Jacopo della Quercia

Jacopo della Quercia (1374-1438), an Italian sculptor and architect, was a major sculptural innovator of the Early Renaissance.

Documentation concerning Jacopo della Quercia is scant. He was born in Siena. In 1401 he entered the competition for the bronze doors of the Baptistery in Florence, along with Filippo Brunelleschi and Lorenzo Ghiberti (the winner). The panel Della Quercia submitted is lost. In 1406 he executed the marble tomb of Ilaria del Carretto in the Cathedral of Lucca, and 2 years later he was in Ferrara, where he carved the Seated Madonna (now in the Cathedral Museum).

The major sculptural cycle from Della Quercia's middle period is the Fonte Gaia in the square in front of the Palazzo Pubblico in Siena. (The present fountain is a replica; the dismantled marble fragments of the original are in the Palazzo Pubblico.) It was commissioned in 1409, but he did not begin work on it until 1414; it was completed in 1419. Featured in relief sculpture was the nearly life-sized Virgin and Child, Mary being the patron saint of Siena, while in niches on either side of a rectangular parapet were eight female personifications of the Virtues. The bodies no longer sit quietly, in the Gothic fashion, but twist and turn in powerful angles that show the new energy of the Renaissance.

In 1422 Della Quercia received payment for the wooden group of the Annunciation in the Pieve of S. Gimignano; the following year he finished the Trenta Altar in S. Frediano, Lucca. In 1425 he was commissioned to design the main portal of S. Petronio in Bologna, and he made trips to Verona, Venice, and Milan to acquire stone. Before the portal was completed, in 1438, the master received and executed in 1430 the commission for the bronze relief Zaccharias Driven from the Temple for the Baptistery font in Siena.

In 1436 Della Quercia was named master architect of the Cathedral in Siena. The next year the Signoria of the city intervened between him and the Bolognese, who claimed that the artist had not kept his promise to them. After a trip to Bologna he became ill, and he died in Siena on Oct. 20, 1438.

In the 10 well-preserved marble relief panels on either side of the portal of S. Petronio in Bologna, Della Quercia elevated the depiction of the human body, both nude and draped, to a level of inherent dignity, power, and beauty which was to be achieved by no other sculptor before Michelangelo. The panels tell the stories of the creation and fall of Adam and Eve and of Cain and Abel. Della Quercia abjured Ghiberti's delicately constructed nudes, and the voluptuous body of Eve in Della Quercia's Temptation was surely influenced by an ancient statue of Venus. It is clear that the noble male in his Creation of Adam was the prototype used by Michelangelo for his ceiling composition in the Sistine Chapel in Rome.

Further Reading on Jacopo della Quercia

A fine scholarly study in English on the Fonte Gaia is Anne Coffin Hanson, Jacopo della Quercia's Fonte Gaia (1965). For general background see John Pope-Hennessy, Italian Gothic Sculpture (1955), and Charles Seymour, Jr., Sculpture in Italy, 1400-1500 (1966).