It was in 1464 when the custodians of the Opera del Duomo in Florence, Andrea della Stufa and Jacopo Ugolini, commissioned Agostino di Duccio (1418-1481) -a sculptor of dubious reputation- a giant marble that would be placed in the outside the Cathedral of the city, more specifically, one of its buttresses. The contract stated that the figure should be “of white Carrara marble, nine fathoms, sort of a giant” –as Antonio Forcellino as described it.
Antonio Condivi (1525-1574), a pupil of Michelangelo and author of the only biography authorized by the artist, when recounting the making of the famous sculpture of David by his teacher says in this work as follows:
“The Guild of workers of Santa Maria del Fiore had a block of marble, it was nine fathoms high. It had been brought from Carrara, a hundred years before by some unskilled if he should be judged by this work. To carry it more comfortably and with less fatigue, had abraded it in the quarry, but in such a way the marble never inspired this artist or any other to make a statue of it, do not say such grandeur, even of minor dimension.”
The truth is that since ancient times there was no knowledge of such an ambitious attempt in the field of sculpture. Such a large figure seemed wiser to be worked out in several blocks which would then be assembled. Thus proposed the Guild to Agostino di Duccio, stating that the sculpture would be composed of four blocks of marble (one for the head and neck, one for the whole body and one for each arm).
Forcellino recounts that the hired sculptor seemed to be receiving the smile of Fortune, because he managed to bring to Florence the entire block, although, as we saw in the story told by Condivi, it was badly devastated in the quarry to lighten its weight. Forcellino reminds us that this practice was not unusual and that even the sculptors of classical antiquity did it, probably forced by the difficulties of moving the heavy blocks.
We know that Agostino di Duccio failed in its attempt to complete the task that the city had given him. But he would not be the only sculptor to declare himself unable for a task that seemed increasingly worthy of a titan. Antonio Rossellino (1427-1481) was the second that had to surrender to the stony mass. Florence would had to wait for better hands to show off. However, finding the right sculptor was not easy, even when Florence took the lead in the European artistic production between the 15th and 16th Centuries.
[Read Part I here]