Renaissance Sculpture

Like the architects, the Renaissance sculptors recovered Greco-Roman standards in their sculptures. Human figures and nature occupy the center of interest in this art. The taste for nudes (purely classical) can be appreciated in numerous painted and sculpted works.

El David de Miguel Ángel - Escultura renacentista
David de Miguel Ángel

There are small variations in the creation of sculptures during the Renaissance period, for example: The sculptures of the Quattrocento highlight a realistic accent, which rises to the maximum in the creation of busts and portraits, on the other hand, in the Cinquecento the sculptors are carried away by a desire for idealization and grandeur.

Origins of Renaissance Sculpture

Renaissance sculpture was characterized by a return to classical antiquity and the use of noble materials, such as marble and bronze, and the diffusion of profane and allegorical themes, especially the nude. In addition, sculpture is characterized by its expressiveness and perfection of forms, both in relief and in statues.

Renaissance sculptors, imbued with humanist culture, gradually acquired the conviction that plastic perfection could only be achieved by imitating antiquity. This new trend revolutionized their art. With the rediscovery of bronze, this revolution was first technical, but also iconographic.

Man became the center of artistic concerns: busts, medals, equestrian statues and funerary monuments were preferred by sculptors and allowed the exaltation of human virtues.

His style, less slender and more normative, was concerned with reproducing the realities of the natural world. Thus, the study of human anatomy, movement and perspective became the main topics of research for painters and sculptors.

Characteristics of Renaissance Sculpture

The main characteristics of Renaissance sculpture are:

  • Renaissance sculpture becomes independent from architecture, acquires interest in itself.
  • Mythological themes abound, but it remains fundamentally Christian, although it subordinates religious symbolism to the achievement of beauty
  • Concern for expressiveness.
  • Use of perspective in reliefs.

Materials of Renaissance Sculpture

The favorite materials of Renaissance sculptors are Marble and Bronze, the main noble materials used in antiquity. A substantial improvement is achieved in the perfection of the use of these materials.

The casting techniques of bronze reach an extraordinary perfection and the techniques in the carving of marble are improved, achieving refined effects especially in reliefs.

The main materials that were used in Renaissance sculpture were:

  • Marble 
  • Alabaster 
  • Bronze 
  • Wood 

Stages of Renaissance Sculpture

Quattrocento – The Florentine Sculptors

The sculptor of transition between Gothic and Renaissance is Ghiberti, who, in addition to incorporating marble and bronze as sculptural material, inaugurates the search for harmony and proportion in the figures. To him we owe part of the doors of the baptistery of Florence Cathedral.

The abandonment of the Gothic style (that is, “barbaric”) from the 15th century led the artists to resort to antiquity to renew their plastic language. However, the mastery of perspective was considered the true progress.

It will be the city of Florence (prosperous city at that time, with the powerful Medici family, promoters and patrons of art) that will take the lead from this moment on, and for a century and a half Florentine Renaissance sculpture will be the dominator of bust portrait, equestrian, relief…

The main Renaissance sculptors of this period were Ghiberti and Donatello, leaving also an important mark Jacopo della Quercia, Lucca della Robbia and Verrocchio.

This stage of the Quattrocento began with the sculptural work of the reliefs of the doors of the baptistery of Florence, made by a very young Ghiberti at the age of 20.

The baptistery already had two doors carved by Andrea Pisano in 1330, and in 1401 a contest was convened for the remaining two. The contest was won by Ghiberti, finishing the first of the two doors in 1424; his work was very admired, so the city commissioned him the second door, investing about 20 years in carving each one; it was practically the work of his life.

Ejemplos de la escultura Renacentista - Puerta baptisterio Florencia
Escultura Renacentista – Puerta baptisterio Florencia

Donatello started in Ghiberti’s workshop, while he finished the doors of the baptistery of Florence. However, from 1410 his innovative and independent style prevailed over that of his master, as well as that of his contemporaries.

Friend of painters and Brunelleschi, he shared with them the same concern: to represent realistically the space and the human body. Attracted by antiquity, he made numerous trips to Rome; the confrontation with Roman works was decisive for the artist, who followed the model of the ancients in his work “David”, the first nude in cast bronze since antiquity.

Cinquecento – Miguel Ángel

The Cinquecento or full Renaissance developed throughout the sixteenth century with differentiated characteristics in each of the two halves of the century, dominating classicism in the first and mannerism in the second.

Michelangelo Buonarrotti is the greatest genius of Italian Renaissance sculpture. Despite being at the same time a notable architect and painter (like Raphael and Leonardo), he behaves, above all, as a sculptor.

The most diverse feelings are appreciated in his works, fruit of the changing moods that overwhelmed the artist. However, the strongest and most dominant of these states was drama, which is expressed in the figures by means of a serious terribilism.

He is not daunted by matter; he sculpts immense blocks without needing to divide them. His ability to guess the figure inside the block is wonderful.

Los 12 esclavos de Miguel Ángel

The technical virtuosity of his works, whose forms mark the prelude to Mannerism, and the fascination that his personality exerted (brilliant artist, but lonely and choleric, honored by the greatest, but who lived humbly) contributed to forge his legend even before his death. Although Leonardo da Vinci and Raphael were his contemporaries and, at times, his rivals, only he received from his friend Vasari the qualifier of “divine”.

At the age of 19 he left Florence and went to Rome, where he was commissioned to make the “Pietà”, which was his consecration. The contract stipulated that it had to be “the most beautiful marble sculpture that had ever been made until then”.

Michelangelo conceived, to support the body of Christ, a Virgin of astonishingly youthful features, which was criticized and praised at the same time and which completely changed the traditional iconography. Such as “The Pietà of Michelangelo”, which is preserved in St. Peter’s in the Vatican.

Escultura Renacentista - La pieta de miguel angel

Back in Florence in 1501, he made the sculpture of “David”, emblem of the vigor and integrity of the Florentine government; the new ruler put at his disposal a block of marble that seemed useless.

After two and a half years of work, the Florentines can contemplate David, larger than natural size. The anatomy is carefully studied, as can be seen mainly in the hand and the whole right arm. The posture is Hellenic, but in the bent hands and in the terrible gesture he communicates to us the spiritual tension that burned in the artist’s heart.