Mediaeval Sculpture In Italy

SCHOOLS OF NORTHERN, CENTRAL, AND SOUTHERN ITALY. During the eleventh and twelfth centuries sculpture was the least important of the fine arts in Italy. The sterility of four centuries of figured compositions could not easily be broken. In Italy the artistic revival centred on the development of architecture far more than in other European countries, for public structures became the representatives of that intensely local pride which distinguished the free Italian cities. Hand in hand with the development of municipal institutions and local independence went the erection of cathedrals and town halls. Architecture in these works relied less for decoration upon the aid of sculpture than upon that of painting.

At the same time, in certain parts of Italy, especially Lombardy in the north and Apulia in the south, sculpture was used as an integral part of architecture, in the decoration of portals and other parts of the facade, very much as it was employed-in France and in Germany. But, studying Italy from one end to the other, we find sculpture in this period confined usually to independent works, especially church furniture that could be executed in sculptors’ workshops, and not in connection with the erection of buildings. Such were pulpits, sepulchral monuments, paschal candle-sticks, altar-fronts, and altar-tabernacles.

For purposes of study, Italy’s schools of sculpture during this period may be regarded as corresponding quite closely to her general political divisions. The Lombard school is by far the most important. Although extremely rude in the beginning, it contains a germ of strength and character that appears in full force in the school of Parma toward the close of the twelfth century. The earliest in date are the schools of Pavia and Milan. Somewhat later is the school at Verona, established toward the close of the eleventh century, and possessed of less crudity and more symmetry and delicacy. Finally, the group of cities to the southeast of the province—Parma, Borgo S. Donnino, and Modena—show the highest excellence of any Italian Romanesque school. In them sculpture is employed with more freedom and on a monumental scale, and the association with architectural forms is more organic. We feel here the influence of France. The sculptures on the facade of the Cathedral of Borgo S. Donnino are attributable to Benedetto Antelami. Inside and outside the baptistery at Parma are the finest works before Niccola Pisano. The Byzantine influence visible in Antelami’s works is even more evident in the Pisan school, especially in the reliefs on the portals of the baptistery. Venice also was under the artistic rule of Byzantium when the revival of sculpture took place. S. Marco is decorated with numerous sculptures of the eleventh, twelfth, and thirteenth centuries which are almost as purely Byzantine in style as the mosaics and the architecture of the church. In metal work this influence of Byzantium is even more widely extended. Throughout a large part of the south of Italy are scattered churches with inlaid bronze doors, made either in Constantinople by Greek artists or in Italy by their imitators, who quickly passed to work in relief, as in the case of Barisanus of Trani.

In Tuscany hardly any sculpture seems to have been executed during the eleventh century, but in the twelfth several local schools were founded, and in many cases the artists’ names have been preserved. Pisa is represented by Bonusamicus, Biduinus, and especially Bonannus : to Lucca belongs Robertus; to Pistoja, Ridolphinus and Enrichus. In the latter half of the century Gruamons of Pisa threw off some of the early rudeness and was more symmetrical and artistic. Still, Tuscany lagged behind the rest of Italy in sculpture, her productions being neither as monumental as the Lombard nor as symmetrical as the Venetian.

In the south of Italy the provinces that were strongly impregnated with Byzantine influence paid but slight attention to sculpture. It was developed almost exclusively in the province of Apulia. Sicily and the Neapolitan province devoted them-selves entirely to the development of mosaic decoration. The style of Apulian sculpture was so strongly Lombard as to lead us to suppose that its artists belonged either to local Lombard guilds or were artists from Lombardy itself.

Rome was perhaps the last of the great art centres to revive sculpture, but the revival, early in the thirteenth century, was of considerable importance, because it was directed, more than was the case with the other schools, to the production of statuary instead of bas-reliefs.

REVIVAL OF SCULPTURE AT PISA, At the time when Italy was feeling in its architecture the influence of the new Gothic style, shortly before the middle of the thirteenth century, there began a revival in sculpture which brought it back for the first time into the rank of an art possessed of aesthetic qualities. It is customary to give the entire credit of this revival to the school of Pisa and Tuscany founded by Niccola Pisano (1206 1280 ?) ; but although this school certainly acquired paramount influence throughout Italy, yet in this case, as in other vital movements, the revival was almost simultaneous in different parts of the peninsula. This was especially the case with the southern school in the time of the Emperor Frederick II., and in Rome at the same time. In both of these schools, as in the Pisan school, we find a decided return to the study of antique models. The southern sculptures at Ravello and Capua are distinctly an effort at an imitation of Greek types. So are the coins of Frederick II. We know that one of the Roman sculptors had set up in his workshop a Roman statue of Asculapius, which he used as a model, and at whose base he carved his name. Certainly, the Roman school was the centre of the revival of classic forms in architecture and decoration as well as in sculpture, and this movement in Rome and the South may almost be called a proto-Renaissance movement.

The style of sculpture in Lombardy and in Tuscany in the middle of the thirteenth century, when Niccola Pisano founded his school, is well exemplified by the pulpit in the church of San Giovanni at Pistoja. It is signed by a Lombard, Guido da Como, and dated 1250. The general scheme of composition is the same as that used by the later Pisan school, but the figures are still heavy and lifeless. Niccola Pisano had already begun his work at that time. His early style, as exemplified in the Cathedral of

Lucca, culminated in his great pulpit in the baptistery at Pisa in 126o. The novelty of his genius consisted in the invention not of new subjects, but of powerful individual types of humanity, and he was thoroughly successful only in his heads and in some of his nude figures. For while his drapery was, fine in itself, his draped figures were usually far too heavy. His art was purely humanistic, and not religious, and as the time had not yet come for divorcing art from religion Niccola failed to impose his style upon the school. In fact, the Roman types which he created are found in their original form only on the Pisan pulpit. In later works, like the pulpit at Siena, in which he was assisted by his school, we find a return to a more religious style. Niccola was succeeded in the leadership of the school by his son Giovanni Pisano (1250-1320?), and by this time the school had acquired supremacy throughout Tuscany. As soon as Giovanni was released from his father’s superintendence, he showed himself to be animated by the facile, dramatic, and naturalistic element of the Gothic movement. He seems to have felt the influence both of the Rhenish school (Strassburg) and the school of northern France (Amiens). His work was hardly equal to the best productions of either of these schools. In Giovanni’s earlier work, after his father’s death, he was still dignified, calm, and broad. In this style are the Virgin and Child of the Cathedral of Florence and the tomb of Benedict XI. at Perugia. He became possessed more and more, how-ever, by over-dramatic tendencies, and this extravagant manner of his is admirably illustrated in the pulpit at Pistoja. Gothic sculpture in both France and Italy is essentially allegorical and symbolic, wherever it does not attempt purely historical compositions. Giovanni seems to have been the first to intro-duce this element very strikingly into Italian sculpture, and he introduced it permanently. His greatest successor, Andrea Pisano (1273 ?-1319), developed and perfected this element in the school, and was a master of broader conceptions, more perfect technique, and more creative imagination than Giovanni. He did for sculpture in this respect what Giotto did at the same time for painting. Under his leadership—between 1310 and 1335—the Gothic school of sculpture reached its highest point of perfection in Italy. Its two greatest works in Tuscany are the four piers of the facade of the Cathedral of Orvieto and the series of reliefs on Giotto’s Campanile in Florence, both of which are important, not only for the beauty of their execution but as the greatest cycles of connected subjects which the school produced. Andrea’s best work, and the most exquisite single production of the school, is his bronze door for the baptistery at Florence, which served as a model to Ghiberti for his first door nearly a hundred years afterwards. The mantle of Andrea Pisano fell upon the shoulders of Andrea Orcagna (1329?-1368), a universal genius—architect, sculptor, and painter—and one of the strongest artists that Italy produced. Unfortunately, he appears to have devoted only a small part of his artistic energy to sculpture. His masterpiece is the shrine in Or San Michele at Florence.

THE REVIVAL ELSEWHERE. In the mean time other schools had been founded outside of Pisa and Florence under the auspices of these schools. Agostino di Giovanni and Agnolo di Ventura (1330) were leaders at Siena. The style was carried to Milan by Giovanni di Balduccio (1300—134) of Pisa, a pupil of Andrea, who established the Lombard branch. Tino di Camaino (1315—1336) of Siena carried it to Naples. At the same time, there still remained some local schools which were more or less outside of this Pisan and Florentine influence. The most important of these appears to have been in Lombardy, with its centre at Verona. This school extended during the fourteenth century to many cities even outside of Lombardy, especially to Padua and Venice. Its development can best be studied, in Verona itself, in the monuments of the princes of the Scaliger family. The most notable family of artists of this school is that of the Campionesi. It showed great originality in the development of different types of sepulchral monuments, many of them on a scale of great magnificence. The Campioni family worked at Bergamo, Pavia, Milan, and Monza. An independent branch of this school was established in Venice, shortly after the middle of the fourteenth century, under the leadership of the Massegne family (Jacobello and Pietro Polo).

The great mass of works produced by the different sections of this Lombard school is composed of sepulchral monuments with reclining figures and overhanging canopies placed against church walls. They hardly vary in type throughout the entire territory permeated by this style.

THE NEAPOLITAN SCHOOL produced during the fourteenth century a great number of sepulchral monuments of a different style, but very few of them rise to any degree of merit, notwithstanding their ever-increasing size, elaboration, and multitude of figures. The Roman school came to an end shortly after 1300, in consequence of the removal of the Papacy to Avignon and the consequent decadence of the city. But during the sixty or seventy years before this time it had taken an important share in the early revival. The artists that stand out with especial prominence are two of the same name and family, Vassalletto I. and II. (fl. 1220-1276), and Giovanni Cosmati (fl. 1290-1304). This Roman school created the type of sepulchral monuments which was adopted by the Pisan artists. The best early example is the tomb of Pope Hadrian V. at Viterbo, in which we see that combination of sculpture with architecture and brilliant mosaic ornamentation which was the specialty of the Roman school. Giovanni Cosmati was its last prominent representative, and he consummated the interweaving of Gothic forms into the earlier Roman style, which up to the middle of the thirteenth century had been purely classic.

MATERIALS. Marble and stone were the favorite materials of the Italian sculptor. Italy had not yet regained with any degree of perfection the knowledge of metal-casting which had been lost during the dark centuries that had gone before. The earliest works in metal are either made up of small hammered plates fastened with nails to a background, as in the earliest Greek work, or consist of inlays upon metals copied from Byzantine originals. Reliefs in bronze were the first attempts at casting. The chief worker in bronze at the close of the twelfth century was Bonannus of Pisa, but Andrea Pisano (fl. 1330–1350) carried the work of relief-casting to great perfection. In the casting of figures in the round, success was not attained until the Renaissance. Nor did Italian sculptors develop sculpture in gold and silver to as high a degree of perfection as did the artists of the north of Europe. Not until the middle of the fourteenth century do we find a general production of works in enamelled gold and silver gilt and in this work the Florentine and Sienese schools appear to have had the monopoly. Ivory was used especially at Venice, but to a very small degree as compared with the schools of northern Europe. Stone and marble were used not only as in the north of Europe, when the sculpture was an integral part of the construction, but also in those free objects of church decoration for which metal was the favorite material, i.e., baptismal fonts.

SUBJECTS. Until the advent of the allegorical school, shortly before 1300, Italian sculpture showed itself singularly unimaginative. It confined itself to historical and legendary subjects of the traditional, time-honored scenes of the Old and New Testaments, and to the legends of local scenes. This naturalistic and purely psychological character of Italian sculpture is quite in harmony with the national character and with the subsequent development of the sister art of painting. The fourteenth century, with its predominant mystical, allegorical, and often pessimistic tendency, is an abnormal period in Italian history. In its sculpture at this time Italy was more in touch with the development of the rest of Europe than at any other period, and parallels to the greater part of the allegorical subjects employed in her schools can be found plentifully in the French cathedrals. It is probable that we have here one of the centres of that strong philosophic, mystical, and literary influence exerted by the French, through the University of Paris, upon the principal Italian thinkers and leaders of the Gothic period.