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Date(s) - 13 Feb 2018
5:30 PM - 9:00 PM

Columbia University Faculty House

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Gail Aronow, Independent Scholar, New York

“ ‘Per commandamento di misser Jacomo Operaio’: Notes on Jacopo della Quercia as Operaio del Duomo di Siena (1435-38)”


Jacopo della Quercia (c.1375/80 – 1438) was the most prominent sculptor of Sienese origin working in Central Italy during the earlier Quattrocento. A peer of the Florentine masters Donatello and Ghiberti, like them Jacopo produced chapels, tombs and statuary for both private and corporate patrons alike across Emilia and Tuscany. In his native Siena, he contributed substantially to the Baptismal Font in the Chiesa di San Giovanni, the Loggia della Mercanzia, and, most famously, the beloved Fonte Gaia occupying the city’s principal piazza, the Campo.

In February 1435 Siena’s highest council, the Concistoro, elected Jacopo della Quercia to the lifelong office of Operaio del Duomo, one of the most powerful posts within the Sienese Republic. While certain key documents regarding Jacopo’s election have been published, the voluminous literature on the artist generally skips over the details of this unexpected biographical turn.

Roughly translated as “overseer” (rather than the modern Italian “worker”), the Operaio del Duomo was literally charged with supervising the Sienese Republic’s most valuable asset, its Cathedral, including not only the church building and its operations but also its considerable patrimony. The Opera del Duomo owned vast tracts of real estate, mills, and quarries, housed an active workshop staffed with numerous artisans, and collected taxes from the extensive parishes under its control. Managing such a wealthy and complex institution was surely a full-time job requiring well-developed executive skills. Jacopo’s fellow Sienese citizens must have deemed the sculptor equal to the task.

My paper will review the statutory requirements of the Operaio’s post and the circumstances of Jacopo’s election, followed by a discussion of many previously unknown details about how the sculptor fared once in office. The new findings emanating from archival research make it abundantly clear that the historical figure we think of as a sculptor was also capable of directing the affairs of a large institution like Siena Cathedral.

If you wish to continue the discussion with the speaker over dinner  ($30 by check only, made out to Columbia University) at 7 pm, also in Faculty House, please RSVP least 10 days ahead to rapporteur Lien Van Geel.