QUERCIA, Jacopo della
(b. ca. 1367, Quercia Grossa, d. 1438, Siena)

Biography

The greatest sculptor of the Sienese school, the son of an undistinguished goldsmith and woodcarver, Piero di Angelo (Quercia, from which he takes his name, is a place near Siena). He was one of the outstanding figures of his generation in Italian sculpture, alongside Donatello and Ghiberti, but his career is difficult to follow, as he worked in numerous places and sometimes left one commission unfinished while he took up another elsewhere. Contrary to Vasari's assertions that he led a 'well-ordered life', he seems to have been inveterately dilatory.

He is first firmly documented in 1401, unsuccessfully competing for the commission (won by Ghiberti) for the Baptistery doors in Florence. His first surviving work is usually considered to be the tomb of Ilaria del Carretto, wife of the ruler of Lucca, Paolo Guinigi (Cathedral, Lucca, c. 1406), which was eulogized by Ruskin. There are Renaissance putti and swags round the sides of the coffin, but the serene and graceful effigy is in the northern manner and suggests Quercia had knowledge of work done in the circle of Claus Sluter in Burgundy.

His major work for his native city was a fountain called the Fonte Gaia (commissioned in 1409, executed in 1414-19), which is now — much damaged — in the loggia of the Palazzo Pubblico. Its relief carvings include some beautifully draped female figures and a terribly battered but still awesomely powerful panel of The Expulsion from Paradise. Between 1417 and 1431 he worked together with Donatello and Ghiberti on reliefs for the font in the Baptistery at Siena, and in 1425 he received the commission for his last great work (left unfinished at his death), a series of relief panels decorating the main doorway of S. Petronio, Bologna; the subjects are taken from Genesis and the nativity of Christ. The figures — usually only three to a relief, in contrast to the crowded panels of Ghiberti — have a directness and strength which won the admiration of Michelangelo, who visited Bologna in 1494. Several of the motifs are to be found, reinterpreted, on the Sistine Ceiling.