Giovanni Pisano  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

Giovanni Pisano (c. 1250 – c. 1315) was an Italian sculptor, painter and architect, best-known for his sculptures of the pulpit of the Siena Cathedral.


Son of the famous sculptor Nicola Pisano, he received his training in the workshop of his father.

In 1265-1268 he worked with his father at the pulpit in Siena Cathedral. The fountain Fontana Maggiore in Perugia was his next major work with his father. By the end of this project in 1278 his father may already have died. Another possibility is that Nicola Pisano died in 1284 when Giovanni took up residence in Siena. These first works were made in his father's style. It is difficult to tell who did exactly what. However the Madonna with Child can be attributed with certainty to Giovanni, showing a new style with a certain familiarity between Mother and Child.

His next work was in Pisa, sculpting the statues in the two rows of traceried gables at the exterior of the Baptistry (1277-1284). The vivacity of these statues is a new confirmation that he is leaving the serene style of his father behind.

He was appointed at the same time chief architect of Siena Cathedral between 1287 and 1296. This compelled him to travel often between these two cities. The elegant sculptures and the architectural design for the facade of the cathedral in Siena show his tendencies to blend Gothic art with reminders of Roman art. In 1296 he returned to Pisa to begin work on the San Giovanni church. In 1301 he continued his work on the pulpit of St. Andrew for the church of S. Andrea in Pistoia, which he had already started in 1297. The five reliefs on the pulpit are the Annunciation and Nativity; the Adoration, Dream of the Magi and Angel warning Joseph; the Massacre of the Innocents; the Crucifixion; and the Last Judgement.

His work between 1302 and 1310 at the new pulpit for the Cathedral of Pisa shows his distinct preference for movement in his characters, moving even further away his father's style. It shows nine scenes from the New Testament, carved in white marble with a chiaroscuro effect. It contains even a bold, naturalistic depiction of a naked Hercules. His figure Prudence in the pulpit may have been an inspiration for the Eve in the painting The Expulsion from the Garden of Eden by Masaccio. This pulpit with its dramatic scenes has become his masterwork. After the fire of 1595 it was packed away during the redecoration and was not rediscovered and re-erected until 1926. The church of San Nicola in Pisa was enlarged between 1297 and 1313 by the Augustinians, perhaps by the design of Giovanni Pisano. He was also responsible of the façade of San Paolo a Ripa d'Arno.

His last major work dates probably from 1313 when he made a monument in memory of Margaret of Brabant (who died in 1311) at the request of her husband emperor Henry VII.

His works shows a mixture of French Gothic and the classical style, and Henry Moore referred to him as "the first modern sculptor".

One of his pupils was Giovanni di Balduccio, who also became a famous sculptor, and the architect and sculptor Agostino da Siena. He also had an influence on the painter Pietro Lorenzetti. Giorgio Vasari included a biography of Pisano in his book Le vite dei più eccellenti pittori, scultori, e architetti

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