Orsanmichele and its statues VI

Via dell’Arte della Lana

Orsanmichele Via dell’Arte della Lana
photo: Chabe01

Nanni di Banco Eligius and the Quattro Coronati for the Orsanmichele

We now look at two of the three statues Nanni di Banco made for the Or San Michele, namely St Eligius (1408-1413) in the right corner pillar at Via dell’Arte della Lana and the four crowned saints (1414-1415) in Via Or San Michele (to the left of the Quattro Coronati is Saint Philip also of Nanni di Banco). Click here for Orsanmichele plan, streets and overview statues.

Nanni di Banco ‘Elegius’ 1411-1415      Predella

The first statue Nanni di Banco made was a French saint: Eligius. If you are standing in the Via dell’Art della Lana and see this statue of Eligius, you can probably guess what style is involved here. The excessively long body, the graceful but not very naturalistic posture and the way the folds fall are strongly reminiscent of the international style. The same style that Donatello applied to his ‘Prophet David‘ or Ghiberti to his first set of doors to the Baptistery.

Orsanmichele: Nanni di Banco 'Elegius'  recess
photo: Dan Philpott
Orsanmichele: Nanni di Banco 'St. Eligius'
photo: Jastrow

Nanni di Banco ‘St. Eligius’

St. Eligius is represented in a way that fits well with the biography of this saint. In the ‘Vita Eligii’ he is described as ‘long with a fresh complexion, his hair and beard have curls’. The mitre of the saint accentuates this description even more. Eligius was trained as a metal worker before he became a bishop. In the background of the recess you can see the tools for metalworkers. In the predella you can see the work by the members of the guild of blacksmiths, which had commissioned the statue of Eligius. The lady in the background with something resembling a fan is, on closer inspection, a devil in disguise. This dangerous woman is said to have visited him in his blacksmith’s shop, according to the story of St Eligius. Naturally she had nefarious plans, but our saint immediately identified the foul guest he had in front of him. With one of his hot pliers he grabbed her by the nose. These pliers can be seen three times, on the left in the recess. We now walk to the Via Orsanmichele where two more statues of Nanni di Banco can be seen. We limit ourselves to the four crowned saints.

Nanni di Banco ‘Quattro Coronati’ 1408      Zoom in

The four crowned saints were commissioned by the Maestri di Pietra e Legname, the guild of stone and woodworkers. The statues were probably carved between 1410 and 1412. The recesses with Eligius and the four crowned saints have the same style: in the pediment the Lord makes a blessing gesture and in the predellas the work of the guilds in question is depicted. The second figure from the left (seen from the viewer) in the recess also has clear features of the international style in terms of: posture, body proportions and the way in which the folds fall. Nanni di Banco places each saint exactly in front of a pilaster. This is reminiscent of the way in which statues were placed in front of columns in the Gothic style, as you can see in Chartres (statues columns), for example.

Orsanmichele: Nanni di Banco 'Quattro Coronati' recess
photos: MM and zoom: Jastrow

Nanni di Banco portrait

Despite these Gothic remains in the Quattro Coronati, it is a work that is directly reminiscent of classical sculptures and especially the portrait busts from the Republican era.

The crowned saints in the recess are connected by a cloth behind them that is attached to the pilasters. The rhythm of the pleats gives a certain unity and partly returns in the gowns. The two figures on the right are carved from one block of marble. The saints are: Claudius, Castor, Symphorianus and Nicostratus, four Christian sculptors who were executed under Diocletian. These four martyrs were converted to Christianity. They preferred to die rather than carve a statue of the pagan Aesculapius for Emperor Diocletianus.

Stone workers and sculptors       Zoom in       In situ

Orsanmichele: Nanni di Banco 'Quattro Coronati': predella stone workers  sculptors
photos: Dan Philpott

The scene on the predella is not a shallow relief as we have just seen at St. George of Donatello, but a deep relief. Here you can see the sculptors again, but now as Florentines practicing their profession. Each of them exercises a part of his profession such as masonry, carving out a twisted column, carving a capital and making a statue on the far right. The latter happens in a medieval way, but more about this later when Michelangelo is mentioned.ed under Diocletian. These four martyrs were converted to Christianity. They preferred to die rather than carve a statue of the pagan Aesculapius for Emperor Diocletianus.

The scene on the predella is not a shallow relief as we have just seen at St. George of Donatello, but a deep relief. Here you can see the sculptors again, but now as Florentines practicing their profession. Each of them exercises a part of his profession such as masonry, carving out a twisted column, carving a capital and making a statue on the far right. The latter happens in a medieval way, but more about this later when Michelangelo is mentioned.

Vasari tells in his ‘Life about Nanni di Banco’ that he did not succeed in carving the four saints in such a way that they would fit in the recess: “In this recess are four saints made of marble, made by Nanni d’Antonio for the Guild of Carpenters, Joiners and Masons. It is said that when he had carved and finished one after the other and had built the recess, he could only with great difficulty put three [figures] in the recess, because he had modelled some figures with open arms. Because he was not very satisfied and quite desperate, he went to visit Donato [Donatello], and after he had told him of his bad luck and stupidity, Donato started laughing about the case and said: If you pay for a meal for me and for the boys in my studio, I’ll take the trouble to put those statues in the recess without any problems After agreeing, he sent him to Prato, where Donato himself had to go, to take some measures. When Nanni had left, Donato gathered his disciples, went to work and rounded off the shoulders of one statue and the arms of another, so that they gave each other space, and together he made it seem that one hand was placed on the shoulder of the other. And so he joined the whole together, and with his wise judgment he solved Nanni’s mistake, so that when they were embedded in the place, they showed clear signs of unity and brotherhood; and whosoever does not know of the affair, does not realise the fault” According to Vasari, quoted and translated from: Kieft, G., ‘Het brein van Michelangelo Kunst, Kunsttheorie en de constructie van het beeld in de Italiaanse Renaissance’, Proefschrift Utrecht 1994 blz. 77-78

Orsanmichele: Nanni di Banco 'Quattro Coronati' detail: two saints rear
photo: Sailko

A nice anecdote, but the story is not true. It does become clear, however, that working with several sculptures places new demands on a sculptor. Something Michelangelo did not succeed with his Pietà that he carved in front of his grave.

We now walk to the Baptistery. Here stands a tomb made by Donatello and Michelozzo.

photo: Bradley Weber

Continuation Florence day 3: Donatello and Michelozzo: Tomb of Coscia