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Studying for a test? Prepare with these 4 lessons on Early Renaissance in Italy: 1400s.
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(jazz music) Dr. Zucker: We have walked from the Duomo around to its back and at its back is a very large building, which is, in part, its baptistry. Dr. Harris: Like the cathedral itself, this has a surface of black and white striped stone and different colored marble on the outside, but also fresco on the ceilings and walls. Dr. Zucker: The baptismal font stands in the middle of the building itself. It is quite large. Dr. Harris: It's very classical in its form. It's got six sides with six bronze reliefs at the base, separated by angels and figures of virtues. The top part of the font, we see a very classical structure with niches, with sculpted figures, surmounted also by frees and pediments. Dr. Zucker: The bronze plaques themselves are 15th century and they are by a variety of artists. Some are local Sienese artists, but there are at least a couple of identifiable Florentines. There's Ghiberti and the most famous image here is by Donatello. That's the Feast of Herod. Dr. Harris: It's interesting to think about the city states vying for the best artists and Siena inviting the great Florentine artist Donatello to do a bronze panel for this baptismal font. Dr. Zucker: Some art historians have suggested that Donatello was brought in to goad Ghiberti into getting his work done. Apparently, he had received a commission and hadn't done the work. Dr. Harris: This idea of setting up artists to compete to get the best results and get them on time was something that we see also in Florence. Dr. Zucker: The image by Donatello is an amazing one. The story is horrific. It speaks of King Herod, who has ordered a henchman and assassin to bring him the head of John the Baptist on a plate. Dr. Harris: He does that because of Salome. Salome offers to dance for King Herod if he will grant her a request and after she dances for him, she requests the head of Saint John the Baptist. Dr. Zucker: It's a salacious story, but also, of course, for the Christian perspective, a really horrific one. On the left, the head of John the Baptist on a platter being presented by the assassin to King Herod himself, who, with several children, look horrified. They back away, his hands are up, a surprised revulsion at the actual sight of this head. Dr. Harris: Yeah, they turn away and almost move outside of the bronze panel. Dr. Zucker: On the right side, you can see Salome herself and she's in a sensuous s curve that really speaks to her dance. Dr. Harris: And to Donatello, looking back at ancient Greek and Roman sculpture, she's very classicizing. We have a continuous narrative here, because in the distance we see the head of Saint John the Baptist being brought and in the foreground we see that head being presented to King Herod. In typical Donatello fashion, we have an incredible illusion of space and Donatello using high relief and very low relief to convey a very convincing illusion of space. Dr. Zucker: He's aided in the illusion of space by the use of a linear perspective, which is almost unheard of in relief carving, but by parting the two groups of figures, he's exposing the tile floor, which is giving us clear indications of orthogonals moving back in space. Dr. Harris: This panel dates to just about the time that Masaccio was creating The Holy Trinity, so both artists were utilizing Brunelleschi's discovery of linear perspective to create an illusion of depth. Dr. Zucker: This is just a few years, after all, after Brunelleschi really develops or rediscovers linear perspective and its principles. Dr. Harris: We know that Donatello, if we look at the figures at Orsanmichele, was really interested in the human psyche and we really see that interest in human emotion here and the drama, the narrative of the story. Dr. Zucker: Look at the figure just in back, who holds that hand to the face, just can't even bear this sight, it is so terrible. This is a story that's appropriate in that it is of the death of Saint John the Baptist, but we see actually, a family coming in now with a baby and this is clearly a joyous moment. It's such a contrast with the image that we're seeing here. Oh, we're actually being asked to leave. The baby is apparently going to be baptised. (baby crying) (jazz music)