Filippo Brunelleschi begins the reform, Leon Battista Alberti continues it; the strands of their art continued parallel during the Renaissance, never merging. Even when the followers of one follow the schemes of the other master, they move away from him for the spirit: Michelozzo Michelozzi (1396-1472) and Benedetto da Maiano (1442-1497), while taking inspiration from the type of the Florentine palace created by Alberti , remain faithful disciples of Brunelleschi. Albert’s predilection for the massive thickness of the walls relives with new forms in the crystalline architectures of Luciano da Zara; the lightness and nervous agility of the silhouettes, the dominance of the voids typical of Brunelleschi’s architecture, lead to reformed classicism in the Tuscan sense, translated into geometric clarity of frames, not in effect of masses:
According to LOCALTIMEZONE, the Riccardi and Strozzi palaces, by Michelozzo one, by Benedetto da Maiano the other, constitute, together with that of the Rucellai, the most perfect expression of the private palace of the fifteenth century, which began with the Pitti palace by Brunelleschi, but a rare achievement of aristocratic and strong grace.
In Luciano Laurana da Zara, architect of the arch of Alfonso di Aragona in Naples and of the ducal palace of Urbino, collaborator of Leon Battista Alberti in Mantua, not the elastic impulses of Brunelleschi, nor the monumentality of Alberti, but a study of proportions , clarity of extended surfaces, abandonment of ornaments for the sake of pure form. Leon Battista Alberti, due to numerical proportions, gives the buildings harmonious resonances, sometimes not without emphasis; Laurana’s style leads to a calm rhythm, to a regularity of pauses. Any ornamental richness is abolished in the palace of Urbino so as not to disturb the clear surfaces with the shadows, so as not to corrupt the crystalline clarity of the volumes. No frieze in the entablature, but only the words of the dedication to Federico da Montefeltro, set like gems, assimilated into principles of style, for the clear square, to the architectural organism, also vital elements of the building: the pauses between arch and arch, between windows and pillars, between letter and letter, between word and word, repeat the same rhythms, compose the poem together . Leon Battista Alberti wants decorative sobriety, but his humanistic admiration for all that is Roman leads him to appreciate solid ornamentation too; Laurana is unique in its love of synthesis, in its absolute simplification, which allows the volumes to explain all their intrinsic beauty. Rest, undisturbed serenity live within the clear geometry of the volumes, the purity of the proportions, the clarity of the facades, where the shadow finds no nest.
While these results are achieved in Florence and central Italy, the new Tuscan style is rampant in Lombardy and Veneto, not without many compromises with the Gothic tradition. The rigid constructive character of the Florentines vanishes, and is replaced by a style that has only the proportions and basic lines in common with the Tuscan one, overloaded however, in Venetian architecture, by ornaments and polychromy. The picturesque effect is substituted for the purely constructive effect. The Colleoni chapel in Bergamo, the Certosa di Pavia, the school of S. Marco and the Palazzo Vendramin Calergi in Venice, are the most typical, most perfect and most famous works of this new art of northern Italy.
Meanwhile in Florence, thanks to Giuliano da Sangallo (1445-1516), Brunelleschi’s style developed towards monumentality: his main work, the Madonna delle Carceri in Prato, already present all the grandeur of the century that was about to to rise.
The Pisan hegemony in sculpture ended with the fourteenth century; Florence took up the inheritance of glory. The moment of transition between Gothic art and the art of the Renaissance is represented by the works of Lorenzo Ghiberti, winner of Filippo Brunelleschi in the 1402 competition for the decoration of the second door of the Florence Baptistery. The graces of the sickly gothic contours echo in the attitudes of the figures, in the flowing folds, in the concave wings of the angels; the elongated shapes retain supple gracefulness. Uncertain between two generations, between two opposing ideals, endowed with extreme versatility, Ghiberti can create very different works, such as the relief of the Baptism of Christ in the baptismal font in Siena, where the calligraphy of the contours dominates, and the panel with stories of Abraham sculpted for the third door of the Florence Baptistery, with the three angels of falcate shapes and with thin pine stems. “Gates of Paradise” Michelangelo defined the second and third doors of the Baptistery of Florence, which formed and form the greatest glory of the artist.
Almost contemporary to Ghiberti, but much more daring and crude innovator, is the Sienese Iacopo della Quercia (1374-1438). In him the spirit of the ancient Etruscan art, the love of strong relief, fullness, vigor, revives, as from an intimate naive strength. In 1406 he created the tomb of Ilaria del Carretto in San Martino di Lucca: the shape of the tomb, the cherubs and festoons are Etruscan and Roman motifs; the strength blows from the great features of the woman as from the full limbs, from the lion heads of the children who in various poses support the heavy load of the branches. The full forms soon became monumental, as in San Petronio in Bologna and in the Fonte Gaia in Siena, where Iacopo’s art assumes a grandiose and heroic aspect. Great among the Tuscan sculptors of the fifteenth century, he releases a lot from the form by making use of the accents given to the line. The accentuated features of his figures penetrate the face with Michelangelo’s vigor; the eyes, under the mobile arch of the eyebrows, light up with flames, protrude turgid as in the statues of Giovanni Pisano, but with flashing energy of life. The art of Michelangelo’s contrasts is in germ in the group on the main door of San Petronio, in the sudden rebellion of the putto who escapes from the maternal hands; the crooked and dark profile of the other figure erected on the Bentivoglio monument, the oak curve of the neck and the clashing head, anticipate forms that we will find in the Michelangelo’s night ; the will of the person, a gothic memory, is resolved in opposition of movements, in an expression of energy. Even more gigantic appears to us the art of Iacopo in the bas-reliefs, where the forms, adhering in part to the background with a subtle overhang of the medal, suddenly emerge with sharp relief. Michelangelo, a pupil of Bertoldo and a Florentine, will feel in the great Sienese the closest echo of the ancient Etruscan spirit, and the most daring and powerful energy in the field of new sculpture.