becomes a true science.' Piero, in De prospectiva pingendi.

in the light of our world, the same light which rakes through the window of the chapel and across the fresco. He also attempts aerial perspective: objects close to our eye are more distinct than distant ones. In this and the circular central motif with Christ as the pivot, the fresco parallels Donatello's contemporary relief of The Ascension, with Christ giving the Keys to St Peter (London, Victoria and Albert Museum).357 Of all the figures in the fresco, only the tax collector appears in Florentine dress; all the others wear togas which, sturdy as tree-trunks, support the noble, pensive Roman portrait heads of the Apostles. Possibly the composition itself also owes much to antique or Early Christian prototypes.367

In 1428 Masaccio went to Rome (presumably not for the first time), where he died. Throughout the Renaissance, he was considered the artist who revived and embellished with greater naturalness and more illusionistic perspective the classicism of Giotto. Vasari named him as the one who 'first painted people's feet actually standing on the ground', and went on to list the great names who 'have become excellent and distinguished by studying in that chapel'.


Piero della Francesca

There was no Florentine artist who adopted wholeheartedly the style of Masaccio. Fra Filippo Lippi does, perhaps, reproduce some of his sense of volume described by light in works like the Coronation of the Virgin (1441—7, Florence, Uffizi). Masolino provides, both in the Brancacci Chapel and in the baptistery at Castiglione d'Olona, a compromise between Masaccio and International Gothic. Piero della Francesca, from Borgo San Sepolcro, near Arezzo, makes the most constructive use of Masaccio's classicism in the mid-century. He is recorded as working under Domenico Ven-eziano in Florence in 1439, and it is probable that he had been there some considerable time before he went to work in Arezzo and Ferrara during the 1440s, for Florence was the only place where he could have developed a lifelong interest in Masaccio and in mathematical perspective. His first great work, the Madonna della Misericordia (Borgo San Sepolcro, Palazzo Communale, commissioned in 1445) has several parallels with Masaccio's Pisa Polyptych (for the Carmine church, Pisa, 1426): Piero would have travelled to Pisa to see it, and the pulpit of Nicola Pisano as well. In both works, furthermore, the inspiration of Donatello is evident, and it has been suggested that the manner of Andrea del Castagno, a follower of Donatello in painting, is also to be seen in Piero's figures.

But it is the Brancacci frescoes which are the main foundation of his art. He found in them a concern for bulky, idealized form in a strictly geometrical setting which aided monumen-tality. His own fresco cycle of The Story of the True Cross (Arezzo, S. Francesco, c. 1451-c. 1463) contains figures of almost abstract geometricality, carefully placed in a constructed space flooded with light which, as in the Brancacci Chapel, is logically disposed according to the actual light source from a window. Such simplified forms, always calm, sometimes pensive but without particularizing features, and simply if majestically clothed, achieve an impassive grandeur which, after close study by artists like Raphael, was only to be rediscovered by Seurat and Puvis de Chav-annes, after four hundred years of neglect.

While in Florence Piero may well have spent much time in the circle of Brunelleschi and Alberti.368'370 He was certainly the friend of the latter from 1450, when he began painting Sigismondo Malatesta before his patron saint in S. Francesco, Rimini; Alberti was transforming this church into a classical temple in a style more antique and much less spidery and elegant than anything Brunelleschi had executed in Florence. A better impression of Alberti's style ab initio than that unfinished conversion is given by his Tempietto del S. Sepolcro in the Rucellai Chapel in S. Pancrazio, Florence (c. 1650-60). Rich in marble inlay, this shrine illustrates Alberti's conception of the simple cubic beauty of ancient architecture; there are no frills, and the cool proportions are patently worked out mathematically. Piero's Flagellation (c. 1456?, Urbino, Palazzo Ducale), while mysterious in subject-matter, is crystal clear in


its Albertian architecture,369 and in its complicated but exact scheme of perspective.371 The Arezzo frescoes also convey a strong sense of immobile figures fixed for all eternity within their antiquarian settings. Here again the architecture derives from Alberti (compare the building in The Proof of the Cross with Alberti's facade for S. Francesco, Rimini). It therefore comes as no surprise to learn that Piero spent his last years writing two works on perspective—De prospectiva pingendi and De quinque corporibus—which underlines his mathematical approach to beauty. Furthermore, it is likely that Piero maintained connections with Florence throughout his career: perhaps he went there again in the late 1450s, for the two Arezzo battle scenes, The Victory of Heraclius over Chosroes and Constantine's Victory over Maxentius, are dependent for perspective and for the occasional figure on Uccello's battles. He must also have known well the work of Andrea del Castagno, whose Last Supper and Resurrection (1449/50, Convent of S. Apollonia, Florence) and the Famous Men and Women from the Villa Legnaia are stylistically similar to Piero's work at Arezzo. Indeed, the whole idea of Piero's Resurrection comes from Andrea del Castagno's work, with the flag-carrying Christ stepping onto an almost identical tomb, with similar trees and lolling soldiers. Andrea del Castagno might be called the inheritor of both Masaccio and Donatello; for example, his Pippo Spano from the Villa Legnaia is a brash version of Donatello's St George, with all his doubts resolved.


A similar mixture of Florentine styles was crucial to the formation of Andrea del Mantegna, the most antiquarian of classical artists in any century. The adopted son of Squar-cione, a Paduan antiquary and teacher,395 the boy was made, according to Vasari, to 'study from plaster casts of antique statues from various places, but chiefly Tuscany and Rome'. Squarcione's own collections would have included statuettes and coins, and probably drawings as well.376'393 Mantegna's first


Mantegna: St James led to Execution. Padua, Eremitani.

work, the saints in the spandrels of the Ovetari Chapel (c. 1449, Padua, Eremitani Church; destroyed in World War II) are in the manner of Castagno's frescoes in nearby Venice (1442, S. Zaccaria),37? while his earliest scenes on the walls—lunettes of The Calling of James and John and St James Expelling Demons—strongly resemble the manner of Filippo Lippi, who had painted frescoes (now lost) in the Capella del Podesta in Padua (c. 1434 ?). At that stage in his career, Filippo was firmly wedded to the formal ideals of Masaccio, whose pupil he may have been. Uccello, too, had worked in Padua, summoned thither by Donatello, but the frescoes (in the Casa dei Vitaliani) are lost. We can only assume that they resembled works he was to paint in the Chiostro Verde of S. Maria Novella in Florence, c. 1450. These works are in


monochrome, as were those in Padua; it may be that knowledge of both these schemes, together with a study of mostly monochrome antique statues, impelled Mantegna himself to work in monochrome, which he did increasingly as he got older.

More decisive than the above influences is that of Donatello, in Padua from 1443, and therefore during the years of Mantegna's youth (Mantegna was probably born in 1431). Donatello's work there, writes Vasari, was 'considered as a miracle there and praised by every intelligent man'. From Donatello's example, Mantegna learned how to construct in paint figures which looked like antique statues, with draperies sharp, hard and detailed. Together with a tendency to eschew colour, this style makes for an unemotional dryness (far removed from Donatello), which his overt antiquarianism intensifies.392 His works often give the appearance of being archaeological reconstructions, so thorough was his knowledge of classical literature,373 epigraphy and art; his interest in antique architecture,375 furthermore, perhaps depends on a knowledge of Alberti's theory and practice.372'388 Probably he also had connections with antiquaries of wider experience, such as Cyriacus of Ancona, whose knowledge of Greek sculpture from Samothrace is perhaps reflected in Mantegna's Parnassus (Paris, Louvre).379'380 Unfortunately, the frescoes that he painted in Rome have not survived.384'390

The frescoes of The Lives of SS. Christopher and James on the walls of the Ovetari Chapel (1448-55?) develop Masaccio's concern for perspective and tactility to such an extent that the figures appear to be real human beings on a stage which begins about two feet above our heads. Monumental in scale, dressed in correct antique clothing, the figures make the Roman scenes come to life with an illusionism which was to be much studied by Correggio and then the Baroque. For Mantegna, Antiquity was full of splendour, as in St James before Herod Agrippa,37S which has in the background a triumphal arch with bas-reliefs and roundels,396 and lettering in a style no doubt culled on one of his antiquarian excursions with Felice Feliciano.385'387 Throughout Mantegna's paintings, such attention is paid to epigraphy that he has been called the reviver of the Imperial Roman Majuscule.386 The illusionism of the Ovetari Chapel is continued in the Camera degli Sposi in the Castello at Mantua (begun 1472), but is equally apparent in the altarpiece for S. Zeno (1456/9, Verona, S. Zeno), in which the architectural canopy which forms the frame, and the type and disposition of the figures, surely derive from Donatello's Santo Altar. Again, the transposition of sculpture into paint is typical of Mantegna and, what is more, this type of altarpiece was a recent Florentine development. Previously, elements of the sacra conversazione had been marooned in separate panels of a polyptych, but Filippo Lippi's Barbadori Altar (begun 1437, Paris, Louvre) represented the new trend of unifying the picture space. In the S. Zeno Pala, the figures stand within a loggia of antique architecture, and possess a Roman solemnity and general aspect. The same airy illusionism, and the same concern with Antiquity, is evident in the Camera degli Sposi, which is painted as a perspective extension of our space on two sides, unified with the facing two walls by the painted leather curtains hung on them and continued by Mantegna's painted curtains, swept back to reveal the Gonzaga Court. If one ignores the sheer ordinariness of the two scenes, one on each wall (decorated with charming details), the very solemnity of those

Mantegna: a wall of the Eremitani, Padua (largely destroyed in World War II), c. 1448-55.



simple and grave figures acting out their lives amidst an exuberant Antiquity which infects even the landscape is touching; they are disposed around the wall at eye level like one of the antique friezes owned by Mantegna's patron. Balancing the actuality is the ideal of the background to The Meeting of the Marquis with his Son, Cardinal Francesco Gonzaga, which shows a landscape with antique temples, pyramids and statues, a fitting setting for such an antiquarian court.

That the Gonzaga court really was a humanist court steeped in the study of Antiquity391 and surrounded by its remains (there was also a fine collection of antiques)382383 is fully reflected in the nine canvases of The Triumph of Caesar (perhaps begun 1485; originally Mantua, now Hampton Court). It may be that they were used as theatre scenery, presumably as back-drops to performances of plays by Plautus and Terence or by their contemporary imitators, antique drama being very popular there. It is known that the canvases were hung between pilasters, which would have framed them but also would have heightened the impression of a continuous procession passing behind the pillars of a loggia inside which the spectator appeared to stand. The inspiration for them is partly literary, and the procession copies no specific antique frieze, although it owes an obvious debt to Roman triumphal imagery. We should bear in mind that the enactment of triumphs was a serious part of Renaissance pageantry, accompanied by just those trappings of the genre (antique shields, statues, inscriptions) which Mantegna is known to have provided for a play in 1501. As well as theatre back-drops, perhaps the canvases were conceived as decorations in the manner of those in the Camera degli Sposi. Certainly they were hung in the new palace by the Porta Pusterla, the Palazzo Te, which one Seicento chronicler maintained was erected solely to house them! They remained there until 1626, and were sold three years later to the agent of Charles I of England, together with some antique statues, for no less than £10,500.394 This immense sum (slightly less than the annual income of the wealthy Earls of

Rutland, in an age when a skilled craftsman earned about £35 per annum) indicates the fame of the series, which important visitors to Mantua were always shown. That fame was extended not only by subsequent artists in Mantua, particularly Giulio Romano, Titian and Rubens, but also by the publication of sets of engravings, the sale of which had already begun in Mantegna's lifetime.381'389 Knowledge of his work even reached Normandy via prints.374

The Triumph of Caesar is no piece of dry-as-dust antiquarianism. Its combination of what must have been bright colouring, strongly rhythmic movement and splendid ornaments contrived to make it the most impressive poetic, if not realistic, vision of the classical ideal. Mantegna recreates, through a frieze of rhetorical figures, a living and breathing past which must have found many echoes in contemporary Mantuan custom.

Such classicism was only one of several varieties current in the later Quattrocento, from the neo-Attic manner of Agostino di Duccio at Rimini (a Florentine sculptor and architect working on the Tempio Malatestiano under Alberti) to the even more neoclassical manner of Tullio Lombardo in early sixteenth-century Venice. Painting was less affected by classicism, as the production of Florentine workshops in the second half of the century clearly showed. Indeed, while Florence had spread her craftsmen and her styles all over Italy, soon the inevitable was to happen when Rome began her rise as a star to eclipse Florence permanently. When Sixtus IV began to decorate the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican (1481), the first artists to be employed were Florentines, but later the balance shifted to Umbrians, principally Perugino and his pupil Pinturicchio (the latter working in the Borgia Apartments in the Vatican).

The new focus on Rome encouraged a style more grandly classical than anything hitherto produced, in architecture, painting and sculpture. The artists reviewed in this chapter all contributed in important ways to the formation of that classicism which is the most significant feature of the period we call the High Renaissance.