Art Through Time: A Global View
The Urban Experience Art: Bartolomeo Colleoni
This monumental bronze equestrian sculpture, which stands in the Campo di SS. Giovanni e Paolo in Venice, represents the eminent condottieri, or mercenary captain, Bartolomeo Colleoni (ca. 1395/1400–1475).
Like many other professional soldiers, Colleoni’s military service was driven not by loyalty, but by the promise of wealth and the possibility of fame. After switching allegiances several times, in 1457 he was endowed with supreme command of the Venetian army by Pasquale Malipiero, the doge of Venice.
Shortly before his death in 1475, Colleoni added a stipulation to his will that money owed him be set aside for the creation of a monument to perpetuate his memory. Ultimately, however, it was the senate that claimed official responsibility for the Colleoni statue and determined its present location. Reminding the literate audience of the government’s role in not only erecting the statue, but also in making possible Colleoni’s ascent, an inscription on the monument’s pedestal ends with the abbreviation “s.c.” for Senatus Consulto (“by the decree of the Senate”). Such monuments, which had been erected to honor other outstanding military leaders in Venice as well, were viewed by the government as a means of inspiring future condottieri to commit themselves to the Venetian cause.
Bronze equestrian monuments like this one looked back to an ancient tradition of depicting great leaders and commanders on horseback. Although it is based on this venerable tradition, Verrocchio’s monument is essentially different from earlier models. Unlike the static equestrian figure of the classical world, Verrocchio’s work is infused with dynamism; his steed is rendered in mid-stride, while his rider stands upright in his stirrups, twisting his torso away from the animal to survey the field. Verrocchio won the commission for the Colleoni statue in a competition. Contests for public art commissions were frequent in fifteenth-century Italy. By pitting artists against one another, sponsors hoped to elicit not only the best, but also the most efficient designs.
John Beardsley, Director, Garden & Landscape Studies, Dumbarton Oaks
“Sculpture has always played an important role in public space. But the character of public sculpture has changed a lot in the last century. If you look back at public sculptures they tended to be figurative, they tended to represent shared ideals, or shared social goals, or they tended to be commemorative of great events or great people. And sculpture now is much more detached from commemorative functions, it’s given up figurative subject matter. Public sculpture now has a much more abstract character.”
Butterfield, Andrew. The Sculptures of Andrea del Verrocchio. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1997.
Brown, Patricia Fortini. Art and Life in Renaissance Venice. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 2005 reissue.
Muir, Edward. Civic Ritual in Renaissance Venice. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1996.
Paoletti, John, and Gary Radtke. Art in Renaissance Italy, 3rd ed. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 2006.
Rosand, David. Myths of Venice: The Figuration of a State. Chapel Hill; London: University of North Carolina Press, 2001.