Donatello and Michelozzo: Tomb of Coscia

Donatello  Michelozzo: Tomb of Coscia Baptistery
photo: Sailko

The work was probably created between 1424 and 1428. For nine years, the architect and sculptor Michelozzo collaborated with Donatello. The proceeds from their collaboration were shared between them. During this period, they also created the tomb of Baldassare Coscia.

Donatello and Michelozzo monument to Pope John XXIII (Coscia)

The large tomb, which covers an entire bay between two columns, was made for IOANNES QUONDAM PAPA XXIII, Pope John the XXIII (Coscia) as can be read on the sarcophagus. This pope was expelled from Rome in 1413 and spent years in German captivity. With a large sum of ransom from Medici Giovanni di Bicci, the father of Cosimo the old, Coscia was released. Of course he had to promise to acknowledge his successor, Martin V, as pope, and so it happened. The Medici had close ties and a good relationship with Coscia. It was through Coscia that the Medici had become bankers of the papal court. Coscia spent his last years in Florence.

Donatello  Michelozzo: Tomb of Coscia Baptistery
photos: Richardfabi and Richard Mortel

Coscia had some important relics including a true masterpiece: the right finger of John the Baptist. His will was carried out by four important figures. Coscia preferred to be buried in the San Giovanni, the Baptistery. After some negotiations with the Calimala, in which the relic of John the Baptist’s finger must have played a role, Coscia was allowed to be buried in the Baptistery. However, strict conditions were imposed to be allowed to be buried in such a prominent place. The tomb was not allowed to enter too much space, was not allowed to be more than one bay wide and the colours had to be adapted to those of the Baptistery.

Donatello and Michelozzo Pope John XXIII (Coscia)          Zoom in

photo: HarshLight

Donatello and Michelozzo Pope John XXIII (Coscia)      Zoom out

Donatello  Michelozzo: Tomb of Coscia detail Canopy
Web Gallery of Art

Without the inventive and original canopy in the form of heavy canvases on a hook and two brackets at the columns, the top side would have turned out rather dull. The canvas turns the eye towards the corpse, where Donatello and Michelozzo depicted the bronze life-size Coscia in the oratory of a cardinal. Coscia’s face seems very realistic, which is why it is sometimes suggested that a death mask has been used as an example. On the other hand, the still vivid expression in the face can also indicate that the face was made after a drawing. The three main virtues are shown at the bottom: Faith, Love and Hope. The studio of Michelozzo and Donatello had so many commissions that not all the work was carried out by themselves.

Donatello ‘San Rossore Reliquary’ 1424-27 En profile      En face

For example, the three virtues were probably the work of one Pagno di Lapo. In the middle, slightly above eye level of the viewer, the bust of San Rossore would be placed. A reliquary made by Donatello. (The relic holder with the skull of Saint Rossore is now in the Museo Nazionale di San Matteo in Pisa). The bronze and gilded statue on the corpse is not clearly visible. The bar is four metres above the level of the floor. All kinds of refined and elaborated details are unfortunately not visible. We did try to improve visibility a little by tilting the apparent light forward, but many details remain invisible to the viewer below.

The text on the roll, held by two putti, was absolutely not to the liking of Pope Martin V. He asked the city of Florence to change the inscription into: BALDASSARE COSCIA NEAPOLITANVS CARDINALIS. Especially the word cardinal seemed better to the pope who had followed the deposed John the XXIII than the word that can be read now: PAPA or Pope. Martinus V’s request did not spark much change at all, as you can see. Besides the inscription you can see another papal symbol between the consoles in the middle: the tiara, the triple crown.

The tomb of Michelozzo and Donatello had a great influence on later tombs. First we walk to the Santa Maria Novella and then to the Santa Croce to compare two crucifixes: one by Brunelleschi and the other by Donatello.

Santa Maria Novella

Santa Maria Novella facade Florence
photo: Diego Delso

Continuation Florence day 3: Brunelleschi and Donatello: crucifixes and two tabernacles