Alonso Berruguete_Reinassance Sculptor - Page 18

Fig. 8. Anonymous
woodcarver, Saint
Anne from a Nativity of
the Virgin, from Lower
Franconia, ca. 1480,
Metropolitan Museum,
New York.
or dark red when dry. Taubert describes the interplay between
polychromy and sculpture in, for example, the Wetzlar Pietà as
creating “an almost unbearable intensity” (fig. 10).31
In Northern Europe popular response to these extreme and
veristic depictions prompted fear of idolatry. This no doubt played
a role in the rejection of polychromy by some sculptors towards
the end of the fifteenth century and by reformers and iconoclasts
in the sixteenth. Perhaps a more significant factor leading to the
introduction of a new, monochrome aesthetic was the influence of
Italian art and interest in classical Roman and Greek sculpture.32
In this Renaissance aesthetic – based on rediscovered works which
had lost all their original polychromy – primacy was given to the
material itself and to skill in rendering form. Leon Battista Alberti’s
1452 De re aedificatoria devoted a chapter to what materials were
“proper” for making statues, concluding that wood and stone were
not noble, marble was “pure,” and brass was most durable.33 He
Fig. 9. Gil de Siloe, Christ on the Cross from the retable in the
did not mention polychromy. In Italy, more and more sculpture was
Capilla del Colegio de San Gregorio, Valladolid, polychromed
produced in marble and bronze but – as highlighted by a recent
wood (now in the church of Ciguñuela, Burgos).
exhibition in Florence – wood was still popular: even in 1515 Pope
Leo X is depicted praying in front of a painted wood crucifix.34
And while Giorgio Vasari’s Vite spoke of wood as an old-fashioned
Although many medieval and early Renaissance sculptures have
choice associated above all with crucifixes, he admitted the “miracolo
lost their original polychromy, colour made an extremely important
di legno” which was Veit Stoss’s Saint Roch in Florence’s basilica of the
contribution to both form and meaning.28 In Spain even tombs
Santissima Annunziata.35 In Germany some wood sculptures – such
carved from alabaster – prized for its luminous qualities and
as Tilman Riemanschneider’s magnificent Holy Blood altarpiece in
considered appropriately magnificent by fifteenth-century grandees
Rothenburg – began to be lightly stained or partially coloured rather
– were often extensively painted. The translucency and gloss of
than fully polychromed, although the Church reverted to demanding
oil paint enabled artists to create strikingly veristic images, and the
full colour after the Counter-Reformation.36 In Spain the taste for
wet paint could be manipulated to render facial hair and other
sculpture in marble and bronze would remain the preserve mainly
minute details. Skin was painted to simulate deathly pallor, and
of the elite. Demand for polychrome sculpture carved from wood,
blood was depicted in vivid crimson when the wounds were fresh
the perfect object of popular devotion, would never diminish.
Fig. 10. Anonymous woodcarver, Pietà, polychromed wood, Wetzlar Cathedral, Wetzlar (Hessen).


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