(b. ca. 1375, Firenze, d. 1421, Firenze)

Quattro Santi Coronati

Marble, height c. 185 cm
Orsanmichele, Florence

One of the greatest sculptural programmes in the early Quattrocento was the exterior decoration of the Orsanmichele (a former grain market which had become an oratory below and a meeting hall for the market above), a building which joined civic and religious functions. In the Trecento each guild had been assigned the task of filling one niche with a freestanding statue of its patron saint. Only a few guilds complied, forcing the city council in 1406 to set a ten-year deadline for these obligations, which precipitated a spate of commissions.

Nanni sculpted the group called Quattro Santi Coronati for his own guild, the Arte dei Maestri di Pietra and Legname (Guild of the Stone and Woodcutters). The life-size figures arranged in a semi-circle represent Claudius, Castor, Symphorian and Nicostratus, four Christian sculptors who refused to execute a statue of Aesculapius for the Emperor Diocletian; they were confused with Christian soldiers were martyred for not venerating the Emperor and were worshipped as the Quattro Coronati.

These figures confirm that Nanni was heavily influenced by Roman sculpture. Like actors in togas they brought antiquity to life. The figure on the right, who gestures to his companions and addresses them, introduces a narrative element, while they evince a unity of emotion. Their volumetric forms impressed other artist, especially Masaccio. In Masaccio's Tribute Money (Brancacci Chapel) St John is based on Nanni's gesturing figure, including his corkscrew curl.

View images of the exterior sculptural decoration of Orsanmichele.

© Web Gallery of Art, created by Emil Krén and Daniel Marx.