The middle ages show highly admirable and marvelous works in both disciplines by architects who have found a niche as sculptors. These pieces of art and architecture evoke a sense of grandeur and precision today also.

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The spatialness and functionality are both parallels and differences between sculpture and architecture. Art is the main root of both disciplines who have a critical responsibility to address the physical space concerning its form, scale, and material. Both disciplines have a symbiotic relationship with each other at some level and influence ideas and narratives with many overlapping principles in concept, materiality, and form. 

The middle ages show highly admirable and marvelous works in both disciplines by architects who have found a niche as sculptors. These pieces of art and architecture evoke a sense of grandeur and precision today also.

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Let’s dive into some of the inspirational works of Middle Ages architects who are also sculptors.

Michelangelo

Michelangelo Buonarroti is known for his artistic virtuosity as an architect, sculptor, painter, and poet, a strong and mighty personality of modern history. During his lifetime in the 15th and 16th centuries, the western world experienced the most conspicuous period of change in various aspects of life. He was one of the sparkling lights of the Italian renaissance with the first western artist whose biography was published when he was still alive. Michelangelo was one of the ardent espousals of the new shift in philosophies of contemporary society. His works display a combination of a high level of technical competence with prolific artistic imagination to create a perfect High-Renaissance blend of aesthetical harmony and anatomical accuracy. Beginning in 1490, he studied the Medici art collection for two years as a student of the sculptor Bertoldo di Giovanni. His far-reaching art-historic influence can be justified through the fervent development from the Pieta through David to The Last judgement, an artistic odyssey from sculpture to painting, painting to architecture, architecture to the art of poetry.

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The Drunkenness of Bacchus (1496-97) ©www.art-prints-on-demand.com

This is one of Michelangelo’s earliest works, causing much controversy. This statue of Bacchus depicts the Roman god of wine precariously perched on a rock in a state of drunkenness.

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Marble – Museo Del Bargello, Florence

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Pieta (1498-99) ©Wikipedia

This is the only sculpture Michelangelo ever signed. This was the first of a number of Pietàs Michelangelo worked on during his lifetime. It depicts the body of Jesus in the lap of his mother after the Crucifixion. This particular scene is one of the seven sorrows of Mary used in Catholic devotional prayers and depicts a key moment in her life foretold by the prophet, Simeon.

Marble- St. Peter’s Basilica, Vatican City, Rome

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David (1501-04) ©Wikipedia

Considered one of Michelangelo’s great masterpieces. An exquisite example of his knowledge of anatomy can be seen in David’s musculature, his strength emphasized through the classical contrapposto stance, with weight shifting onto his right leg.

Marble- Galleria dell’Accademia, Florence

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Moses (1513-15) ©www.college.columbia.edu

This grand epic-sized statue depicts Moses seated regally to guard the tablets written with the Ten Commandments. This sculpture has been at the center of much analysis, with Sigmund Freud having purportedly spent three weeks in 1913 observing the emotions expressed by the sculpture, concluding it was a supreme vision of self-control.

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Marble – San Pietro Vincoli, Rome

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The Disposition (1547-55) ©www.sciencesource.com

The work is also a perfect example of Michelangelo’s temperament and perfectionism. This piece is not only sculpturally complex and indicative of Michelangelo’s genius, but it carries layers of meaning and has sparked multiple interpretations.

Marble – Museo dell’Opera del Duomo, Florence

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Pieta Rondanini (1564) ©myfrencheasel.blogspot.com

The Pietà Rondanini is the last incomplete work by Michelangelo Buonarroti. It can be seen at the Museo Pietà Rondanini-Michelangelo inside the Milan Castle (Castello Sforzesco).

Marble – Museo d’arte antica, Sforza Castle, Milan

Filippo Brunelleschi

The founding father of Renaissance architecture, Filippo Brunelleschi, born in Florence, Italy in 1377, is known for his accomplishment in architectural works, sculpture, mathematics, engineering, and ship design.  In 1398, he trained as a goldsmith and a sculptor working with cast bronze with the earliest extant sculptures that had two small bronze statues of evangelists and saints (1399–1400) made for the altar of the Crucifix Chapel Pistoia Cathedral. In 1401, Brunelleschi competed with Lorenzo Ghiberti and five other sculptors to obtain the commission to make the bronze reliefs for the door of the Baptistery of Florence. The trial panel of Brunelleschi depicted ‘The Sacrifice of Isaac’ which became a high point of his career as a sculptor. His panel in the competition received merit for arresting narratives with huge dramatic impact that showed vigorous gestures and animated expressions of the figure’s account. However, it was Ghilberti who won the commission that extremely disappointed Brunelleschi and probably accounted for his decision to carve a niche in architecture instead of sculpture.

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St. John the Evangelist, Altar of Saint at Church of San Zeno, Pistoia (1399–1400) ©Wikipedia
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Prophet Jeremiah detail of altarpiece, Church of San Zeno, Pistoia (1399–1400) ©Wikipedia
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The Prophet Isaiah, Church of San Zeno, Pistoia detail of altarpiece (1399–1400) ©Wikipedia

Gian Lorenzo Bernini

Gian Lorenzo Bernini was an Italian artist of the Middle ages considered as the prominent sculptor of the 17th century and an outstanding architect. Bernini created the Baroque style of sculpture and developed it to a great extent. A close study of antique Greek and Roman marbles influenced his style strongly. The portraits by Bernini built a profound relationship between the head and body with an ability to portray transient facial expressions with acute precision. His marble works show peerless finesse and sensitivity to various textures that are usually found only in bronze sculptures. His fervent Roman Catholicism and belief that religious art should always be intelligible and realistic shaped the majority of his works. He is widely considered as Europe’s greatest artist as well as the greatest man after he died at the age of 81. He was the last of Italy’s remarkable universal geniuses, and his death marked the end of Italy’s artistic dominance in Europe.

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Apollo and Daphne (1622-25) ©Wikipedia
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Baldacchino in St. Peter’s Basilica ©Wikipedia
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Bust of Louis XIV, 1665 ©Wikipedia

Phidias

Phidias, the pioneer of the Classical Greek sculptural design during the Middle ages (4th and 5th centuries BC), was a master sculptor, painter, and architect in ancient Greece. Phidias was admired widely for both his bronze and chryselephantine statues. Unfortunately, none of his original works exists today, but many replicas and recreations of his work can be seen. Ancient critics highly praised the moral virtues and beauty of his works, and Demetrius called his statues sublime and precise. Through ancient writings, one can identify and understand the works of Phidias. The masterpieces created by him remain today also as a legacy of his immense contribution to the cultural and artistic heritage of Greece. His art exalted ideal beauty, extending beyond pleasant appearances.

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Sculpture of Heracles ©www.britannica.com

Heracles, marble statue produced in the workshop of Phidias, from the eastern pediment of the Parthenon, the Acropolis, Athens, c. 5th century BCE; in the British Museum.

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State of Zeus, Olympia ©www.ancient.eu

A 19th century CE illustration of what the 5th century BCE statue of Zeus at Olympia, one of the Seven Wonders of the World, may have looked like.

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State of Zeus, Olympia ©www.ancient.eu

A modern reproduction of the lost statue of Athena which once resided in the Parthenon of Athens. The 12m high original, sculpted by Pheidias in the mid-5th century BCE, was made of an inner wooden core covered in ivory and gold.

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State of Zeus, Olympia ©www.ancient.eu

A marble copy of the Athena Parthenos which stood in the Parthenon. Also known as the Varvakeion Athena, it is the best-preserved such copy. 3rd-century CE. (National Archaeological Museum, Athens)

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Giovanni Pisano

Known as the only true Gothic sculptor, Giovanni Pisani (1250-1314), an artist of the Middle ages, reintegrated the antique style into more northerly and contemporary Gothic forms. He began his work on the design and sculptural ornamentation of the facade for the cathedral of Siena, the life-sized statues of kings, prophets, and sibyls which became, in its lavishness and order, the model for the virtual Gothic facade in central Italy. It is known as his most dynamic and lively work. He introduced Gothic architectural elements, such as the ogive arch. Instead of concentrating on the figurines, Giovanni accentuated the abstract movement of light and shade across the surface. He tried to emphasize the rhythmic movements of the figures and the backgrounds and also displayed frank emotional features. Giovanni was commissioned to make a marble pulpit for the Cathedral in Pisa in 1302. Polygonal, with curving rather than flat sides, elaborative and sculpturesque architectural portions marked a difference from his and his father’s other pulpits.

Author

Jinal is an architect whose goal is to create a vibrant time machine through her photography and writing for everyone to revisit some of the aspects of life. She is forever inspired by the nuances of nature and by the underpinning ideas of works of art.

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