Artibus et Historiae no. 70 (XXXV)

2014, ISSN 0391-9064

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BRUCE BOUCHER - ‘La scoltura è […] senza comparatione’: Tullio Lombardo and the Narrative Relief (pp. 83–98)

Tullio Lombardo’s approach to narrative relief sculpture was grounded in the debate over the paragone or relative merits of painting versus sculpture, but it was also informed by the example of two earlier masters, with whose work he was well acquainted: Donatello and Andrea Mantegna. In particular, Tullio drew upon elements from both these masters in the design of the Chapel of the Arca del Santo in the basilica of St Anthony in Padua, a project that he began with his brother Antonio in 1500. Tullio’s basic concept of fusing relief sculpture with an architectural perspective stems from Donatello’s bronze reliefs for the high altar of the Santo, and the earlier sculptor remained an important interlocutor for Tullio across his engagement with the relief cycle for the chapel, an engagement only terminated with his death in 1532. The debt to Mantegna is more general, in part because Mantegna’s approach to painting was profoundly influenced by Donatello; yet there were two areas of Mantegna’s oeuvre that served as a crucial example for Tullio and his brother during the 1490s: the canvases of Caesar’s Triumphs and the small-scale paintings in grisaille. These works embodied an ideal of rilievo, which Alberti had described as the goal of painting and sculpture. They demonstrated knowledge of the classical world virtually unrivalled at that time, as well as furnishing a new morphology of figural types saturated in the antique. That the Lombardo brothers were aware of Mantegna’s work is confirmed by a comparison of Mantegna’s drawing after the Calumny of Apelles in the British Museum with a drawing attributed to Antonio Lombardo in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. A comparison of the two drawings shows that the Lombardo brothers were familiar with Mantegna’s graphic style and sculptural approach to narratives. In short, Mantegna’s paintings furnished a model for creating figural types and narratives all’antica, without which the sculpture of the Lombardo brothers and their followers would not have developed as it did.

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