Gothic Art


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Sculpture and Stained Glass

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Gothic Art

Beauneveu Andre
Nicola Pisano
Giovanni Pisano
Andrea Pisano
Antelami Benedetto
Arnolfo di Camio
Lorenzo Maitani
Giovanni di Balduccio
Agostino di Giovanni
Tino di Camaino
Jacobello and Pierpaolo dalle Masegne
Lorenzo Chiberti
Jacopo della Quercia

We have left a discussion of Italian Gothic sculpture to the last, for here, as in Gothic architecture, Italy stands apart from the rest of Europe. The earliest Gothic sculpture on Italian soil was probably produced in the extreme south, in Apulia and Sicily, the domain of the German emperor Frederick II, who employed Frenchmen and Germans along with native artists at his court. Of the works he sponsored little has survived, but there is evidence that his taste favored a strongly classical style derived from the sculpture of the Chartres transept portals and the Visitation group at Reims. This style not only provided a fitting visual language for a ruler who saw himself as the heir of the Caesars of old, it also blended easily with the classical tendencies in Italian Romanesque sculpture.


Such was the background of
Nicola Pisano (c. 1220/5 or before-1284), who went to Tuscany from southern Italy about 1250 (the year of Frederick II's death). Ten years later he completed the marble pulpit in the Baptistery of Pisa Cathedral. His work has been well defined as that of "the greatestand in a sense the lastof medieval classicists." Whether we look at the architectural framework or the sculptured parts, the classical flavor is indeed so strong in the Pisa Baptistery pulpit that the Gothic elements are at first hard to detect. But we do find such elements in the design of the arches, in the shape of the capitals, and in the standing figures at the corners, which look like small-scale descendants of the jamb statues on French Gothic cathedrals.

Most striking, perhaps, is the Gothic quality of human feeling in the reliefs of narrative scenes such as the Nativity. The dense crowding of figures, on the other hand, has no counterpart in Northern Gothic sculpture. Aside from the Nativity, the panel also shows the Annunciation and the shepherds in the fields receiving the glad tidings of the birth of Christ. This treatment of the relief as a shallow box filled almost to the bursting point with solid, convex shapes tells us that Nicola Pisano must have been thoroughly familiar with Roman sarcophagi.

NICOLA PISANO. Pulpit. 1259-60. Marble, height 15' (4,6 m). Baptistery, Pisa
NICOLA PISANO. Pulpit. 1265-68. Marble, height: 460 cm. Duomo, Siena

NICOLA PISANO. Pulpit. Annunciation, Birth of Jesus and Adoration of the Shepherds. 1260. Marble. Baptistry, Pisa

NICOLA PISANO. Pulpit. Adoration of the Magi.1260. Marble, 85 x 113 cm. Baptistry, Pisa

NICOLA PISANO. Pulpit. Presentation in the Temple. 1260. Marble. Baptistry, Pisa

NICOLA PISANO. Pulpit. Fidelity. 1260. Marble, height 58 cm Baptistry, Pisa
NICOLA PISANO. Pulpit. Fortitude. 1260. Marble, height 56 cm Baptistry, Pisa

NICOLA PISANO. Pulpit. The Crucifixion. 1260. Marble. Baptistry, Pisa
NICOLA PISANO. Pulpit. The Crucifixion. 1260. Marble. Baptistry, Pisa

NICOLA PISANO. Adoration of the Magi, relief from the pulpit. 1265-68. Marble, 85 x 97 cm. Duomo, Siena

NICOLA PISANO. Apocalyptic Christ, relief from the pulpit (detail). 1265-68. Marble. Duomo, Siena
NICOLA PISANO. Madonna and Child, relief from the pulpit (detail). 1265-68. Marble, height 85 cm. Duomo, Siena

NICOLA PISANO. The Visitation. Detail from a panel of the pulpit,
1265-68. Marble. Duomo, Siena

NICOLA PISANO. Arca di San Domenico. Marble, details of the tomb on which Nicola worked from 1264 to 1267.

NICOLA PISANO. Dome of the baptistery of Pisa

NICOLA PISANO and ARNOLFO DI CAMBIO. Fontana Maggiore, Perugia

NICOLA PISANO and ARNOLFO DI CAMBIO. Fonte Maggiore (details)



Nicola Pisano

Nicola Pisano, (born c. 1220, Apulia?—died 1278/84, Pisa?), sculptor whose work, along with that of his son Giovanni and other artists employed in their workshops, created a new sculptural style for the late 13th and the 14th centuries in Italy.

Pisano’s origins are unclear. He is first recorded in 1260 in Pisa (or perhaps 1259, if corrections are made for the medieval Pisan calendar), but documents of 1266 twice call him “Master Nicola from Apulia,” Apulia being the province located in the southeastern section of the Italian peninsula. While most scholars now accept an Apulian birth for Pisano, there is still little known about his artistic training. His sculptural training, in line with medieval practices, was probably obtained through an apprenticeship in an already established workshop. If he began his training in Apulia he would most likely have been taught by one of the army of craftsmen whom the Hohenstaufen emperor Frederick II had employed to decorate his vast new building projects. Frederick’s artists consciously imitated an ancient Roman style of sculpture in order to give visual support to his role as the Holy Roman emperor. If on the other hand, Pisano had actually left Apulia before receiving his sculptural training, he might have apprenticed himself to either local Tuscan or Lombard workshops; strong echoes of both regional styles appear in his work.

Although no work can definitely be attributed to Pisano before his pulpit in the cathedral of Pisa (1259/60), the strong classical spirit that motivates its forms suggests more than simple first-hand experience and fascination with then visible ancient Roman sculpture. Quite specific formal motifs in the figures of the Pisa pulpit compare closely with sculptural fragments representing Jupiter and imperial advisers from Frederick’s triumphal gateway over the Via Appia at Capua (now in the Museo Provinciale Campano in Capua) and argue persuasively for Pisano’s training in the artistic workshops of the Emperor. Pisa’s close alliance with the empire of Frederick II, even after Frederick’s death in 1250, would have provided good reasons both for his emigration to that city and for the rather sudden emergence of the overtly classicizing style of the pulpit which he carved.

The Pisa pulpit marks one of the extraordinary moments in the history of Western art when a new style, distinct from all its predecessors, though indebted to them, clearly asserted itself and opened new avenues for artistic expression drawing on the widest possible range of artistic motifs—Roman reliefs, early Christian fresco and mosaic decorations, and localized Tuscan and Lombard forms, as well as isolated motifs deriving from French Gothic sculpture and architecture, about which Pisano may have learned either by visiting French-influenced centres in Apulia or by an actual trip to France. He assimilated this encyclopaedic array of artistic expressions and transformed them into a brilliantly unified whole that gave new grandeur and new energy to his narratives and a new sense of direction to art in Tuscany from 1260 onward.

Pisano’s style changed dramatically during the carving of the Pisa pulpit—from the amplitude of form and rhythmic fluency of movement evident in the relief panel of “The Presentation of Christ in the Temple,” to a greatly more agitated treatment of the space and forms in which figures become smaller in relationship to the entire surface area of the relief and pile up on one another in a surface rather than a spatial organization. The figures themselves become more animated and are twisted to emphasize their dramatic potential more fully. Rather than being a rejection of Pisano’s earliest known style, however, this later style in fact grew directly out of his concern for presenting the human emotional content of his subject matter. Some of this stylistic change, especially the last two reliefs from the Pisa pulpit, may also be attributable to apprentices or members of his workshop, including Giovanni Pisano, his son. Nicola Pisano’s workshop, including Giovanni Pisano, Fra Guglielmo, and Arnolfo di Cambio, also shared in his next commissions, the pulpit for the cathedral of Siena, 1265–68, and the Fontana Maggiore in the main square of Perugia of 1278. In the Siena pulpit, the form of which is much like that of the Pisa pulpit, Pisano continued the investigations of expressive human figures which permeate the Pisan reliefs. Yet, although his authorship of the design is evident throughout the pulpit, the individual dispositions of the various assisting sculptors toward ancient Roman or Gothic forms is equally obvious; the separate strains of the two traditions that Pisano had so successfully united in the Pisa pulpit again reassert their independence at Siena. This uneasy relationship between the antique and the Gothic becomes increasingly clear at Perugia, where the 25-sided fountain mixes tales from Romulus and Remus with fables from Aesop, classical personifications of nearby places with representations of the liberal arts and the labours of the months, and contemporary historical figures with Old Testament characters and heraldic animals. The shifts in the style of the sculpture at Perugia were also influenced by the fact that single figures were employed rather than complex narratives as in Pisano’s earlier work.

Encyclopædia Britannica