A Sculptural Showcase in Siena

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Jacopo della Quercia was unique among Siena’s artists of his time in achieving fame throughout Italy and beyond. And, as a 19th-century French art historian observed: “Jacopo had only one pupil, and for him there was a century to wait: he was Michelangelo.”

The sculptor was born here in around 1374 and died in his native city in 1438. A succession of his lyrical statues and reliefs in marble and wood, which combine grace and vigor to an extraordinary degree, open “From Jacopo della Quercia to Donatello: The Arts in Siena in the Early Renaissance” at Siena's ancient hospital Santa Maria della Scala and at other venues, including the Duomo and Baptistery directly opposite.

Six years in the making, this exhibition of sculpture, painting, gold- and silver-work, textile and codices contains more than 300 pieces from more than 100 collections around the world. While providing a panoramic view of the Sienese arts of the late 14th and first half of the 15th century, the show is somewhat overwhelming, the captions and wall panels offering inadequate guidance. Indeed, to get the most out of it, visitors would do well to familiarize themselves in advance with the broad outlines and personalities of the period.

Siena and Florence were inveterate rivals, but this did not stand in the way of a lively artistic dialogue between the two city-states. In Jacopo della Quercia, Siena produced a sculptor worthy to be ranked alongside the Florentine greats — Ghiberti, Donatello and, in due course, Michelangelo, who admired Jacopo and paid tribute to him in his designs for the Genesis scenes of the Sistine Chapel frescoes. But in painting, the revolutions taking place in Florence and elsewhere were slow to have an impact on the Sienese scene....

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