Jacopo Sansovino
Biography of Jacopo Tatti, Sculptor, High Renaissance Architect.

Pin it

Apollo (1545)
Loggetta of the Campanile
Piazza San Marco, Venice.
Italian Renaissance sculpture.

For different types of 3-D
carving/casting, see:
Stone Sculpture
Granite, limestone, sandstone.
Marble Sculpture
Pentelic, Carrara, Parian marbles.
Bronze Sculpture
Casting and other methods.

See: History of Sculpture.

Jacopo Sansovino (1486-1570)

One of the great Renaissance sculptors in Florence, Jacopo Sansovino was instrumental in introducing the High Renaissance style of art to Venice, although he is probably best known for his Venetian Renaissance architecture, notably the public library, the Mint and St Marks Square. In the fine arts, he excelled in sculpture and his best known work includes his bronze relief sculpture Allegory of Redemption (1546-65, Basilica di San Marco, Venice), and his statue of Bacchus (1510, Museo Nazionale del Bargello, Florence).

Early Life

Sansovino was born in Florence in 1486 and was christened Jacopo Tatti. He began his career as a sculptor, apprenticed with Andrea Sansovino, whose name he subsequently adopted.

Sansovino initially worked in Rome and Florence. He attracted the attention of the artists Donato Bramante and Raphael with a wax model (the Deposition of Christ) that he sculpted on behalf of Perugino (1446–1524) to use for a competition. In 1511 he obtained a Florentine commission for a marble statue of St James (1511-18) for the Duomo. The commission was a continuation of a project for the twelve Apostles which had been abandoned by Michelangelo.

Sansovino also carved a marble sculpture of Bacchus for the Duomo, which is now housed in the Museo Nazionale del Bargello, Florence. Sansovino's Bacchus (God of Wine) is different to Michelangelo's Bacchus (also in the Bargello) which he had no doubt seen. Where Michelangelo's is bloated and inebriated, Sansovino's is healthy and joyful. In his famous book Lives of The Artists, the biographer Giorgio Vasari (1511-74) admired Sansovino's Bacchus for it's 'virtuoso carving', especially for the extended arm, a technical feat which no ancient sculptor had accomplished in marble without a strut. In 1527, after the violent upheaval of the 'Sack of Rome' by foreign mercenaries, which brought down the curtain on Renaissance art, Sansovino moved to Venice.

Guido Mazzoni (1450-1518)
Alonso Berruguete (c.1486-1561)
Baccio Bandinelli (1493-1560)
Benvenuto Cellini (1500-1571)
Francesco Primaticcio (1504-1570)
Juan de Juni (1506-1577)
Germain Pilon (1529-1590)
Giambologna (1529-1608)
Jean Goujon (Active 1540-1563)
Barthelemy Prieur (1536-1611)

For a list of the world's top 100
3-D artworks, by the best sculptors
in the history of art, see:
Greatest Sculptures Ever.

For a list of the world's most
talented 3-D artists, see:
Greatest Sculptors.


Move to Venice: Architectural Projects

Sansovino was warmly received in Venice. The Italian painter, draughtsman and illustrator Lorenzo Lotto (c.1480–1556) declared on Sansovino’s arrival that Sansovino was 'second only to Michelangelo'. With this sort of encouragement, Sansovino quickly became the most influential architect in the city.

In 1529 he was appointed proto of the Procurators of San Marco, the most influential architectural office in the country. Under the auspices of this office he orchestrated the reworking of Piazza di San Marco (Mark's Square) to its current form. The Piazza has always been viewed as the centre of Venice and has been the seat of the archbishopric since the 19th century. It was also the focus for many of Venice's festivals. Sansovino then began his design on the Republic's new Mint (Zecca) in 1536 which became one of the biggest in Europe. He also designed the city library - Libreria Vecchia (1536-88) - on the Piazzetta San Marco. This structure is considered one of his masterpieces of Renaissance architecture, and is based on the ancient Roman Theatre of Macellus. As with all of Sansovino's buildings, the facade is heavily adorned with ornamentation, carved friezes and freestanding sculptures. The Fabbriche Nuove di Rialto, begun in 1553 was also one of Sansovino's public structures. The Rialto is a popular area of Venice and was largely destroyed in a fire in 1514. It was gradually rebuilt with the help of several architects, sculptors and craftsmen. He also designed several private commissions of churches, hospitals and palaces.

Note About Sculpture Appreciation
To learn how to judge artists of the Italian Renaissance like Jacopo Sansovino, see: How to Appreciate Sculpture. For later works, please see: How to Appreciate Modern Sculpture.


Sansovino continued to work on his own sculptural commissions, along with the help of his apprentices in his workshop. Examples include:

Marble and bronze Baptismal Font (c.1545, Basilica di San Marco, Venice)
Baptismal font which stands in the middle of the Baptistery of the Basilica. It has a huge monolithic bowl with a bronze lid topped with a standing figure of St John the Baptist.

Allegory of Redemption (1546-65, Basilica di San Marco, Venice)
Bronze relief of the allegory of redemption. The light patterns created by the combination of sculptural technique and paint create an impressionistic effect, that could not even be matched by Titian. According to Vasari, Sansovino combined the best of sculpture and painting, creating the 'true form' (like a sculptor) while 'giving to the fire so much warmth and light that one actually sees thing living and flames that, almost flickering, make bright the darkest shadows of the night' (like a painter). These sorts of concerns were to be studied in the future by Baroque artists.

St John the Baptist (1554, Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari, Venice)
Marble statue of St John the Baptist which was formerly in the chapel where Sansovino wished to buried.

Madonna with Child (c.1527, Museo Nazionale del Bargello)
Plaster and polychrome papier-mâché sculpture. Probably carved in Venice after the sacking of Rome.

Madonna and Child (1511-18, Museum of Fine Arts, Budapest)
Gilded wax and canvas dipped in stucco. This statue was a study made in anticipation of a larger one, the Madonna at Mercato Nuovo in Florence. Considering the durability of the materials, the statue is still in relatively good condition.

Sacristy Door (1550s, Basilica di San Marco, Venice)
Bronze door panels made for the door of the Sacristy in the Basilica of San Marco. The panels depict the Resurrection of Christ and the Deposition and are surrounded by a frame decorated with figures of the Evangelists and Prophets and portraits (among them Titian, Veronese, Sansovino).

Legacy As a Sculptor and Architect

Sansovino died in Venice in 1570. His sepulchre can be found in the Baptistery of St. Mark's Basilica. Although he was a sculptor of undeniable skill, his lasting legacy is in the field of architecture. Rated among the greatest architects in Venice, the buildings he created several hundreds of years ago are as much appreciated today for their beauty, as no doubt they were in the their own time. He went on to influence a new generation of architects, including Andrea Palladio and Baldassare Longhena.


• For the history and types of sculpture, see: Homepage.
• For the evolution and development of the visual arts, see: History of Art.

Plastic Art
© visual-arts-cork.com. All rights reserved.