The Renaissance was a period of tremendous innovation in a wide variety of fields. It began in Italy in the fourteenth century and in the following centuries managed to spread throughout Europe. The renewed interest in classical antiquity and the desire to surpass the incredible achievements of antiquity were the main goal of all Renaissance creators. This is well reflected in Renaissance paintings and Renaissance architecture, as at that time the ideals of the Gothic masters had already faded away.
Renaissance sculptors moved away from the idealization of Gothic art and integrated a sense of naturalism into their work. It was during this period that some of the most famous sculptures in human history were created. Below you will find a list of some of the most famous Renaissance sculptures and bas-reliefs, works of art that were reproduced during this very important period in the history of planet Earth.
“David” – Michelangelo
- Date of creation: 1501-1504
- Dimensions: 517 x 199 centimeters
- Location: Galleria dell’Accademia (Florence, Italy)
The statue of “David” is without a doubt one of the most famous Renaissance sculptures ever created by man. It may also be the most famous in history. This monumental work of art was carved from a single huge block of marble by Michelangelo (life years 1475-1564), the famous Italian Renaissance creator and polymath.
The sculpture itself had been commissioned much earlier and was originally intended to adorn the roof of the Florence Cathedral. But the statue turned out to be too heavy, and that’s why it was placed in the city square. Today, a copy of the sculpture by Michelangelo adorns the Piazza Signoria in front of the Palazzo Vecchio.
“David” – Donatello
- Date of creation: 1440s
- Height: 158 centimeters.
- Location: Museo Nazionale di Bargello (Florence, Italy)
This “David” is a completely different version of the same biblical hero. It was created by Donatello in the 1440s, more than three decades after the master completed his first version of this object. Donatello (life years 1386-1466) worked on the first marble version between 1408 and 1409.
It is the very first bronze sculpture, known as the first fully standing unsupported Renaissance sculpture and the first fully nude figure created since antiquity. This statue “wears” only a hat and boots and is depicted shortly after David beheads Goliath.
“Pieta” – Michelangelo
- Date of creation: 1498-1499
- Dimensions: 174 x 195 centimeters
- Location: St. Peter’s Basilica (Vatican City, Rome, Italy)
“The Pieta” is another incredible work of art created by Michelangelo and completed a couple of years before he began work on “David.” The sculpture was commissioned in the late 15th century to adorn the tombstone of a French cardinal named Jean de Billières.
It adorned the cardinal’s chapel until it was moved to its current location, St. Peter’s Basilica, in the 18th century. It is the defining sculpture of the Renaissance because it was the very first work to depict the dead body of Jesus Christ on the lap of his grieving mother Mary.
“Perseus with the Head of Medusa” – Benvenuto Cellini
- Date of creation: 1545-1554
- Height: 519 centimeters
- Location: Loggia dei Lanzi (Florence, Italy)
The sculpture Perseus with the Head of Medusa can easily be described as the greatest creation in the career of Benvenuto Cellini (life years 1500-1571), a Florentine sculptor of the Mannerist period, also known as the Late Renaissance. This monumental bronze sculpture was created over a long nine-year period from 1545 to 1554.
By that time, Cellini, the scandalous creator, had just returned from France; he had fled to that country for a reason, but because of his rather odd behavior. This incredible bronze sculpture ensured him a luxurious reception in his native city and the favor of the powerful Medici family, which at that time ruled the ball in Florence.
“Equestrian Statue of Gattamelata” – Donatello
- Date of creation: 1453
- Dimensions: Statue – 340 x 390 centimetres; Foundation – 780 x 410 centimetres
- Location: Piazza del Santo (Padua, Italy)
For future generations, Donatello proved to be a very influential master, all because he created several revolutionary works. “The Equestrian Statue of Gattamelata” is one of them, because it was the very first full-size equestrian statue created during the Renaissance.
The sculpture depicts an Italian military captain named Erasmo da Narni, better known by the nickname “Gattamelata.” The artist depicted him in a very naturalistic manner compared to earlier Gothic equestrian statues. This monumental work of art still stands in the same place where it was originally installed back in the 15th century.
“Cantoria” – Luca della Robbia
- Date of creation: 1431-1438
- Dimensions: 328 x 560 centimeters
- Location: Museo di Opera del Duomo (Florence, Italy)
Luca della Robbia (life years 1399-1482) was an Italian Renaissance sculptor who specialized in glazed terracotta works of art. His most famous work, however, was the first commission of his career, which he created in the 1430s.
The “Cantoria” or “Singing Gallery” originally adorned the organ loft of the Florence Cathedral. It took a full seven years before he finally succeeded in carving all the reliefs of this magnificent work of art. During that very period he was directed by Filippo Brunelleschi (life years 1377-1446), the chief architect of the cathedral.
“Tempietto del Volto Santo” – Matteo Civitali
- Date of creation: 1482-1484
- Location: St. Martin’s Cathedral (Lucca, Italy)
Matteo Civitali (life years 1436-1501) was a very talented master from Lucca, a relatively small town in the Tuscan region of central Italy. Most of his best-known works can be found in his hometown, including a small, free-standing chapel inside the city’s cathedral.
The Tempietto del Volto Santo was designed to commemorate an ancient woodcarving depicting Jesus Christ, referred to as the “Holy Face of Lucca.” This remarkable monument is located in the left aisle of the cathedral. The statue of St. Sebastian outside the chapel was also created by none other than Civitali.
“Moses” by Michelangelo.
- Date of creation: 1513-1515
- Dimensions: 235 x 210 centimeters
- Location: Basilica of San Pietro in Vincoli (Rome, Italy)
“Moses” by Michelangelo is the largest work of the sculptural group that was supposed to be much larger than it ended up being. It was commissioned in 1505 by Pope Julius II to adorn his tomb. He died eight years later, but the tomb itself was not fully completed until 1545.
The scale of the tomb was much smaller than all the forty sculptures Michelangelo had envisioned. Regardless of this notion, “Moses” remains one of the most famous Renaissance sculptures ever created, a point also repeatedly emphasized by contemporary art historian Giorgio Vasari.
“Judith and Holofernes” – Donatello
- Date of creation: 1457-1464
- Height: 236 centimeters
- Location: Palazzo Vecchio (Florence, Italy)
“Judith and Holofernes” is another monumental work of art in Donatello’s oeuvre and one of the last major sculptures he managed to complete. It is a bronze statue depicting the story of the Assyrian general Holofernes, beheaded by a girl named Judith.
The sculpture was originally installed in Piazza della Signoria in the heart of Florence, but was later replaced by an exact copy. Today, the original can be found in the Palazzo Vecchio, more specifically in its magnificent Hall of the Lilies, known locally as the Sala dei Gigli.
“Gates of Paradise” – Lorenzo Ghiberti
- Date of creation: 1425-1452
- Dimensions: 599 x 462 x 245 centimeters
- Location: Museo di Opera del Duomo (Florence, Italy)
“The Gates of Paradise” is a set of bronze doors that were commissioned for the north side of the Florentine Baptistery. It is one of the most breathtaking Renaissance bas-reliefs ever created by mankind, a fact underscored by the fact that Ghiberti worked on it for a full 27 years!
When the doors were finally completed, they were installed at the eastern entrance to the baptistery. They consist of five panels on each side with very detailed scenes from the Old Testament. Take your word for it, it’s an incredible work of art!