1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Cosmati

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COSMATI, the name of a Roman family, seven members of which, for four generations, were skilful architects, sculptors and workers in mosaic. The following are the names and dates known from existing inscriptions:—

Lorenzo (born in the second half of the 12th century).
Jacopo (dated works 1205 and 1210).
Cosimo (dated works 1210–1235).
(1231 and 1235).
(1296 and 1303).

Their principal works in Rome are: ambones of S. Maria in Ara Coeli (Lorenzo); door of S. Saba, 1205, and door with mosaics of S. Tommaso in Formis (Jacopo); chapel of the Sancta Sanctorum, by the Lateran (Cosimo); pavement of S. Jacopo alla Lungara, and (probably) the magnificent episcopal throne and choir-screen in S. Lorenzo fuori le Mura, of 1254 (Jacopo the younger); baldacchino of the Lateran and of S. Maria in Cosmedin, c. 1294 (Adeodato); tombs in S. Maria sopra Minerva (c. 1296), in S. Maria Maggiore, and in S. Balbina (Giovanni). The chief signed works by Jacopo the younger and his brother Luca are at Anagni and Subiaco. A large number of other works by members and pupils of the same family, but unsigned, exist in Rome. These are mainly altars and baldacchini, choir-screens, paschal candlesticks, ambones, tombs and the like, all enriched with sculpture and glass mosaic of great brilliance and decorative effect.

Besides the more mechanical sort of work, such as mosaic patterns and architectural decoration, they also produced mosaic pictures and sculpture of very high merit, especially the recumbent effigies, with angels standing at the head and foot, in the tombs of Ara Coeli, S. Maria Maggiore and elsewhere. One of their finest works is in S. Cesareo; this is a marble altar richly decorated with mosaic in sculptured panels, and (below) two angels drawing back a curtain (all in marble) so as to expose the open grating of the confessio. The magnificent cloisters of S. Paolo fuori le Mura, built about 1285 by Giovanni, the youngest of the Cosmati, are one of the most beautiful works of this school. The baldacchino of the same basilica is a signed work of the Florentine Arnolfo del Cambio, 1285, “cum suo socio Petro,” probably a pupil of the Cosmati. Other works of Arnolfo, such as the Braye tomb at Orvieto (q.v.), show an intimate artistic alliance between him and the Cosmati. The equally magnificent cloisters of the Lateran, of about the same date, are very similar in design; both these triumphs of the sculptor-architect’s and mosaicist’s work have slender marble columns, twisted or straight, richly inlaid with bands of glass mosaic in delicate and brilliant patterns. The shrine of the Confessor at Westminster is a work of this school, executed about 1268. The general style of works of the Cosmati school is Gothic in its main lines, especially in the elaborate altar-canopies, with their pierced geometrical tracery. In detail, however, they differ widely from the purer Gothic of northern countries. The richness of effect which the English or French architect obtained by elaborate and carefully worked mouldings was produced in Italy by the beauty of polished marbles and jewel-like mosaics—the details being mostly rather coarse and often carelessly executed.

An excellent account of the Cosmati is given by Boito, Architettura del media evo (Milan, 1880), pp. 117-182.