National Gallery of Art - THE COLLECTION

Tour: 15th-Century Sculpture in Tuscany

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Italian sculpture of the Fifteenth century, particularly in Tuscany, departed from the elegant, decorative style of the earlier Gothic period to reflect a greater admiration for, and understanding of, the strength and structure of the human body. In this respect, Renaissance artists emulated the ideals of the ancient Greeks and Romans, even when depicting contemporary or Christian subjects.

An interest in the human body in motion can be seen in the full-length figures of the Florentine Madonna and Child of about 1425, and Matteo Civitali's Saint Sebastian of about 1492. In both works, the figures adopt the classical weight-shift pose of ancient sculpture (contrapposto), in which the body is supported on one leg while the other leg remains relaxed, hips and shoulders aligning themselves accordingly.

At this time, sculpture was not created chiefly for collectors, but served a variety of purposes in daily life. The sculpture in this gallery is largely religious in subject. Large-scale works, such as Mino da Fiesole's Charity and Faith, were often made for churches, where they formed part of altar decorations or tombs. Smaller pieces, such as Jacopo della Quercia’s Madonna of Humility, may have been made for private devotion in homes or convents. In accordance with popular taste, sculptors often painted their works in a variety of colors (polychrome) to achieve a naturalistic effect, or applied gilding to enhance their preciousness or spiritual immanence.

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