Study Of Art – The Pisani

Niccolo Pisano. 1206?—1278?

Giovanni Pisano. 1250?—1328?

Andrea Pisano (da Pontedera) 1270?—1348?

“Niccolo Pisano, before Cimabue, before Duccio, even before Dante, opened the gates of beauty, which for a thousand years had been shut and overgrown with weeds.” Symonds.


Niccolô Pisano is known through his works, few details of his life being entirely certain. In his contract for the pulpit of Siena he is called son of ” Petrus of Apulia,” giving rise to the theory that he came from southern Italy, and was perhaps influenced by the sculptures of Amalfi and Ravello. Others regard him as a Tuscan from the little town of Apulia near Lucca, where his first work (about 1237) is found, the Deposition in the tympanum over one of the doors of San Martino. Another document calls him son of Peter of Pisa. Certain it is that he was known as a Pisan through the active part of his life.

He was quite as famous as an architect as a sculptor, but all of the buildings attributed to him have been much altered. Of these Sant’ Antonio of Padua is the most notable. It is from Niccolô that we may date the beginnings of the new life of representative art, taking its rise in the classic art, but developing with fresh originality.

Giovanni, son of Niccola, learned his art in working for his father, and later took entire charge of the large commissions entrusted to him. He built the Campo Santo in Pisa, 1278–1283, and later the church of S. Maria della Spina on the Arno, assisted by his pupils. The high altar of Arezzo was finished in 1286. At intervals from 1284 to 1299 he was in Siena occupied with the sculptures of the cathedral. In 1298–1301 he executed the pulpit of S. Andrea, Pistoja, and in 1303–1311 a similar one for the cathedral of Pisa. His last years were spent in Prato, working with his assistants, in re-modeling the cathedral. Giovanni’s work shows little if any trace of classic influence. His constant endeavor was toward expression rather than toward perfection of form, and his work lacks the dignity of Niccolô, while it presents life far more vividly.

Andrea, son of a notary of Pisa, whence his name Pisano, was born in Pontedera, a small town near Pisa. He assisted Giovanni in the sculpture for S. Maria della Spina. Most of his work was, however, done in Florence, and under the influence of Giotto. Many of the bas-reliefs on the Campanile of Florence are the work of the two artists. Andrea worked also on the sculptures for the façade of the cathedral, removed in 1587. Among his pupils were his son Mino, a sculptor of much promise, according to Vasari, and Orcagna.

Andrea’s chief work was on the doors of the Baptistery. The ” self-restraint and delicacy ” of the scenes in relief gives them a lasting charm.

Balcarres, 29, 36-46, 180. C. and C., ch. 4. Perkins, 3-37. Powers, M. M. A., ch. 9. Symonds, Fine Arts, 100-123; Sketches, Orvieto. Vasari, 24-47; 81-93.


Early importance of Pisa. Hutton.

The Cathedral of Orvieto and its Sculptures. Symonds, Sketches.

Famous old bronze doors. Powers, M. M. A., 167—170; Balcarres, Evolution, 29, 180.



No. 379. Pulpit.

No. 380. Adoration of the Kings : panel.

No. 381. Presentation in the Temple : panel.

Baptistery, Pisa.

The pulpit was completed in 1260. Like the earlier pulpit by Guido da Como, 378, the columns are sup-ported on the backs of lions, the central one on a group of human figures. There are five panels, the stairway occupying the sixth side.

The Sarcophagus with the story of Phædra and Hippolytus, 388, and the Bacchic Vase, 389, now in the Campo Santo in Pisa, served as early models for Niccold, and should be carefully studied in connection with his work. The work of Niccolô’s immediate predecessors, seen in the bronze doors, 376, and the tomb relief, 377, was of course also known to him. It is of especial interest to see which of the two influences appealed to him.

No. 382. Pulpit.

No. 383. Adoration of the Kings : panel.

Cathedral, Siena.

Made in 1265—1268, of white marble. Octagonal in shape, supported on nine granite columns. The stair-case was added in the sixteenth century.

Compare with the early pulpit by Guido da Como, 378. Note the architectural differences in these pulpits, the use of classical and mediæval ornament, the effect of the use of statues instead of pilasters between the panels.

Compare the three panels with the sarcophagus, 388, and the Greek vase, 389, studying the influence upon Niccola’s work. Notice the method of stonecutting in the figures as related to the background and in the treatment of hair, drapery, etc., the proportions of the figures, and their arrangement within the panel.

The second pulpit shows us the growing interest and facility in sculpture. The figures at the corners have much dignity and beauty, but confuse the architectural effect of the pulpit as a whole. The panels tend toward the pictorial in trying to tell the story more completely. A comparison of the panels in the pulpit of Siena with 390—392 suggests the hand of Giovanni in this portion of the work.

No. 384. Shrine of St. Dominic.

No. 385. Detail, Trial by Fire.

S. Domenico, Bologna.

St. Dominic, who died in Bologna in 1221, was canonized in 1234, this church being founded the year following in his honor. The shrine as a whole has been well called ” an epitome of styles of sculpture from the thirteenth to the seventeenth centuries.” Niccolo’s work is confined to the broad band of relief across the front and ends of the sarcophagus itself. On either side of the standing figure of the Madonna are represented miracles from the life of St. Dominic; on the left he brings to life a boy killed by a fall from his horse; on the right, 385, he submits his own and heretical books to the trial by fire.

Niccolô was assisted in this work by Fra Guglielmo, and it is claimed by some critics that Niccolô’s work consisted in the general design and composition of the reliefs. The work was completed about 1267.

A comparison of the figures of the Madonna and the saint on the corner with the pilaster figures on the pulpit of Siena, 383, and with the Madonna of the Pisan pulpit indicates the work of Niccolô’s own hand. The arrangement of the figures in the panels, with the heads on the same level and plane, the types used, and the treatment of hair and drapery suggest the assistant’s work. The figure of St. Dominic has much of dignity and beauty. Compare with early Christian sarcophagi.

No. 386. Fountain.

Piazza del Municipio, Perugia.

This fountain was the last important work in which Niccolô shared. The twenty-four statues in the niches of the upper basin were sculptured by him, and sent to Giovanni, who was in Perugia at work upon the bas-reliefs of the lower basin. Arnolfo di Cambio assisted in the work, which was completed in 1280.

No. 389. Madonna della Cintola.

Cathedral, Prato.

A marble statuette, now in the Chapel of the Holy Girdle, whence its name.

Compare with the standing figures of Madonna and Child in 383 and 385. The attitude and drapery recall figures of the Virgin of the Gothic period in France, especially one in Notre Dame, Paris. The attitude is perhaps chosen for its reality, but probably also for the sake of the flowing curve, sometimes characterized as the ” Gothic curve.” Similar figures by Giovanni are in Pisa and Padua.

No. 390. The Crucifixion : panel.

Museo Civico, Pisa.

The pulpit made by Giovanni for the Cathedral of Pisa in 1310—1311 was taken to pieces after the great fire in 1595, and the fragments are now in the Museum. A careful restoration is contemplated.

No. 391. The Birth of Christ : panel.

No. 392. Angel.

Pulpit, S. Andrea, Pistoja.

This pulpit, made 1298—1302, is one of Giovanni’s principal works. It is in general effect a copy of the pulpit in Siena, except that the supporting arches are pointed, and that he has reverted to the hexagonal form of the Pisan pulpit.

Compare with the pulpits of Pisa and Siena, noting the further weakening of the architectural character in the figures on the corner, and the seated angel over the capital.

Study the panels in their general effect, noticing the loss of monumental dignity and care for composition seen in the pulpit of Pisa and the Shrine of St. Dominic. Study the individual figures, noting the beauty of many of the faces, as the angels in the Crucifixion, and the bowed head of John who supports the fainting Mary. Notice especially the charming naïveté of the episode as in the woman who tests the warmth of the water being prepared for the bath in the Birth of Christ. This panel is confused by the introduction at the left of the Annunciation. Mary is thus represented twice; the Child also appears both in the manger and in the arms of the nurse below. The head of Joseph at the left below resembles more nearly the Kings by Niccold than do any of the heads in the Crucifixion, which is mediæval in its types.

Giovanni is striving to present with vividness and reality the Bible stories that had been hardened into set forms by tradition and lifeless copying. Cf. 35. With much of mediæval uncouthness he still has a large feeling for beauty.

No. 393. Tomb of Scrovegno.

Arena Chapel, Padua.

Scrovegno was the patron under whom Giotto deco-rated the Arena Chapel, of which he was the founder. A similar tomb of Pope Benedict XI in S. Domenico, Perugia, is also ascribed to Giovanni. There is some doubt as to both attributions.

The motive of the angels holding back the curtains was first used by Arnolfo di Cambio, the celebrated Florentine architect, who had been a fellow pupil with Giovanni under Niccolô.

Note the extreme realism of the face, the entire absence of attempt to idealize, and at the same time the avoidance of any suggestion of death. The artist who could produce so admirable a portrait study, especially at this period of art development, is worthy of much praise.

No. 399. Façade.

No. 400. Pilaster at extreme left.

No. 401. Creation of Man and Woman.

No. 402. Pilaster at extreme right.

No. 403. The Resurrection.

Cathedral, Orvieto.

The Cathedral of Orvieto was built 1285—1309 to commemorate the Miracle of Bolsena (cf. C 177). The façade, begun in 1310, was not completed until the sixteenth century. Tradition has ascribed the sculptures of the façade to Giovanni and his pupils, but no documents exist to prove that they are his work. They admirably illustrate, however, contemporary work and thought.

Study carefully the various reliefs, identifying so far as possible the scenes without the use of books, except the Bible. Notice the decorative and utilitarian value of the vine motive, and the beauty of the low relief, much greater on the pilaster at the left than in the one at the right.

Notice the study of the human body in various attitudes; the dramatic action and expression in the scenes of the Resurrection.

Compare with the reliefs on the pulpits, forming an independent judgment as to their resemblance in spirit and workmanship to the known work of Giovanni.


No. 394. South Doors.

No. 395. Feast of Herod. Beheading of John the Baptist.

No. 396. Fortitude. Temperance.

Baptistery, Florence.

These bronze doors, made 1330-1336, were originally placed in the east entrance, facing the Cathedral, but were changed on the completion of the second doors by Ghiberti, ” The Gates of Paradise.” The scenes represented are from the life of John the Baptist, with eight allegorical figures of Virtues below. The decorated framework was not added until 1455.

Compare with the bronze doors of Pisa, with which Andrea must have been very familiar. The ornamental boltheads, originally needed to hold the panels within the frame, have been multiplied and varied for decorative purposes, those at the corners being transformed into lions’ heads not unlike those used in classic deco-ration. The quatrefoil pattern serves to frame the relief, emphasizing the constructive framework of the door.

The principle of true relief is preserved throughout, despite the pictorial introduction of suggested architecture. In no case are the panels crowded with figures; often a portion of the space is left free. Grace of form and of drapery characteristic of the entire work is seen in the figure of Salome; even in the scene of the Beheading the moment chosen is one that still permits of beauty. An interesting comparison in this regard may be made with D 23. Great technical skill as well as beauty is shown in the panels of the Virtues.

“To overpraise the simplicity and beauty of design, the purity of feeling, and the technical excellence of Andrea’s bronze work would be difficult.” Symonds.

No. 397. Creation of Eve.

No. 398. Agriculture.

Campanile del Duomo, Florence.

From the basement story of ” Giotto’s Tower ” (B 52). Andrea is said to have completed these reliefs from designs by Giotto about 1334.

The artist has attempted the difficult task of presenting the Bible narrative literally. Compare with the same subject in the reliefs from Orvieto. The homely naturalism of 398 is more characteristic of Giotto than of Andrea.