POLLAIUOLO, Antonio del
(b. 1431/32, Firenze, d. 1498, Roma)

Monument of Sixtus IV

Bronze, length 445 cm
Grotte Vaticane, Rome

The two bronze papal tombs executed between 1484 and 1496 by the Pollaiuolo workshop for St Peter's, Rome, were the grandest of the 15th century, and the only tombs to be transferred into the new basilica when Old St Peter's was demolished in 1506. Contrary to convention, the tomb of Sixtus IV, made between 1484 and 1493, was not set against a wall but was designed as a free-standing structure to be placed in the centre of a new chapel built by Sixtus IV on the south aisle of Old St Peter's.

Around the recumbent effigy of the Pope, whose face was evidently modelled on a death mask, reliefs of seven Virtues decorate the top of the tomb. This rests on a base with steeply sloping sides, which are decorated with personifications of the Liberal Arts in high relief separated by rich acanthus decoration. The iconography was unprecedented: the Liberal Arts had never before been included on an ecclesiastic's tomb, although they were appropriate for Sixtus's wide-ranging intellectual interests. Ingeniously using the variety in the shapes of the field available for each figure, Antonio pivoted a recumbent female figure to create a variety of poses and gestures appropriate for each personification and exploited a fluid drapery style to convey a vitality of pose and expression. Most of the seated Virtues derived from workshop patterns used earlier for Piero Pollaiuolo's paintings of Virtues (Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence) for the Mercanzia (the Merchants' tribunal); they were used yet again by Antonio for the tomb of Innocent VIII.