Image of Jacopo della Quercia

On this day in history: Death of Jacopo della Quercia, Sculptor

History of Italy News

On 20th October 1438, the sculptor Jacopo della Quercia died, leaving behind a legacy chiseled from the very essence of the Italian Renaissance. A master of the early 15th century, Jacopo’s handiwork profoundly influenced renowned artists of his time, including the eminent Michelangelo.

Born Jacopo di Pietro d’Agnolo di Guarnieri in 1374, he hailed from Quercia Grossa, now known as Quercegrossa, a hamlet just beyond Siena’s borders. Descending from a lineage of craftsmen, his father, Piero d’Angelo, was a sculptor, and his brother Priamo, a painter.

It was the ancient Roman statues and monuments adorning Lucca’s cemetery that ignited the spark within della Quercia’s soul. At the tender age of twelve, Jacopo relocated to Lucca with his family, forever imprinted by the art he encountered.

In his early twenties, Jacopo della Quercia’s artistic prowess began to blossom. His earliest creations can be traced to Lucca Cathedral, including a poignant statue of St. John the Evangelist, a moving “Man of Sorrows” at the Altar of the Sacrament, and a relief on St. Aniello’s tomb.

In 1401, Jacopo entered a prestigious competition to design the bronze doors of Florence’s Baptistery. Among his competitors were luminaries Lorenzo Ghiberti and Filippo Brunelleschi. Although Ghiberti emerged victorious, Jacopo’s recognition soared, setting the stage for his illustrious career.

A Multifaceted Master

Tomb of Ilaria del Carretto in Lucca Cathedral by Jacopo della Quercia
Tomb of Ilaria del Carretto

Returning to Lucca in 1406, Jacopo crafted the tomb of Ilaria del Carretto, commissioned by Paolo Guinigi. The final result is a harmonious blend of Gothic and Classical elements, portrayed by an elegantly adorned woman resting upon a sarcophagus adorned with Romanesque cherubs. This masterpiece signified the dawn of the golden age of Renaissance art.

Jacopo’s brilliance was at times a double-edged sword. His penchant for juggling numerous commissions simultaneously led to prioritizing one over the other, often frustrating his patrons. The Fonte Gaia, for example, may have been commissioned as early as 1406. However, it was only completed between 1414 and 1419. During the same period, Jacopo was crafting various other works. These included an apostle statue for Lucca’s cathedral, the Trenta altar for the Church of San Frediano, and tomb slabs for Lorenzo Trenta and his wife.

The Siena Fountain and Porta Magna, Bologna

Fonte Gaia, Siena
Fonte Gaia, Siena

Jacopo was originally tasked with replacing a plague-associated pagan goddess Venus statue at Siena’s Piazza del Campo. His creation was a rectangular white marble fountain dedicated to the Virgin, adorned with statues. While the original is housed in the town hall’s loggia, a copy now attracts tourists in the square.

The crowning jewel of Jacopo’s portfolio is the round-arched Porta Magna of the San Petronio church in Bologna. Featuring ten scenes from Genesis, early Christ episodes, prophets’ reliefs, and statues, its profound sense of depth is akin to the paintings of Masaccio. Even the renowned Michelangelo, during his visit to Bologna in 1494, conceded his admiration for Jacopo’s work.

Jacopo was tasked with designing the Loggia di San Paolo and received a knighthood from the government of Siena in 1435. Jacopo’s biography is covered within Giorgio Vasari’s influential tome, “Lives of the Most Excellent Painters, Sculptors, and Architects.” His final resting place in the San Agostino church in Siena.

From Vasari's biography of dell Quercia

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