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Current time:0:00Total duration:5:35

Video transcript

(jazzy music) Male: We're on the second floor of Orsanmichele and here, one after the other, are all the monumental sculptures that had once filled the niches outside. Female: It's important to remember that Orsanmichele is in many ways the place that the Renaissance began in Florence. It began in this space that had both a secular function as a granary but also a spiritual function. Male: It's also a church. Female: These were sculptures commissioned by the guilds and so it makes sense that these first Renaissance sculptures would be commissioned not by a church, but by guilds, by these secular organizations. Male: Okay, so let's take one as an example. One of the important guilds in the city were the linen workers. We're standing in front of St. Mark, which is this monumental sculpture by Donatello. We know it's for the linen workers because he is standing on a pillow presumably made of linen. Female: Right. If we think about him outside in that niche and imagine walking by him, you could almost imagine this way that you would relate to him; that you could engage with him right on the streets of Florence, this sense of civic pride of bringing beauty to the city. Male: There really is a sense of immediacy here. This is Donatello's brilliance. Here we have a figure that is, first of all, reviving the Classical in really important ways. This is a figure that is an incredible early expression of contrapposto that hasn't been seen with this kind of understanding for 1,000 years. Female: If we look at so many of the other figures that were created for Orsanmichele, they still have that Gothic sway to the hips. What Donatello give us instead is something that looks very much like an ancient Roman sculpture. Male: Look, for instance, at the hips that push to his right. Over the engaged leg, you have the cloth falling in perfect unbroken lines, almost as if that's the floating of a Classical column. It's on the other side that you can see the knee breaking the cloth. You can really get a sense, even though it's under this heavy drapery, you still understand the movement of the body, the turn of the spine, the turn of the hips, the axis of the knees. Female: Donatello's borrowing this directly from ancient Greek and Roman sculpture. There's no other place he could have goten this from. The figure, because of the contrapposto, really looks alive. He looks like he can truly walk. His feet are firmly planted on the ground. The sense that the weight is shifting gives the sense that he could walk at any second. We have an idea of sculpture beginning to be separate from the architecture, even though he was in a niche and he was intended for the architecture. The contrapposto, the sense of movement, gives us a sense of his autonomy from the architecture. Male: But it's also the authenticity of his experience. So it's a revival of the Classical, not only in terms of the mechanics of the body, but also in terms of the experience of the individual. You said a moment ago we would walk down the street and see this figure in a niche. There would be an immediate kind of relationship. Yes, that's true, but at the same time he's seeing further. He's also seeing past us. Female: Right. It's this bringing together of the spiritual and the human so close at this moment in the early 15th century in Florence. Male: Look at the face. There's a kind of intelligence, there's a kind of internal focus, there's a kind of awareness that is just piercing. He's thinking, he's reflecting on the Gospels that he holds so easily at his side and perhaps he's about to speak them to us. There is this way in which our eyes are drawn up through the plainer quality of the drapery to the more focused handling of the stone near the beard, near his eyes, look at that furrowed brow, so that he is somebody that we can understand and approach in some real way. Female: You know, the sculptures like the ones by Ghiberti that are more in that high Gothic style, the face is often more plain and less individualized, and our focus goes on those decorative forms in the drapery. Male: It's distracted, in a sense. Female: Exactly, so we don't have that human to human connection that we're getting here. Here, instead of focusing on the drapery, although the drapery is fabulous, we look directly at the face and we see the furrowed brow, the eyes that gaze out, the beard that animates his face and makes it seem even more thoughtful, his receding hairline. Then we look down at his hands and we can see that Donatello has clearly been thinking about human anatomy. Those are not just generalized shapes for hands but a sense of bone and muscle and veins. Then down to the feet firmly planted on the ground. When the Florentines looked up at St. Mark as they walked, they looked up at him and saw a figure that ... Male: It ennobled. Female: That ennobled them. They looked at St. Mark and could have a sense of their own profound dignity as human beings, as Florentines in the early 15th century. In a way, St. Mark is a mirror. Male: Isn't that exactly what this notion of civic pride that was so tied in to 15th century Florence was really about? This notion that we can rise to our own ideals. Female: We can be like the ancient Romans and be virtuous and ... Male: Shake off the corruption of the Medieval and in a sense return to the greatest that man had once known. (jazzy music)