European Sculpture from 1400 to 1900 (55+)

Western European sculpture from the 1400s onward was influenced by the rediscovery—literally, the unearthing—of Greco-Roman statues. Gothic sculpture was not forgotten but was replaced by Renaissance works. Ghiberti brought Renaissance sculpture, via goldsmithing, to the fore with a set of doors for the Florence Baptistery, ushering in the Florentine School. Donatello and Michelangelo continued the development, adding their own genius and personal perspective.

We’ll consider works by these and other sculptors. In the end we’ll come to Rodin, who in a way summarized classical sculpture, drawing together Michelangelo, Gothic cathedral doors and Ghiberti’s so-called Gates of Paradise; adding a dash of Dante’s Divine Comedy ; and wedding it all to 19th-century French impressionism in works such as l’Homme au nez cassé, The Age of Bronze and The Gates of Hell.

Please note that enrollment in this course is reserved for adults 55+.

Currently not available for registration.

What will I learn?

Week 1: Pisano and Ghiberti: The Doors of the Baptistery in Florence

We consider the three doors of the Baptistery. They record the evolution of Gothic sculpture into Renaissance sculpture, and the shift from a theology-centred to a human-centered world.

  • Pisano’s doors record the life of the Baptist,
  • Ghiberti’s first door records the life of Christ,
  • The Gates of Paradise, Ghiberti’s second door, record the Life of Man.

Week 2: Donatello: Early Renaissance Sculpture

Ghiberti’s panels on the Baptistery doors is relief work, at times “in the round.” Donatello invents relievo schiacciato “squashed relief” for the St. George tabernacle predella. His sculptures move gothic mannerism into the Renaissance.

For reference:
David with the Head with Goliath
, 1432; The Penitent Magdalene, 1455

Week 3: Michelangelo: High Renaissance Sculpture

Donatello’s relievo schiacciato and psychological realism inform Michelangelo’s early piece, The Madonna on the Steps, 1490-92. Michelangelo’s Battle of the Centaurs and the Lapiths, 1492, and the Bacchus, 1497 summarize the influences of Ghiberti and Greco-Roman works. The stage is set for his triumph in Rome—the Pieta, 1499.

For reference:
, The Slaves, The Rondanini Pieta, Bandini Pietá, Medici Tombs

Week 4: Bologna and Cellini: Mannerist Sculpture

Giovanni Bologna (also known as Jean de Boulogne), was a Flemish sculptor who worked in Florence and was influenced by Michelangelo’s work. His work, in turn, influenced numerous mannerist sculptors in Italy and Northern Europe.

Benvenuto Cellini, a goldsmith under the patronage of the Medici wanting ‘to create something to rival Michelangelo’s David’ produced the stunning, larger-than-life bronze of Perseus with the Head of Medusa in the mid-1500s.

For reference:
The Rape of the Sabine
, 1574-82, Hercules and Nessus, 1599, The Equestrian Statue of Cosimo de Medici, Piazza della Signoria, and the Mercury, 1502.

Week 5: Bernini: Baroque Sculpture

Gianlorenzo Bernini reconstructed a number of fountains destroyed during the sack of Rome in 1527. His monumental and theatric fountains, especially The Four Rivers Fountain, set the foundation for many subsequent designs. Bernini’s sculpture, often incorporated into the fountains, drew inspiration from elements of Greek sculpture. His architectural accomplishments include St. Peter’s Square and the Baldecchino, and church facades.

For reference:
Apollo and Daphne
, Pluto and Persephone, David, and the busts of Scipio Borghese.

Week 6: Rodin: French Impressionist Sculpture

Rodin has correctly been called the last classical sculptor and the first modern sculptor. His most famous and celebrated works are directly influenced by Italian sculptors from the early Renaissance to neoclassicism, and draw from classical literature, Greek myths, history and Rodin’s contemporary world. His technique of leaving traces of the creation process on his sculptures align him with the Impressionists.

For reference:
The Man with the Broken Nose, The Age of Bronze, The Gates of Hell, The Burghers of Calais, Balzac, The Monument to Victor Hugo

How will I learn?

  • Lectures
  • Discussion (may vary from class to class)
  • Papers (applicable only to certificate students)

How will I be evaluated?

For certificate students only:

Your instructor will evaluate you based on an essay, which you will complete at the end of the course. You will receive a grade of “satisfactory” or “unsatisfactory.”

Textbooks and learning materials

Reading material (if applicable) will be available in class. Some course materials may be available online.

If you're 55+, you may take this course as part of

Look at other courses in