By Anne Leader
8 November is the feast day of the Four Crowned Martyrs, a group of early Christian Roman sculptors who refused to carve a pagan idol and were executed by Emperor Diocletian for their insurrection. Memorably depicted by Florentine sculptor Nanni di Banco, the martyrs were the patron saints of sculptors. In 1416, Nanni created this figure group to adorn a pier of the church of Orsanmichele belonging to the stone- and woodworkers guild (Arte di Pietra e Legname). Unlike other niches on the building, Nanni had to fit four figures where other guilds and their artists had only one. With their togas and Roman-style beards, Nanni’s saints are exemplars of the new classicism associated with Renaissance art. The predella gives a view into a stone-carvers workshop, highlighting the different skills performed by members of Nanni’s own guild.
The four sculptures now visible in the niche of the Arte di Pietra e Legname are a copy, whilst the originals are in the museum inside the church of Orsanmichele.
Further reading: Carl Brandon Strehlke. Orsanmichele and the History and Preservation of the Civic Monument. 2012.
Chris Dobson. Gilding the Lily. A Fresh Look at the Sculptures of Orsanmichele. 2017.
Nanni di Banco, Four Crowned Martyrs, 1416. Orsanmichele, Florence.