Renaissance sculpture in Italy made greater inroads and innovations in style, medium and technique than all of the previous periods of sculpting artistry combined. It was truly the dawning of a new era in constructionist styles, when shape and form took on new previously undefined attributes.
The classical influence was less in sculpture than in architecture at the time, and renaissance sculpture was often more vital than the Roman examples which inspired it. As in painting, a vigorous naturalism developed as well as tendencies to idealize or to emphasize a devotional element.
Brunelleschi, Donatello, and Pollaiuolo represent the natural trend, while Ghiberti, Robbias and da Settigano represent the devotional-sentimental school.
Verrocchio combined both, and Michelangelo established the style of the High Renaissance. Sculpture was largely a Florentine movement, except for Jacopo della Quercia, who was Sienese. The cathedral of Florence, which had been in the process of construction for a century, still required sculptural decoration, and the same was true of the Baptistery. The sculptor who developed in connection with these buildings, Brunelleschi, Ghibert, Donnatello and other, contributed much to the formation of the style.
In a competition with Brunelleschi, Ghiberti won the commission to design what became his first bronze doors for the Baptistery in Florence. In a second pair of doors, Ghiberti developed a pictorial style for bronze in ten large panels, using small figures in the round on the front planes, a graceful Gothic line, and elaborate perspective with one plane merging into another.
Ghiberti worked on the Baptistery doors for over twenty-five years. Michelangelo praised them, saying that they were worthy of being used for the gates of Paradise.
A terracotta relief of Madonna and Child attributed to Ghiberti reflects the transition from Gothic to Renaissance.
Sculpture attained freedom in the modelling of the human figure long before painting, though can largely be attributed to the multi-dimensional aspect of sculptural works.