These essays on the Italian Renaissance aim at a better understanding of one of the greatest epochs in sculpture. Since the first penetrating studies of this age, made two generations ago, our point of view has shifted markedly. Formerly, the phase of Renaissance art which was connected with that of the nineteenth century and separated it from the Middle Ages stimulated the greatest interest. The direction taken by modern art and literature has brought about a new conception of medieval art, and that phase of the Renaissance which forms a continuum with medieval thought, has, therefore, unconsciously been stressed in recent investigations.
In Florence and Siena, sculptors of pronounced Gothic tendency such as Ghiberti and Jacopo della Quercia take their rightful place beside Donatello and Michelozzo. In Pollaiuolo and Verrocchio, in Vecchietta and Francesco di Giorgio, we recognize the relatedness to late Gothic mannerism. Sculptors from other parts of Italy who were once neglected because they were considered reactionary--Domenico Gagini of Genoa, Cristoforo Solari of Milan, Andrea dell' Aquila of Umbria, Niccolo dell' Arca of Apulia, Laurana and Giorgio da Sebenico of Dalmatia--emerge from obscurity. Others who have been misunderstood because of the abstract trends in their work are now nearer to us because of similar tendencies in present-day art; such are Agostino di Duccio, Amadeo, Pietro Lombardi and Mino da Fiesole. While it was not possible in the present volume to reprint studies on many of these masters, since the publisher did not consider their names, with the exception of Verrocchio and Mino da Fiesole, of sufficient renown, the prevailing tendency of our time can be recognized also in the essays on the few giants dealt with here, Donatello, Leonardo, Michelangelo. The studies are devoted mainly to the early periods of these masters, when they were still very receptive to Gothic forms and medieval emotions. If these chapters are somewhat out of proportion, their length may be accounted for by the persistent and irresistible attraction of great personalities who exceed the limits of the contemporary.
As frequently transpires in the work of people associated with museum collections, a single object, often previously unpublished, serves to supply the initial impetus for a lengthy discussion. Whether the new attributions offered as the result of such study are correct time alone can tell. But regardless of the correctness of an attribution, this procedure seems the only justifiable one in a new field where general conclusions may be drawn only after a prolonged and meticulous analysis of individual cases. Facts must be made certain of before we may generalize; often generalizations have been made which were not based on such facts. In Renaissance sculpture, documents and external evidence are lacking to clarify many of the greatest works, and, indeed, many of the most interesting artists. By penetrating to the last detail creations which still confront us, by dissecting, as it were, their substance with our critical faculty and life experience, we should be able to enter into their shaping spirit and live again for a moment the times to which they belong.