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Approaching the Altar: Donatello's Sculpture in the Santo.

In the 1440s, Donatello designed and, with his assistants, executed an imposing high altar complex for the great Paduan pilgrimage church of S. Antonio, a building also known simply as the Santo. The significance of Donatello's project lies not only in its intrinsic technical and artistic merits, but also in its location and the types of beholders who would have encountered it. Due to the presence of the tomb of Saint Anthony (died 1231), an early Franciscan saint, the Santo was (and still is) one of this order's most prestigious churches and a key destination for pilgrims, as well as one of the most important monuments in the city of Padua. Most of the remains of Donatello's ensemble are now displayed on the Santo's current high altar [ILLUSTRATION FOR FIGURE 1 OMITTED]. The original project, however, included not only the seven nearly life-size bronze statues and over two dozen reliefs seen in the present reconstruction, but also an elaborate architectural framework.(1)

The current arrangement of statues and reliefs dates from 1895 when the architect Camillo Boito attempted the first modern reconstruction of Donatello's altar. In the century since Boito installed his ambitious but essentially flawed montage, over a dozen other hypothetical reconstructions have been proposed.(2) Although some reconstructions have considered the viewing implications of the reliefs' perspectival constructions and the possible relationships between certain statues' gestures and an implied beholder, no study has yet tried to define these viewers and viewing positions in an historically-specific way except in the most general terms.(3) The dramatic political and ecclesiastical events that occurred in the decade before the high altar was commissioned, and the fact that the project's overseers belonged to the religious and secular classes most affected by these historical events, however, would seem to be crucial factors in gaining a better understanding of why the altar was commissioned and why specific elements were designed as they were. In addition, a more sophisticated understanding of who the probable intended viewers of the altar were - Paduan citizens, Franciscan friars, and the many foreign pilgrims who came to visit the tomb of Saint Anthony - and how these viewers' concerns could have affected the design of this complex, may also provide new evidence about the original arrangement of Donatello's project.


For present-day viewers, the reconstructed remains of Donatello's altar emerge as the dominant visual focal point of the long nave of the basilica of S. Antonio, a church that still reverberates with the sounds of thousands of pilgrims coming to pay homage to its namesake saint.(4) At first glance, therefore, the primary intended viewers of the complex would seem to be the hordes of pilgrims arriving at the Santo. A document describing the first provisional display of Donatello's statues and reliefs appears to confirm this intuition. Using a temporary wooden structure, the seven nearly-completed bronze statues, as well as a majority of the reliefs, were displayed in the choir of the Santo on the feastday of Saint Anthony on 13 June 1448 in order to "demonstrate the design of the altar to the foreigners [forestieri]."(5) The Italian word used to designate these viewers, forestieri, would thus seem to refer to the many non-native pilgrims "from distant Provinces"(6) who, enticed by the promise of indulgences, regularly traveled to Padua, especially for Saint Anthony's feastday.(7) Since non-native in this context means simply non-Paduan, however, the "foreigners" could have come from as near as Venice, and one should not rule out the possibility that the intended viewers of the temporary altar structure might have included members of the "foreign" Venetian elite who, since conquering the city in 1405, had been the effective rulers of Padua.(8)

The present choir and high altar arrangement, although physically closed-off from the casual visitor by balustrades and metal grilles, nevertheless remains visually accessible from the front and sides. In the fifteenth century, however, the presence of walls, screens, choir stalls, and a towering tomb would have made viewing the high altar, no matter how imposing, much more difficult, particularly for women and non-privileged "foreign" pilgrims who probably would have been barred from entering the choir enclosure at all times and who may well have been prevented from going beyond the rood screen when masses were being celebrated on the high altar [ILLUSTRATION FOR FIGURE 2 OMITTED].(9) The ongoing changes and modifications made to the walls and grilles surrounding the choir long after Donatello's complex was erected suggest a continuing interest on the part of the Santo's overseers in controlling and framing visual and physical access to the high altar in general.(10) In any case, the high altar would have been a decidedly secondary destination for the vast majority of Quattro-cento pilgrims whose primary goal remained the tomb containing the miraculous remains of Saint Anthony, which was located not in the choir but in a separate chapel that forms the northern transept of the basilica.(11)

At the time of Donatello's commission, the high altar was set within a fairly large choir enclosure.(12) A drawing in the Uffizi in Florence confirms sixteenth- and seventeenth-century texts, which state that a rood screen also once crossed the nave in front (i.e., to the west) of the choir.(13) A Seicento writer described this screen as consisting of marble panels as tall as a man, with marble columns linked by arches set on top.(14) With the choir enclosure's main walls probably being well over two meters in height at the sides and along the front face, it is likely that seeing specific features of the high altar from anywhere in the nave except directly through the main central entrance would have been difficult for the average Quattrocento visitor.(15) As will be discussed below, providing close-up views of the high altar to non-privileged visitors congregating in the nave was apparently not a priority for the fifteenth-century patrons of this project.

The Uffizi plan and other documents suggest that the high altar was originally located beyond the last pair of piers, that is, further to the east than the present altar. Indeed, in the fifteenth century, the high altar may well have been situated beneath the center of the Santo's eastern-most dome.(16) Until the entire orientation of the choir was reversed in the mid-seventeenth century, the fixed stalls inside the choir were arranged in a double row following the inner perimeters of the western half of the enclosure.(17) In order to seat all the Franciscan friars who attended the many daily services celebrated at the high altar, six supplementary wooden benches were arranged around the back and possibly the sides of the altar.(18) The imposing tomb of the prominent academic Raffaello Fulgosio (died 1427) was installed at the head of the choir as well.(19) The conclusions that can be drawn from this wealth of visual and documentary evidence have been summarized here in a reconstructed plan of the Santo's interior in the fifteenth century [ILLUSTRATION FOR FIGURE 2 OMITTED].(20)

The difficulty of seeing the Santo's high altar outside the privileged precincts of the choir enclosure, even when standing in the ambulatory, is implicitly attested to by at least one contemporary text. A sixteenth-century writer calls visitors (probably pilgrims) to the ambulatory who talk loudly and without reverence "simple-minded idiots" because they fail to realize that they are walking directly behind the high altar where the sacred Host is stored in a special tabernacle in the back.(21) The "idiots" may well have made this mistake because they could see clearly neither the high altar nor its tabernacle hidden behind an enclosing grille (made up of a dense network of small metal links surrounding only occasional viewing holes), which followed the inner circumference of the ambulatory.(22) In addition, the imposing Fulgosio tomb at the eastern end of the choir would have further restricted visual access to the high altar from the ambulatory.

Although Donatello's large bronze statues of the Madonna and Saints would presumably have been at least partially visible above the choir enclosure to viewers standing beyond the rood screen, the most unobstructed views of the high altar from the ambulatory were most likely obtained by looking in from the side entrances to the choir, that is, by standing with one's back to the radial chapels of St. Catherine or St. John the Evangelist, the latter now dedicated to St. Joseph [ILLUSTRATION FOR FIGURE 2 OMITTED].(23) The references to "idiots" wandering in the ambulatory suggests that pilgrims probably did have access to this area in the breaks between the many daily religious services celebrated at the high altar, especially since they could have exited the chapel of Saint Anthony via adjacent chapels that opened directly into the ambulatory.(24) The general splendor and magnificence of the lavish altar would have been evident to such visitors, and probably to some extent to pilgrims standing in the nave of the basilica as well. Nevertheless, uninformed foreign pilgrims may well have had problems deciphering the specific details of the complex even when standing in the ambulatory. Today, with artificial lighting, it is still difficult to see the altar clearly from such a distance. In the Quattrocento, the high altar would have been even darker, with illumination by candles and oil lamps occurring only during masses, that is, precisely when non-privileged lay visitors would most likely have been kept out of the ambulatory. Therefore, rather than having a relatively well-lit and unobstructed, though still distant view of the high altar at all times as is the case today, later fifteenth-century pilgrims probably restricted during religious services to the main body of the Santo presumably would have focused on the high altar only after encountering another work also commissioned from Donatello, his gilded bronze Crucifix set in the central nave either on top of the rood screen or over the choir enclosure's main entrance.(25) This suggests that, for the complex's fifteenth-century patrons, the high altar's ability to project a general impression of magnificence as one proceeded up the nave was apparently its most important feature vis-a-vis the vast majority of pilgrim-visitors to the Santo.


The administrative committee that oversaw the Crucifix and, slightly later, the high altar commissions was known as the Arca even though it supervised all aspects of the Santo's maintenance and decoration, not just those directly related to the chapel housing the tomb (or arca) of Saint Anthony.(26) This committee's existence is documented as early as 1265, but it was only in 1396 that the composition of the Arcas membership was firmly established as consisting of four Paduan citizens and two Franciscan friars from the convent of S. Antonio. This organization was reconfirmed after the onset of Venetian rule by new statutes approved in 1420.(27) Although not specified in the statutes, the majority of the Paduan citizens elected to serve on the Arca belonged to the elite families of the city. Again and again, surnames such as Borromeo, Buzzacarini, Capodilista, Capodivacca, Dottori, Lion, Mussato, Orologio, Orsato, Papafava, and Zabarella appear in Quattrocento records as presidenti or massari of the Arca.(28) Less is known about the individual friars who served on the Arca, but all were Franciscans, specifically, Conventual Franciscans who resided in the convent attached to the Santo.

These two groups - the elite citizens of Padua and the Conventual friars - were not only involved in supervising Donatello's high altar for the Santo, but were also probably the most important original beholders of the complex's statues and reliefs. The document describing the provisional erection of Donatello's altar in 1448 for the benefit of forestieri or foreign pilgrims suggests that the Arca was concerned with these types of viewers as well. But, given the difficulties non-privileged pilgrims would have had in gaining physical and even visual access to the high altar, in the end it may well have been the bronze Crucifix that would have been most easily visible to the majority of the Santo's foreign visitors, especially during religious services. A careful examination of the design and iconography of the new high altar lends further support to the suggestion that it was the particular demands of the Paduan elite and the Santo's friars that had the greatest impact on Donatello's ensemble and that it was these viewers who were addressed most directly by the statues and reliefs.

Unlike most pilgrims, the Santo's Franciscan friars would have had no problems of access to the high altar. The friars could enter the ambulatory directly from the cloisters to the south, and they would have regularly visited the eastern portion of the church beyond the rood screen and the interior of the choir enclosure in order to celebrate the numerous daily ofrices held at the high altar and, presumably, in the radial chapels. Members of the Paduan elite, especially men, also probably had special access to the eastern portion of the Santo in this period since many of the ambulatory's chapels were patronized by upper-class families who would have used them for burials and commemorative masses. Of the ambulatory's nine radial chapels, at least five can be associated with important Paduan clans (the Alvarotti, Buzzacarini, Capodilista, Orsato, and Zabarella) in the fifteenth century, with three chapels also linked historically to the deposed but still venerated Carrara family that had ruled the city until 1405.(29) Elite Paduans were also interred in the ambulatory in individual graves, as well as in family chapels, as suggested by a Trecento text describing a burial area for nobles behind the high altar.(30) Indeed, the Santo effectively acted as Padua's Pantheon, with its most illustrious citizens being buried there much as important Florentines were memorialized in S. Croce or Venetians in the Frari, two other Conventual Franciscan churches.(31)

The church of the Santo as a whole, in addition to being a major pilgrimage site, was also a key civic symbol for the city of Padua.(32) It may not have been the city's cathedral, but civic iconography often privileged this Franciscan basilica and its namesake saint. A sixteenth-century print, for example, juxtaposes a bird's-eye view of Padua ringed by walls and canals on the right with an image of the Santo on the left [ILLUSTRATION FOR FIGURE 3 OMITTED].(33) Between the two stands Saint Anthony himself, his hand gesturing in the direction of the basilica while his head turns towards the view of the city, thereby linking city and Santo visually as well as symbolically in his person.(34) Local attitudes towards the Santo are perhaps best illustrated by a text of 1447, which states that "the church and most glorious site of our Saint Anthony the Confessor is holy, a bright ornament, and one of the principle and [most] famous grand things which our city of Padua has."(35) It is also significant that, during the briefly-successful elite rebellion of 1509, one of the main leaders of the coup went to a Mass of thanksgiving first at the Santo and only later, on the following day, to a service in the Cathedral.(36) Important annual civic feastdays from the thirteenth century onwards focused as well on the Santo, with major processions involving the city's secular and ecclesiastic elites held annually in honor of Saint Anthony.(37) The saint had been one of Padua's officially-designated patrons since 1256, when it was believed that, through his divine intervention, the city had been freed from the rule of the tyrant Ezzelino. It was also in the thirteenth century that the communal government began to contribute regularly to the building and maintenance of the basilica.(38) The pervasiveness of Antonine imagery in Padua is attested to by the fact that, in the Quattrocento, images associated with Saint Anthony adorned such everyday objects as coins and account books.(39)

Three other saints besides Anthony had been linked even earlier with Paduan civic iconography: Prosdocimus, Justina, and Daniel. Saint Prosdocimus was thought to have been Padua's first Bishop while the latter two were believed to have been young, native Paduans martyred for their Christian faith in the early centuries of the first millennium. Evidence of local devotional cults dedicated to these saints has been found from as early as the ninth century, and all three definitely continued to be worshiped well into the fifteenth century.(40) The venerated remains of these saints were kept in two separate Paduan churches, the Cathedral and S. Giustina, but this triumvirate of holy patrons were reunited as nearly life-size bronze figures on the new high altar commissioned in the mid-1440s from Donatello to adorn the key civic sanctuary of the Santo. Indeed, it would have been the statues representing these three local saints, together with a figure of Padua's newest protector, Saint Anthony (as well as the Madonna, Saint Francis, and another Franciscan saint, Louis of Toulouse), that would have been most easily visible to the Paduan elite who came to the Santo to visit family chapels or attend masses beyond the rood screen. Displayed within an imposing architectural framework that served to focus attention on them, these large bronze saints thus would have acted as permanent reminders for elite Paduan viewers of their native city's illustrious Christian past as well as its continued divine protection under the watchful eyes of Saints Anthony, Justina, Prosdocimus, and Daniel.

The impact of this civic iconography was heightened by the specific materials used in creating the entire high altar complex. Unlike a fresco, a painted panel, or even a marble relief altarpiece, the choice of one of the costliest possible materials, gilded bronze, for most of the altar's statues and reliefs would have made an immediate visual statement about Padua's wealth and material well-being.(41) Indeed, a careful examination of the statues suggests that it was the ensemble's overall effect of splendor rather than the specific qualities of individual figures that was most important. Some of the statues are highly finished such as, for instance, St. Prosdocimus where even the cloaks surfaces are meticulously stippled in order to suggest a heavy woolen texture [ILLUSTRATION FOR FIGURE 4 OMITTED]. In contrast, other figures such as St. Daniel or St. Anthony have large patches of unchased bronze and facial expressions that seem undefined and disconcertingly blank when seen at close quarters [ILLUSTRATION FOR FIGURE 5 OMITTED]. Although the Santo's lay and ecclesiastical overseers presumably would have wished to have all the statues chased and chiseled to an equally high degree of finish, the fact remains that they were willing to install the figures in their varied states of completion in 1450 when, just a few days before the feastday of Saint Anthony, they paid "the porters who carried the statues from the house of Donatello to the altar."(42)

The prevailing concern of the Santo's administrators thus seems to have been to have a glittering and impressive tableau in place on the most important annual civic holiday even if the individual components were not yet completely finished. In an era of Venetian domination, the elite Paduans elected to serve on the Arca in particular could well have sought to use the new high altar in part as a general reminder for themselves and their political masters of the strength and wealth of the local economy, which was based on land ownership, trade, and the wool industry.(43) Such an interpretation would seem to be reinforced by the fact that many of the upper-class families whose chapels surrounded the choir and whose members served on the Arca that supervised the high altar project were also repeatedly involved in anti-Venetian plots. The Borromeo, Buzzacarini, Capodilista, Conte, Dotto, Dottori, Papafava, Polenton, and Savonarola families, for example, all had members who were actual or suspected rebels involved in conspiracies organized in 1435 and in 1438-1439, as well as members who served on the Santo's administrative committee throughout the fifteenth century.(44)

This might, at first glance, imply that the high altar's overt emphasis on Paduan civic iconography and civic glory somehow represented a consciously anti-Venetian propaganda campaign orchestrated by an increasingly-discontented local elite. Such an explanation, however, is too simplistic. Clearly, the high altar's unambiguous references to the potent and long-standing civic iconography of the patron saints Prosdocimus, Justina, Daniel, and Anthony would have had important symbolic resonances for the city's old elite families. But the message cannot have been so much anti-Venetian as pro-Paduan. Despite the presence on the Santo's administrative committee of rebel families involved in the plots of the 1430s, as well as in later rebellions planned in 1489 and in 1509, it is important to note that the Arcas membership seems to have been approved annually by the podesta, the highest government official in Padua who, after the maritime republic's triumph in 1405, was always a Venetian aristocrat.(45)

It also appears from contemporary sources that the city's Venetian rulers were just as eager to promote an image of local wealth and well-being as were the Paduans themselves. A pro-Venetian citizen writing in the later 1430s, for example, specifically pointed out that under the maritime republic's rule, "much freedom . . . and much security is given . . . . We can now show our wealth without penalty . . . and there is complete safety on the highways."(46) Perhaps, then, apparent Venetian compliance with the high altar project should be linked to the Republic's overall strategy of promoting local goodwill and diffusing elite resentment by seeking to involve upper-class Paduans at least symbolically in local affairs as much as possible.(47) Members of Padua's oldest and wealthiest families were no longer named capitano or bishop, but they were increasingly allowed and even encouraged to fill other administrative offices on the town council and to participate in official embassies to the Doge's court in Venice.(48)

These positions as town councillor or ambassador had little real power but did provide an outlet for elite Paduans to maintain at least the outward trappings of privilege and prestige. The fact that some of the less well-connected conspirators from the plots of the 1430s were still being hunted by the Venetian republic in the late 1440s, while others from Padua's most prestigious families were invited to return from exile, supports the idea that the city's Venetian rulers were consciously trying to diffuse the passions and resentments of the most influential local clans.(49) Interestingly enough, in the case of the Capodilista family, it was in 1441 - the same year one of its rebellious sons was allowed to return from exile - that another member of the family sat once again on the Arca board, perhaps an indication that this committee was also seen by the Venetian rulers as an appropriate outlet (like the town council and embassies) for potentially troublesome upper-class families.(50) This strategy seems to have been successful at least temporarily: after the 1439 coup attempt, it would be a half century before another major rebellion conspiracy emerged from within the Paduan elite.


Padua's religious community also may have had some links to the anti-Venetian conspiracies that flared up in the first half of the fifteenth century. Immediately following Venice's conquest of the city in 1405, a plot involving Paduan ecclesiastics was uncovered. The city's former bishop, Stefano da Carrara, continued to foment rebellion for a number of years from his exile in Florence.(51) More important, perhaps, was the unsuccessful plot planned in 1418 that apparently was organized in part by a Franciscan chaplain loyal to the exiled former ruling family, the Carrara.(52) Rather than the local political situation, however, it was the Franciscan order's internal conflicts in this period that seem to be most relevant in understanding the Conventual friars' interest in commissioning a new high altar for the Santo.

Tensions between the Observant and Conventual branches of the Franciscan order were becoming increasingly pronounced in the first half of the fifteenth century. Although internal reform movements had been a feature of Franciscanism almost since its origins in the thirteenth century, a new focus on returning to the original spirit of Saint Francis's Rule, with its emphasis on poverty and the simple life, emerged in the mid-Trecento in the teachings and example of the Urnbrian friar Paoluccio dei Trinci. This movement gained increasing momentum in the early fifteenth century as more and more friars throughout Europe vowed to observe strictly Saint Francis's Rule, hence the name "Observant" Franciscans.(53)

One of the key issues of contention between the main or Conventual branch of the Franciscan order and the Observants regarded the possession of property. The Observants believed that the original Rule of the order clearly forbade individual friars from keeping personal possessions and that even convents as a whole should not own property or other sources of income. By the early Quattrocento, Conventual houses had become increasingly dependent on income generated from property held in common, with many individual friars accumulating wealth on their own as well.(54) The Observants' ability to impose their strict interpretation of the Rule waxed and waned depending on the attitudes of successive popes and the power of the individual Minister Generals of the Franciscan order as a whole and the Vicars in charge of the Observant branch in particular, but the overall trend over the course of the fifteenth century was very much in favor of the new reformers.(55) In circa 1416-1421, there had been only about two hundred Observant friars lodged in thirty to thirty-five convents in Italy; by 1493, this had increased to over 22,000 reformed friars throughout Europe housed (according to slightly later records) in 1,262 convents.(56) After over a century of spiritual and administrative struggle, in 1517 the order was finally formally split into two branches, with the upstart Observants now becoming the main, dominant wing.

In the Veneto, the success of the Observants may be linked to the Venetian aristocracy's particularly receptive attitude to ecclesiastical reform movements in general. The best-known of these movements emerged from the religious community of S. Giorgio in Alga, which included Ludovico Barbo (who worked to reform the Benedictine order), Lorenzo Giustiniani (later Patriarch of Venice), the future Pope Eugene IV, and other assorted papal nephews and cousins who spread their reforming ideas throughout the Venetian terraferma and beyond in the early and mid-fifteenth century.(57) The Veneto was also fertile ground for the Franciscan Observants.(58) The first permanent Observant house in the province was founded in Mantua by 1418. Padua followed soon after with the arrival of Observant friars at the convents of S. Francesco Grande and S. Orsola in 1420.(59) Although the number of Observants was at first relatively small, the tendency of the reformed friars to take over pre-existing Conventual convents as well as to found completely new houses worried the main branch of the order, even if the former practice was forbidden within Venetian-controlled territory.(60)

Events came to a head at the chapter general meeting of the Franciscan order held in the late Spring of 1443 in Padua, a gathering described by one witness as full of "maximum discord."(61) It was at this meeting that Pope Eugene IV, a strong supporter of the reformers, tried to impose Albert of Sarteano, one of the four so-called "Pillars of the Observants," on the order as its next Minister General. This pushed the Conventual Franciscans at the gathering into open rebellion: they rose up crying "Liberty!", bodily carried out Albert, and then proceeded to elect one of their own, the Conventual friar Anthony Rusconi, as Minister General. Despite the determined preaching of Bernardine of Siena, a future Observant saint who nevertheless maintained strong sympathy for the Conventuals, the two sides were unable to resolve their disputes. As many historians of the order have remarked, it was this meeting that signalled the beginning of the end of a truly united Franciscan movement, even though the order split in two only in the early Cinquecento.(62)

The permanent division of the Franciscan order that ultimately resulted from the traumatic 1443 gathering in Padua could not, of course, have been foreseen by the Conventual friars who hosted the meeting at the Santo. Nevertheless, some of the major issues confronting the order seem to have been played out symbolically in the high altar project initiated soon after this defining chapter general meeting. The problems associated with convents and individual friars accumulating wealth and property, and the question of identifying the true spiritual heirs of Saint Francis and his early companions, seem to be reflected in the style, materials, and iconography of Donatello's high altar complex. This is not to suggest that the altar represented a clearly-defined program of Conventual propaganda, but rather that the divisions between Conventuals and Observants that became increasingly obvious over the course of the later Quattrocento could already begin to be discerned in the Santo high altar project.

In recent years, some scholars have tried to determine the characteristics of "Observant" Franciscan art and architecture, although usually not in terms of how it specifically resembles or differs from "Conventual" art.(63) No full-fledged theory of these particular characteristics, however, would have existed in the 1440s when Donatello was designing the high altar for the Santo: the order had not yet been formally divided and the inherent differences between the two branches were only beginning to be defined. Even in the Quattrocento, however, contemporary texts and visual evidence do allow for some important general distinctions between Observant and Conventual attitudes in artistic matters to emerge.

Until the later part of the fifteenth century, when Observant saints and preachers (especially Bernardine of Siena) figured increasingly in images commissioned for the reformed Franciscans, the iconographic programs associated with the two branches of the order were not radically different.(64) Indeed, in the reform movement's first decades, Observant convents often simply adopted the pre-existing works of art in the churches they took over or saved from abandonment, and thus old frescoes were allowed to remain in apses and old-fashioned, but venerated Marian icons were left in place on altars.(65) As new convents were erected for the reformed friars, and as these buildings began to be decorated, however, some preliminary differences between Observant and Conventual artistic programs can be detected.

In general, the emphasis in the reformed friars' churches and convents was on simplicity and avoiding costly or gaudy decorations. Works were often made in fresco or wood rather than using more expensive painted panels and, especially, marble or bronze.(66) Up to the mid-fifteenth century, Observants seem to have preferred using old, established iconographic formulas with a strong emphasis on images of the Crucifixion and the Madonna (the latter either grouped with other saints, often Franciscans, or in narrative scenes such as the Annunciation, Assumption, or Coronation), themes long popular in Franciscan churches in general.(67) Interestingly enough, the few works of religious art singled out for praise by the Observant Bernardine of Siena were old (from the Trecento) and depicted precisely these types of subjects, namely, the Assumption of the Madonna (in fresco) and the Annunciation (painted on panel).(68)

The first new Observant convent in Umbria, founded in 1406, was S. Bartolomeo di Marano, and its comparatively rich decoration was criticized for causing "mortification to the true lovers of religious humility."(69) In 1474, the Tuscan Observants spelled out the implicit ideals of reformed church decoration: "avoid in the said edifices every superfluousness of grandeur and of curiosity in stone . . . and painting."(70) Earlier, in 1440, Bernardine of Siena had warned his Observant followers that, when decorating their churches, they should be careful to "use superfluousness and curiosities with moderation."(71) Not long after Bernardine made this pronouncement, Bishop (and future Saint) Antoninus of Florence, an important spokesman for a parallel reforming movement in the Dominican order, expounded more fully on these ideas when he criticized laymen for spending money "on chapels, superfluous ornaments, and ecclesiastical pomp rather than on the support of the poor" and derided friars whose surroundings were "most frivolously adorned with superfluous sculptures and paintings."(72) A somewhat later, but even more influential Dominican reformer, Fra Girolamo Savonarola, was equally firm in his belief that a convent "should be famous for its simplicity and not for its precious stones . . . the church simple, without vaults, the columns of wood or bricks [with] . . . no frivolous figures but only . . . [works] devoid of any vanity."(73) Such strict attitudes at times brought the increasingly popular Observant friars into conflict with their new and often wealthy lay patrons who seem to have been unable to see the irony of sponsoring ostentatious buildings and works of art for the poverty-loving reformers.(74)

From this brief overview of some of the general trends in Observant art patronage in the fifteenth century, important contrasts with the project undertaken by the Conventual friars for the new high altar in the Santo begin to emerge. Perhaps most significant (and certainly the first thing that would have struck contemporary viewers) was the scale and richness of the Paduan complex. The altar's nearly life-size statues of the Madonna, four local patron saints including Anthony, and the two other most commonly-represented Franciscan saints in this period, Francis and Louis of Toulouse, were not only cast in costly bronze but originally had extensive gilding as well, which can still be seen in the hair, clothing, and accoutrements of several of the figures.(75) The mainly bronze reliefs that hung below these statues were also richly decorated with precious gold and silver leaf, as well as colored stone inlay in the case of the Entombment. There has been much debate about the exact shape of the superstructure in which this statuary was placed.(76) Whatever its form might have been, contemporary documents clearly suggest that it too was richly-decorated, thus providing an elaborate and imposing framework for Donatello's statues: four fluted and four square columns with bases and capitals supporting a cupola with a stone sculpture of God the Father, a floor beneath the statues decorated by the painter Squarcione, marble and copper mouldings and cornices encasing individual reliefs and the canopy-like structure, all surrounded by red and white marble steps.(77)

As suggested above, the wealth and material splendor abundantly evident in the high altar complex would have made a statement about Paduan civic glory and prosperity. In the context of the internal struggles of the Franciscan order that, at this time, centered especially on different interpretations of the rule of poverty, the evident cost and sumptuousness of Donatello's altar complex also would have served to make the Conventual friars' position on the issue of Franciscan poverty crystal clear: unlike their Observant brethren, the Santo Conventuals not only owned enough property and received enough income to pay in large part for this lavish project themselves, but they were also willing to use and display this wealth for all to see.(78) Indeed, any visiting friar attending one of the many daily services held at the high altar while seated inside the choir enclosure would have been unable to avoid witnessing at close hand the full gilded glory of Donatello's statues and reliefs glittering in the light produced by the dozens of candles and oil lamps that would have illuminated the high altar.(79)

That the friars at the Santo would have been well aware of the symbolic implications inherent in choosing such expensive and precious materials for the new high altar of a Franciscan church can be assumed from the fact that it was this convent that provided the largest number of professors of theology to the University of Padua in this period, a situation that implies a high degree of intellectual sophistication within this Conventual community and, most likely, an awareness of the key contemporary theological debates facing the order.(80) The control often exercised by Franciscans in the decoration of their churches in general, even in projects funded by lay patrons, also suggests that in the case of the Santo's new high altar, the project's design, materials, and iconography must have been determined with the full knowledge and approval of the resident friars.(81)

Unlike the choice of materials, the iconography of the main group of large statues does not, at first glance, appear very different from the many Madonna and saints compositions (so-called Sacre Conversazioni) commissioned for both Observant and Conventual Franciscan churches throughout the fifteenth century. Indeed, the combination of Saints Francis, Anthony, and Louis of Toulouse gathered around a central Madonna and Child, together with additional non-Franciscan saints, was one of the most common subjects for altarpieces made for both branches of the Franciscan order in this period.(82) The Observant Franciscans, however, usually preferred to depict this established formula in traditional formats such as frescoes in apses or painted altarpieces. The high altar of the Santo, on the other hand, was an almost unique example of its genre since there seem to have been no other cases in the fifteenth century of sculpted altarpieces consisting of fully three-dimensional, free-standing bronze statues. In fact, very few free-standing sculpted altarpieces of any kind were made in Tre- or Quattrocento Italy.(83) Once again, therefore, Donatello's high altar would seem to reflect ideas diametrically opposed to Observant notions of tradition and decorum.(84)

As significant as the richness and novelty of the high altar as a whole was the design and iconography chosen for the relief panels visible primarily to the Conventual friars who would have had easy and regular access to the precincts closest to the high altar. The reliefs displayed beneath the seven large statues included works in bronze (a dozen music-playing angels, symbols of the four Evangelists, Christ as the Man of Sorrows, and four Antonine narratives) and stone (an Entombment of Christ and four other relief figures that are now lost). The altar's most imposing, richly-decorated, and visually-complex reliefs were the large narrative panels illustrating four of Saint Anthony's miracles, two apparently installed on the front of the altar and two behind.(85) These bronze reliefs (57 cm high and 123 cm wide) were adorned with extensive highlights in gold and silver leaf, and used complicated perspectival constructions filled with vast crowds of expressive figures to depict important miracles performed by the basilica's namesake saint. In the Miracle of the Mule, for instance, gilding is used to pick out the key perspective lines that delineate the interior of a grand, stage-like basilica teeming with emotionally-charged viewers who race across the surface of the relief, balance precariously on the architecture, or infiltrate the depths of the space [ILLUSTRATION FOR FIGURE 6 OMITTED]

The miracles chosen for these panels illustrate some of the most important themes associated with Saint Anthony's life and theology.(86) His strong stance against usury was evoked in the Miracle of the Miser's Heart, which depicted the saint's discovery of a money lender's heart in his treasure box rather than in his corpse [ILLUSTRATION FOR FIGURE 7 OMITTED]. The saint's reputation as a forgiving confessor and a healer is alluded to in the Miracle of the Irascible Boy in which a youth's leg (which he had cut off as a sign of repentance after confessing to Saint Anthony) was reattached by the saint. The saint's life-long crusade against heresy is represented in the Miracle of the Mule, which shows a non-believer's donkey kneeling down before the Host, thereby demonstrating its true sacred nature. Finally, Saint Anthony's defense of the innocent, the weak, and the young is illustrated in the Miracle of the New-Born Babe, a scene in which an infant verbally confirms his parentage after his father had accused his mother of adultery.

Taken together, the materials, designs, and subjects of these four reliefs once again seem to address some of the most pressing and controversial issues that were dividing the Franciscan order at this time. As in the case of the altar as a whole, the rich and lavish decor of these reliefs and the novelty of their intricate perspectival constructions would have set them apart from current Observant ideals of simplicity and tradition in works of art. Even more important was the message that this iconography would have imparted to the Conventual friars who sat in the choir stalls and on the benches around the high altar during the many masses celebrated there. These images would have reminded the Conventuals of their direct links to the founder of the order, Saint Francis, through his closest companion, Saint Anthony, buried in the same church in which the friars themselves were gathered. The presence and potency of Saint Anthony's remains would have reassured the Conventual friars that it was their branch that represented the true, direct, and unbroken line of descent from Saint Francis himself, a righteous attitude reinforced visually on a daily basis by seeing the miracles illustrated in Donatello's reliefs as well as by witnessing new miracles apparently taking place at the arca in the Santo.(87) The Observants might have tried to claim that they were returning to the original spirit of Saint Francis's Rule, but the Santo Conventuals had concrete, visible reminders of their privileged position within the order thanks to the permanent presence of Saint Anthony's miraculous body and Donatello's absorbingly-detailed narrative reliefs.


In addition to such apparently "Conventual" implications, other aspects of the high altar's design may relate more generally to contemporary liturgical practices. Specifically, the original arrangement of the various reliefs and statues on the altar, which has occasioned so much scholarly debate, should be re-examined in light of the liturgical functions such an altar complex would have served in this period. For example, the perspectival constructions of the four panels of Saint Anthony's miracles have been rightly linked by scholars to the apparent placement of two of these reliefs on the front and two on the back of the altar.(88) That is, although all the reliefs were probably installed at the same level, the somewhat lower viewpoints of the Miracle of the New-Born Babe and the Miracle of the Mule suggest that these panels could have been designed for the back of the altar where they would have been seen from below by a beholder standing on the floor of the basilica [ILLUSTRATION FOR FIGURE 6 OMITTED], while the two panels on the front, which may have been set just above the mensa, could have been seen head-on by a viewer standing on the altar platform raised on several steps [ILLUSTRATION FOR FIGURE 7 OMITTED].

The liturgical associations of the iconography of the two reliefs with lower viewpoints, that is, the Miracle of the Mule and the Miracle of the New-Born Babe, lend further support to the suggestion that these two reliefs were probably originally on the altar's back. In this period, as was often the case in mendicant and monastic churches in general, the Host was kept in a special locked tabernacle set in the rear of the Santo's high altar.(89) Thus, it would have been appropriate to surround this tabernacle with these two narrative reliefs: the Host itself was seen centrally displayed in miraculous circumstances in the Miracle of the Mule, while the child held up in the middle of the Miracle of the New-Born Babe would have recalled the symbolism of Christ's sacrificial body being reincarnated and held aloft during the consecration of the Host.

The arrangement of the large bronze statues may also be related to contemporary liturgical practices. Some scholars have suggested that the statues' gazes and gestures were intended to address the faithful gathered around the altar.(90) However, as previously suggested, the great majority of the faithful - that is, the pilgrims and other lay visitors who came to the Santo - would not have had easy physical or even visual access to the high altar in this period. The only viewers with regular and intimate contact with the high altar would have been the Franciscan friars themselves. Therefore, the gestures of the saints such as, for example, the outstretched hands of Sts. Daniel and Justina, would probably have sought to address first and foremost the friars attending services at the high altar [ILLUSTRATION FOR FIGURE 8 OMITTED].(91)

The liturgy celebrated at the Santo in this period used the Roman rite of the papal court, but this ceremony also had important historical links to the Franciscans in particular since it was this order that had both developed and actively promoted this liturgy from the thirteenth century onwards.(92) The Roman rite describes very precisely the rituals performed by celebrants before the altar: "the priest should kneel upon the highest step before the altar. Then going up to the altar, he begins [to cense] . . . towards the body of Christ [on the altar]."(93) Once the Host had been consecrated, individual friars would come to the altar and kneel to receive communion: "beginning with those friars at the head of the choir, they proceed two by two in order and, on bended knee, communicate."(94) It would be to the celebrant consecrating the Host, as well as to the friars coming to kneel before the altar, that the gestures of the bronze statues would probably have been directed. Indeed, the central Madonna holding the Child before her would have addressed the priest censing the Host on the altar at the climax of the liturgy and would have created a permanent, eternally-reoccurring elevation and presentation of the Child-as-Host on the high altar between services [ILLUSTRATION FOR FIGURE 10 OMITTED].

The statues of the Madonna and Saints Prosdocimus, Louis, Daniel, and especially Justina, so often illustrated in scholarly texts by photographs taken from head on, actually work most successfully from a formal point of view when seen from below. It is only from such a viewing position, that is, standing or kneeling beneath these figures, that Donatello's engaging design strategies become most fully affective. The overly-long right arm of St. Justina, for instance, is much more intelligible when seen from below: she now seems to reach down urgently to draw in the beholder standing beneath her, a viewer who would originally have been a Franciscan priest or friar before the high altar during a mass [ILLUSTRATION FOR FIGURE 9 OMITTED]. Similarly, the Madonna and Child that seem so remote and hierarchic when photographed head-on appear much more interactive when seen from directly below: in such a position, the Virgin seems to rise up from her throne in order to present the symbolic Child/Host to the viewer beneath her [ILLUSTRATION FOR FIGURE 11 OMITTED].

Sts. Louis, Prosdocimus, Daniel, and Justina would probably have been set as pairs progressively decreasing in height, turned in towards the Madonna, and actively addressing a viewer standing or kneeling in the center of the altar (i.e., St. Louis on the far left with St. Danielto the right of him, and St. Prosdocimus on the far right with St. Justina to the left of him - see [ILLUSTRATION FOR FIGURE 12 OMITTED]).(95) Such an arrangement of figures oriented towards a central Madonna, as well as gesturing downwards to a beholder positioned near the center of the altar, is a common feature of many, though certainly not all, Franciscan painted Sacra Conversazione compositions in this period. Alvise Vivarini's 1480 altarpiece for the Conventual Franciscan church of S. Francesco in Treviso serves as a useful example of the type of grouping proposed here for Donatello's high altar: the painted saints also focus on the Madonna, while at the same time inviting the implied viewer positioned below and in the center to participate symbolically in the composition [ILLUSTRATION FOR FIGURE 13 OMITTED].(96)

Unlike such altarpieces, however, the innermost (and shortest) pair of saints on Donatello's high altar, Sts. Anthony and Francis, turn their bodies in towards the central Madonna, but not their heads.(97) Instead, as suggested by the chasing of the facial features of the former figure in particular, both originally stood facing to our left, that is, towards where the miraculous body of Saint Anthony is still housed in the left transept of the Santo [ILLUSTRATION FOR FIGURES 2 AND 5 OMITTED].(98) The symbolic implications of these poses - contrapposto bodies open towards the Madonna and consecrated Host set on the altar, but heads turned towards the miraculous arca in the transept - encapsulate two of the key associations the altar would have evoked for contemporary Conventual beholders: the rituals of the Franciscan-inspired liturgy centered on the Host at the altar on the one hand, and the Conventuals' privileged links to the founder of the order through the still-active presence in the Santo of the remains of his most important companion, Saint Anthony, on the other. The choice of lavish materials, an imposing framework, and novel design strategies also would have reflected the Conventual Franciscans' attitudes towards art patronage, attitudes that were increasingly threatened and criticized by the rival Observant branch in this period.


The few surviving descriptions of the original arrangement of Donatello's high altar do not provide much direct evidence of how contemporary beholders reacted to the new complex. Even the document of 1448 which describes setting up a temporary altar for the benefit of the "foreigners" visiting the Santo on Saint Anthony's feastday does not tell us how these viewers or the committee that oversaw the project responded to the statues and reliefs displayed before them. The very process of trying to define who the high altar's specific beholders were, however, allows us to explore some of the concerns that may have preoccupied fifteenth-century viewers, as well as helps us to begin to understand why the project was undertaken in the first place. Pilgrims concentrating intensely on reaching the miraculous arca of Saint Anthony would have encountered Donatello's bronze Crucifix and glimpsed, in the distance, the high altar just before arriving at their primary devotional goal in the northern transept of the Santo. When they wandered into the ambulatory between religious services, they could have admired from somewhat closer quarters the overall magnificence of the splendid new high altar, testimony to both Paduan and Conventual Franciscan wealth and prestige. More regular and more privileged access to family chapels in the ambulatory of the basilica gave elite Paduans a different experience of Donatello's complex, one that probably focused primarily on the specific civic associations of the local patron saints proudly displayed on the imposing high altar that had been commissioned despite the political and economic domination of the Venetian state. Finally, it is likely that the Santo's Conventual Franciscans, who had intimate daily contact with the altar, would have been directly addressed during the liturgy by the engaging gestures of the statues. The Conventual friars presumably would have also understood the Antonine narrative reliefs and the general sumptuousness of the complex in light of the pressing questions about property and primacy that were facing their branch of the Franciscan order in a period of increasingly-fraught relations with the Observants.

These conclusions suggest that Donatello's sculptures in the Santo were viewed and appreciated in different ways by the pilgrims, Paduans, and friars who encountered them. The metaphor of the frame may be a helpful way of characterizing the type of analysis of Donatello's statues and reliefs that has been proposed here, for it is by framing and selectively cropping the high altar complex into a series of distinct visual experiences that the concerns of different categories of beholders have been defined. Although the choice of frames presented here inevitably has been conditioned by the author's own viewing experiences in the Santo and those suggested by other scholars' texts and photographs, Donatello's contemporary viewers also seem to have been aware of the power that comes from being able to manipulate the frame. The continuous interest in reworking the walls, stalls, and grilles that surrounded the choir shows a sustained concern by the Santo's overseers in controlling visual and physical access to the high altar. Indeed, Donatello's statues and reliefs in the basilica were themselves subjected to ongoing reframings beginning in the later fifteenth century with the repositioning of the bronze Crucifix, followed in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries by increasingly radical reorganizations of the high altar, and continuing to the present day with the paper and pencil reconstructions of the complex proposed by scholars.(99)

In all these framings and reframings, however, the emphasis remains on the ensemble rather than on individual components. For present-day scholars, this is probably due in part to the challenge of trying to solve the puzzle of the original arrangement of the high altar. At the same time, the uneven finishes of many of the statues and reliefs, and the disconcerting blankness of the faces of figures such as St. Anthony [ILLUSTRATION FOR FIGURE 5 OMITTED] suggest that Donatello and his patrons may have also been most concerned with orchestrating the whole rather than with finalizing each individual piece. In some ways, these blank expressions, the rough figures who populate parts of the reliefs, even the repeatedly modified (and now missing) framework of the entire altar would have allowed contemporary viewers to project their own particular and ever-changing concerns as Antonine pilgrims, elite Paduans, and Conventual Franciscans onto those parts of the complex that addressed them most directly. In projecting their own theories and knowledge onto the high altar, present-day scholars are perhaps simply continuing in their own way this dynamic tradition of selfinterested engagement with the unique ensemble that is Donatello's Santo high altar.


I would like to thank Joseph Koerner, John Shearman, David Wilkins, and an anonymous reviewer for their very helpful comments. I am also grateful for the suggestions I received after presenting this material at research seminars at the Warburg Institute, the Courtauld Institute, and Birkbeck College, and for additional bibliographical references given to me by Robert Kendrick, Barnaby Nygren, and John White. Finally, I am most appreciative of the support I have received from the Society of Fellows at Harvard University and from Villa I Tatti, the Harvard Center for Italian Renaissance Studies in Florence. Unless otherwise noted, all translations are my own.

1 A gilded bronze Crucifix that hangs above the current high altar was not originally made for this location. See Johnson, 1997. Donatello's work on the high altar is documented from February 1447 onwards but, as noted by Pope-Hennessy, 340, n. 18, a contract was probably signed well before this date. The relevant documents have been published by: Gloria; Sartori, 1961b, 1963, 1976 (87-95), 1983-1989 (1:214 ff.); and Herzner, 1979, 200 if. passim. More recently, see also Calore, 247-72.

2 The most convincing reconstruction of the high altar remains the one by White, 1969 (and 1984, 51 ff.). Since 1969, new reconstructions and critiques of White's proposals include: Herzner, 1970; Schroeteler; Parronchi, 157-75; Poeschke, 1980, 66-74; and Pope-Hennessy, 211-44 and 340, n. 18 and 25. The study by Janson, 162-87, of the altar and its reconstructions is still useful as well. Since White, 1969, see also: Beck; Herzner, 1972; Hartt, 331 ff.; Greenhalgh, 148-62; Bennett and Wilkins, passim; Vertova; Mazzariol and Dorigato; and McHam, 1992.

3 Only recently have any attempts been made to specify who the altar's original viewers were. For example, McHam, 1992, 268, has suggested that the reliefs would have been most easily visible to the friars, but she does not define these viewers' particular interests in any way.

4 In the early 1990s, the number of visitors to the Santo was estimated to be about 57 million annually. See McHam, 1994, 136, n. 1. On the history of the Santo as a building and an institution, Gonzati remains a key source. More recently, see also: Puppi; Dellwing, 1975 and 1979; Poppi, 1976 and 1978; Lorenzoni, 1981 and 1984; Sartori, 1983-1989, vols. 1 and 4; and Semenzato.

5 Translated by Janson, 169. For the original text, see Sartori, 1976, 91.

6 This phrase comes from a late sixteenth-century text. See Polidoro, 86. Already in the thirteenth century, pilgrims were said to have come from as far away as Hungary and Germany. Later writers continue to speak of pilgrims coming from "diversorum locorum" and from "molti popoli e nazioni." See Bordin, 1983, 499, and 1978, 170.

7 Approximately sixty indulgences were granted from the thirteenth to the eighteenth centuries for visiting the Santo, including several for visits on Saint Anthony's feastday. See Gonzati, 2:441 and xv-xviii, and Bordin, 1978, 187.

8 White, 1984, 61, believes that forestieri may refer to Venetian or other foreign nobles rather than to non-native pilgrims in general. The word forestieri has long been linked to the concept of pilgrims. See, for example, Saint Catherine of Siena: "Noi siamo forestieri e peregrini in questa vita" (Battaglia, 6:161). The best overview of Paduan history in this period is in Simioni, 747-98. See also: Segarizzi; Bertalot; Pino-Branca; Borgherini; Ventura, 52-92; Kohl; Cessi, vol. 1, passim; and Collodo, 1990.

9 The systematic exclusion of women from the more privileged precincts of churches in general, especially around high altars, is discussed by Aston and Randolph, passim.

10 These changes are summarized in Alvarez.

11 McHam, 1992, 268, emphasizes that the pilgrims' main goal was the saint's tomb, not the high altar. Until a door was opened on the north side of the Santo in 1594, pilgrims would have approached Saint Anthony's tomb from the nave, probably entering from the chapel's south-western corner. It remains unclear, however, whether they would have exited directly back into the nave from the south-eastern corner of the chapel or via the adjacent chapels of the Madonna Mora and the Blessed Luca Belludi, thereby gaining access to the ambulatory beyond the rood screen. It is possible that the choice of exit might have depended on whether or not a mass was in progress on the high altar (i.e., when services were occuring, pilgrims could leave the chapel without going beyond the rood screen). On the side door and the pilgrims' movements into and out of the chapel, see Negri and Sesler, 142-43, and McHam, 1994, 98-100 and 122.

12 Polidoro, 5r-6v, gives one of the most thorough descriptions of the Renaissance choir, although some changes had been made since the completion of Donatello's altar. On the building history of the choir, see Dellwing, 1975 and 1979.

13 Polidoro, 27v, asserts that the Santo was "trammezata da uno antico colo[n] nato." For a fuller description of the rood screen, see Portenari's text transcribed in n. 14 below. White, 1969, 4, following Guidaldi, 271, dates the drawing (Uffizi no. 1868) to circa 1457-1477, but Janson, 170-71, and Schroeteler, 8, believe it is a sixteenth-century work. Polidoro and Portenari's texts and the sketchy Uffizi plan do not make it clear whether the rood screen crossed the entire body of the church or only the central nave in the early modern period. A change in the present-day marble floor pattern in the side aisles at the point where the rood screen would have been installed may imply that it did once cross the entire width of the church. I would like to thank Tatiana String for providing me with a copy of Guidaldi's article.

14 Portenari, 401: "Avanti il choro e un ordine di colonne di marmo rosso, le quali sono fondate sopra una panca di quadroni di marmo bianco e nero all' altezza di un huomo, e con tre archi per parte."

15 The estimated height of the inner choir enclosure's western face and side walls is calculated from the measurements (7 pedem = 2.43 m) of a choir planned for the Paduan Carmelites in 1383, a structure that was to be based on the Santo's choir. See Sartori, 1961a, 22-23, and 1983-1989, 1:256. Polidoro, 15v, says that the enclosure is eleven piedi high which, based on other measurements he gives of the Santo's interior, would be about 4 m. In the last decades of the Quattrocento, however, extensive additions were made to the inner choir walls, which may well explain the greater height recorded in Polidoro's description.

16 See Fabris, 422 (transcribing Giovanni da Nono's Trecento chronicle): "Under a seventh [i.e., the eastern-most] cupola then there is set the high altar, around which were built nine altars [in the ambulatory's radial chapels]." Sartori, 1983, 1:230 and 273, believes that the Quattrocento altar was between the final set of piers. Nono's text and the Uffizi plan, however, suggest that the altar was to the east of these piers, closer to the center of the eastern-most dome than Sartori implies. On the altar's Quattrocento location, see also Alvarez, 105, and the description by Savonarola, 12.

17 A choir planned in 1383 for the Paduan Carmelites, which was to be based on the Santo's choir, specified having stalls set on two levels. Sartori, 1961 a, 22-23, and 1983-1989, 1:256. The Santo's stalls were redone in the 1460s by the Canozi brothers, reoriented in the Seicento to face westwards from the top of the choir, and then destroyed in an eighteenthcentury fire. On the Canozi stalls, see: Polidoro, 10r-10v; Gonzati, 1:64-65, xlviii-xlix, I and lxx; Sartori, 1961a, 42-44, and 1983-1989, 1:256-64; and Alvarez, 111-12 and 122.

18 See Gonzati, l:xlix; and Sartori, 1961a, 44.

19 The tomb, completed in 1431, was moved from this position in the mid-seventeenth century. See Lazzarini.

20 The reconstructed plan [ILLUSTRATION FOR FIGURE 2 OMITTED] is modified from one found in Dellwing, 1979, plate 1. This reconstruction fits in well with evidence from the later fifteenth-century choir in the Franciscan church of the Frari in Venice, as well as with reconstructions of the rood screens and choirs that existed in this period in the mendicant churches of S. Croce and S. Maria Novella in Florence. See: Hall, 1970, 1974a, 1974b, 1979 (passim), and Goffen, 19. The specific dimensions of the Frari's choir have been used to reconstruct the Santo's choir since the upper two rows of stalls in the former church have ninety seats, the same number listed in descriptions of the latter. The dimensions of the Frari's choir are approximately 16 m wide by 16.5 m long, as seen in the plan in Franzoni and Di Stefano, 33. The choir in the reconstructed plan of the Santo [ILLUSTRATION FOR FIGURE 2 OMITTED] has the same length (about 16.5 m) as the Frari's choir, although the former's width (about 13.5 m) is a bit less due to the fact that the Santo's choir had only two levels of stalls while the Frari's has three. The width of the Santo's high altar (about 5.5 m) in the reconstruction [ILLUSTRATION FOR FIGURE 2 OMITTED] is based on calculations made by White, 1969, 120. On the height of the choir, which was probably well over 2 m tall, see n. 15 above.

21 White, 127.

22 The grille is described by Polidoro, 6r-6v. It was completed in 1468 and replaced in the mid-seventeenth century. See Gonzati, 1:65-66 and l-li.

23 The original dedications of the radial chapels are listed in Gonzati, l:xiv-xvi. The side entrances to the choir are described in Sartori, 1983-1989, 1:273.

24 See n. 11 above.

25 On the Crucifix's original location, see Johnson, 1997.

26 'The document commissioning the high altar does not survive, but the extensive archival record detailing the execution of this project (see n. 1 above) demonstrates the central role played by the Arca throughout this process.

27 On the history and structure of this committee, see: Gonzati, 1:21-22, 42-46, and xxv; Sartori, 1983-1989, 1:1430 ff.; and McHam, 1994, 17-28 and 109-10.

28 All these families had members who served on the Arca at least four times in the Quattrocento. Sartori, 1983-1989, 1:1430-32. On Padua's elite families in this period, see: Segarizzi, 55 if.; Ventura, 59-92; Simioni, 747-98; and Kohl.

29 The chapels' familial associations are detailed in Gonzati, 1:xv-xvi. All of these families (not including the Carrara) also had members serving on the Arca during this century; see Sartori, 1983-1989, 1:1430-32.

30 See Fabris, 146 and n. 98. In addition, as previously mentioned, the tomb of a prominent academic, Raffaello Fulgosio (died 1427), was installed behind the high altar. See Lazzarini.

31 See Kleinschmidt, 1931, 85. In Venice, the Dominican church of SS. Giovanni e Paolo also served as an important civic burial location.

32 McHam, 1994, 3, calls the Santo "the state church of Padua."

33 Hind, 1:268, dates the print circa 1500-1520, while Ghironi, cat. no. 9, dates it circa 1570.

34 In the fourteenth century, Giusto de' Menabuoni painted a fresco in the chapel of the Blessed Luca Belludi in the Santo that also combined a view of Padua with Saint Anthony and his namesake church. See Semenzato, pl. 115.

35 Gonzati, 1:xlv. I am grateful to Jeffrey Dolven and Lisa Wolverton for suggestions regarding this translation.

36 See Simioni, 777.

37 On the events associated with Saint Anthony's feastday, see: Polidoro, 86r-88v; Portenari, 409-10; dall'Orologio, 1816, 3-4; Gonzati, 1:18 and 2:xii-xiii; Fabris, 167; and Nocilli, 47-49.

38 On the commune's financial support of the Santo and the origins of the civic observation of Saint Anthony's feastday, see: dalrOrologio, 1816, 4; Puppi, 173-74; Fabris, 120, 126, 145, and 167; Lorenzoni, 1981, 18-22; Salvatori, 39-40; and McHam, 1994, 10-11.

39 Kleinschmidt, 1931, 96.

40 On these saints, see: dall'Orologio, 1802 if., 1:15 ff. and 3:41-50, and 1816, 9-10; Barzon, passim; and Daniele. A text from the 1430s still lists these three saints together with Saint Anthony (and Saint Luke whose remains were also in the city) as Padua's special protectors; see Bertalot, 194.

41 The expense and prestige of bronze is suggested by the fact that only the major guilds of Florence were allowed to commission bronze statues for their niches on Or San Michele; see Zervas, 108. Wackernagel, 342, estimates that a bronze statue cost eight times as much as one in marble. The total cost of Donatello's altar was about 3000 ducats (1 ducat = approximately 5.8 lire), close to the entire patrimony of a typical elite Paduan family. See Band, 318; Janson, 169; and Ventura, 73-74.

42 Translated by Janson, 167. The statues were moved on 11 June 1450, two days before the saint's feastday. Fallows has suggested that Guillaume Dufay may have composed liturgical music for the inauguration of the high altar at this time.

43 On the Paduan economy in the Quattrocento, see: Pino-Branca; Borgherini; and Cessi, 1:28. See also McHam, 1994, 13-14, 23 if., and 64, on the Santo and its namesake saint as symbolic rallying points for Paduan citizens in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries.

44 For the Arcds Quattrocento membership records, see Sartori, 1983-1989, 1:143032. On the elite Paduan families involved in anti-Venetian plots in the 1430s, see: Segarizzi; Simioni, 758-61; and Kohl, 218-19.

45 In June, 1432, for example, it was the Venetian podesta who elected the four citizens who served on the Arca; see Sartori, 1983-1989, 1:1430. Kohl, 215, states that under Venetian rule, the podesta of Padua and most of his immediate staff were Venetian nobles. Orsato, 43 if., lists the Venetian podesta and capitani of Padua after 1405.

46 Translated by Kohl, 220.

47 Ibid., 215-21, on Venetian interest in encouraging Paduan participation in local government and embassies. As McHam, 1994, 3, points out in reference to the role played by the Santo in Paduan civic life, "symbolism is very important to a subject city."

48 On elite Paduan families serving on the town council or as ambassadors under Venetian rule, see Ventura, 52-92, and Kohl, 215-18. After 1405, Padua had (with two exceptions) no native-born bishops appointed until 1796. See: dall'Orologio, 1802 if., vol. 9; Simioni, 904 if.; Gios, 1977 and 1984. On the capitani, see also n. 45 above.

49 For example, Antonio Sartorelli, a conspirator in the 1435 plot, was not from a particularly powerful Paduan family; he was executed by the Venetian state in 1449. In contrast, Francesco Capodilista, involved in the 1439 rebellion but from an elite clan, was allowed to return from exile within two years. See Simioni, 758-61.

50 Gianfederico Capodilista served on the Arca in 1441; see Sartori, 1983-1989, 1:1430.

51 Cessi, 1:249-52. In 1456, a relic-like portrait of Padua's last Carrara ruler was still being secretly preserved in the Cathedral, which suggests that some of the city's ecclesiastics continued to harbor anti-Venetian feelings; see Simioni, 761.

52 Cessi, 1:255.

53 On Franciscan reform movements, especially from the mid-Trecento to the Quattrocento, see: Huber, 265 ff.; Brengio; Moorman, 1968, 371 ff.; Origo, 220 ff.; Elm; Nimmo, 1985 and 1989; and Manselli.

54 Nimmo, 1989, 191-93, emphasizes that while most Conventual convents had become "unambiguous property owners" by the fourteenth century, it was the increasingly frequent violations of individual vows of poverty that signalled a new degree of laxity in the Tre- and Quattrocento.

55 On the Minister Generals, the Observants' Vicars, and papal attitudes towards the reformers, see: Huber, 327 if.; Moorman, 1968, 441-56 and 479-90; and Dianin, 36 ff.

56 In 1517, 791 of these Observant houses were in Italy. The total number of Observant friars in 1493 approximately equaled the total population of Conventual friars. Moorman, 1968,377, 446, and 489-90.

57 On the reformers associated with S. Giorgio in Alga and the Venetian patriciate's links to these movements, see Tramontin, 431-44, and Rubinstein, 1989, 530-31.

58 By 1517, there were thirty-four Observant Franciscan convents in the Veneto housing approximately 700 friars; see Dianin, 46.

59 Bellinati, 13, and Collodo, 1983, 42, and 1984, 359-60, believe the Observant movement arrived in Padua in 1413, although the first permanent community of reformed friars probably dates only from 1420. Dianin, 45, suggests that the Observants had already arrived in Mantua as early as 1407. On the reformed Franciscans in Padua and the Veneto, see also: Sartori, 1958, 26-27 and 227-28, and 1983-1989, 2 (pt. 1): 8-10; Tramontin, 446-50; and Moorman, 1983, 367.

60 See Sartori, 1983-1989, 3 (pt. 1): 273.

61 Huber, 355, n. 44.

62 On the 1443 meeting, see: Glassberger, 307-08; Wadding, 11:201; Huber, 353-55; Moorman, 1968, 450-51; Dianin, 38 and 43-45; and Sartori, 1983-1989, 3 (pt. 1): 400-01.

63 See, for example, Salmi; Bisogni; Lunghi; Pavone, 33 ff.; Rubinstein, 1989 and 1990; and Muzzi. Two earlier studies that remain useful are Cartwright and Bracaloni, 260 ff..

64 For depictions of important Observants commissioned for reformed convents, see Bisogni.

65 An eighteenth-century text describes one such Marian image as being "in the good old-fashioned style." See Lunghi, 89.

66 Ibid., 84 and 88.

67 For example, see the images that hung in the Umbrian Observant churches listed in Ibid., 96 ff. and passim. See also Bracaloni, 210-20 and 293; de Cognin; Nocilli, 34-35 and 40-43; and Blume, passim.

68 Carli, 157-71.

69 Lunghi, 92.

70 Rubinstein, 1989, 530, n. 44. See also Muzzi, 48.

71 Rubinstein, 1989, 530, n. 43.

72 Translated by Rubinstein, 1990, 66 and 68.

73 Ibid., 75.

74 See Rubinstein, 1989 and 1990, and Muzzi on the conflicts between secular patrons and Observant friars.

75 The original gilding of the statues and other elements of the altar is discussed by Bennett and Wilkins, 104-05 and 132-34. Surviving traces of gilding can be seen particularly clearly in the photographs by Elio Ciol that illustrate Mazzariol and Dorigato.

76 See n. 2 above.

77 Documents on the high altar's surrounding framework are found in: Gloria; Janson, 163-67; Sartori, 1976, 87-95, and 1983-1989, 1:214 ff..

78 The estimated total cost of the altar was about 3000 ducats. Only about 370 ducats came from private lay donors. The rest presumably came in large part from the earnings of the Conventual Franciscan friars themselves. See Band, 318, and Janson, 169. A similar attitude towards using and displaying the friars' wealth is demonstrated by the late fifteenth- and sixteenth-century redecoration of the chapel of St. Anthony in the Santo, also an elaborate and expensive project. See McHam, 1994, 1-2, 64-5, and passim.

79 Already in the Duecento, prodigious offerings of wax candles to the Santo are recorded. See Kleinschmidt, 1931, 64, and Bordin, 1978, 179.

80 In 1424, Conventual Franciscans represented nearly a third of all professors of theology at the University. Poppi, 1981, 10, and 1989, 18-23.

81 Blume, 103, 105-06, and 109, emphasizes Franciscan control of artistic programs in the order's churches in general. In contrast, Bourdua, 131-41, has suggested that the Santo's Franciscans were not particularly concerned with overseeing the content of artistic commissions in the Trecento. She fails to consider, however, the fact that the main examples she cites for the interior of the Santo involve the patronage of endowed family chapels, not the high altar or other areas of particular interest to the friars.

82 See, for example, the altarpieces made for Umbrian Observant convents listed in Lunghi. On Franciscan iconography in general, see also: de Mandach; Salter; Kleinschmidt, 1909, and 1931, 126 if.; Bracaloni; Facchinetti; Fausti; Blume, passim; and Pavone.

83 There has been little research done on the development of the sculpted altarpiece in Italy as a genre. Interestingly enough, it is in the Santo itself that one finds the only important example of a truly free-standing sculpted altarpiece that predates Donatello's high altar: the five statues carved in the later fourteenth century that stood originally on the altar of the chapel of St. James (rededicated to St. Felix in the Cinquecento), which forms the southern transept of the basilica. In addition, documents suggest that a free-standing sculpted altarpiece for the high altar may have been begun (but left incomplete) in the 1370s. On these possible precedents and the development of the genre in general, see Johnson, 1994, 213-19. On a related phenomenon, namely, sculpted saints' shrines or tombs that were incorporated into altars, see McHam, 1994, 85-89.

84 As McHam, 1994, 1-2, 30, and 123-24, emphasizes, the late fifteenth- and sixteenth-century redecoration of the chapel of St. Anthony in the Santo was, like Donatello's high altar, also a highly unusual and very untraditional project.

85 A problematic text of circa 1520 by Marcantonio Michiel states that two of the miracle reliefs were on the back of the altar and two were on the front. Michiel's statement that four (rather than six) statues surrounded the Madonna and Child has long puzzled scholars. On this text, see: Janson, 167 and 175-77; White, 1969, 4 and 11-13; and Pope-Hennessy, 340, n. 21. One of the miracles depicted by Donatello (the Miracle of the New-Born Babe) is first recorded in Sicco Polentone's circa 1435 Life of Saint Anthony, which suggests that this was the literary source used for the narrative reliefs. See Kleinschmidt, 1931, 168.

86 On the miracles of Saint Anthony, see: de Mandach, 195-249; Salter, 172-74; Kleinschmidt, 1931, 65-76 and 167 ff.; and Gasparotto.

87 McHam, 1994, 64, characterizes Saint Anthony as "the hero of the Conventuals." Like the Santo's friars, members of the Carmelite order were also interested in commissioning images that attested to their supposed descent from the prophet Elijah in order to reaffirm their status and legitimacy. See Gilbert.

88 See White, 1969, 124-25; Hartt, 361-62; and n. 85 above.

89 On this practice in general, see Browe, 18-21, and van Dijk and Walker, 369. For the grille and locks that protected the Santo's tabernacle, see White, 1969, 3-6.

90 For example, see the comments by Band, 327, and Vertova, 218, who believe the saints' gestures are directed to worshipers approaching from the sides.

91 Kecks, 260-66, has studied Donatello's use of "looking" figures within the narrative reliefs as a means of drawing outside viewers into the compositions. Kecks does not specify who these outside viewers might have been, but it seems likely that they would have been the friars who were once again being addressed by such engaging design strategies.

92 On the Franciscan origins of the Roman rite and the liturgies celebrated in the Santo, see: dall'Orologio, 1816, 10-11; van Dijk and Walker; van Dijk; Cambell; and Nocilli.

93 Translated by Van Dijk and Walker, 370.

94 Ibid., 365.

95 Sts. Prosdocimus and Louis (approximately 163 cm tall) and Sts. Justina and Daniel (approximately 153 cm tall) form pairs in terms of height, design, and iconography: the former two are bishop-saints with miters, the latter two are young Paduan martyrs with one hand outstretched. Many altarpieces showing a gradation in height in the saints flanking a Madonna in this period have the tallest figures on the outside, with progressively shorter ones converging on a large central Virgin, as in Mantegna's S. Zeno altarpiece in Verona, a work probably inspired by Donatello's altar. See also the comments by White, 1969, 130-31, on the statues' heights.

96 S. Francesco in Treviso was a Conventual convent until it joined the Cappuchines in 1541. Sartori, 1958, 281-83. On Vivarini's altarpiece, which is now in the Accademia in Venice, see Marconi, 155-56. Interestingly enough, the two bronze outer figures placed in the late Cinquecento on the altar-tomb in the chapel of St. Anthony in the Santo also orient their gazes and gestures downwards towards a beholder standing or kneeling in the center. See Wilk, 166-69, and McHam, 1994, 89-91.

97 Sts. Anthony and Francis are each approximately 146 cm tall; the Madonna and Child which they flank is 159 cm tall.

98 The right side of the St. Anthony's face has been left remarkably unpolished, which suggests that this side of the head was not intended to be as visible as the other. This implies that the saint originally faced to our left.

99 On the Crucifix's repositioning, see Johnson, 1997. For the high altar in the Cinque- and Seicento, see: Gonzati, 1:85 and 147; Janson, 171; Alvarez, 111 ff.; and Sartori, 1983-1989, 1:231 ff.


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Author:Johnson, Geraldine A.
Publication:Renaissance Quarterly
Geographic Code:4EUIT
Date:Sep 22, 1999
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