Nicola Pisano  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

Nicola Pisano (also called Niccolò Pisano, Nicola de Apulia or Nicola Pisanus; c. 1220/1225 – c. 1284) was an Italian sculptor whose work is noted for its classical Roman sculptural style. Pisano is sometimes considered to be the founder of modern sculpture.

Pulpit of the Pisa baptistery

He moved to Pisa between 1245 and 1250, where his son Giovanni was born. Around 1255 he received a commission for the pulpit in the baptistery of Pisa. He finished this work in 1260 and signed with "Nicola Pisanus". He was aided by several assistants, among which were Arnolfo di Cambio and Lapo di Ricevuto.

In this pulpit, considered one of his masterworks, he succeeded in making a synthesis of the French Gothic style with the Classical style of ancient Rome, as he had seen on the sarcophagi of the Camposanto in Pisa, such as the scene Meleager hunting the Calydonian Boar on a sarcophagus brought as booty to Pisa by its navy. Vasari relates that Nicola Pisano constantly studied these Roman remains and the Roman sculptures from Augustan times seem to have marked a deep impression on him. In the panel Representation the Madonna reminds us of the regal bearing of goddesses in late Roman sculpture, while the expressive face of St. Anne shows the ravages of age.

The pulpit rests on a central column, raised on an octagonal pedestal. This central column rest on sculptures of animals and telamons and is surrounded by six columns of different height, three of which rest on a lion, while the other three rest on the octagonal base. The columns came from remains at Ostia. The Corinthian capitals support trefoil Gothic arches, richly decorated with Prophets and Evangelists in the spandrels. These arches are separated by sculptures of St. John the Baptist, St. Michael and the Virtues and, surprisingly, a naked Hercules.

The hexagonal pulpit itself consist of five scenes in white Carrara marble from the Life of Christ : the Nativity, the Annunciation, the Annunciation to the Shepherds are juxtaposed in the first relief, the Adoration of the Magi, the Presentation, the Crucifixion and the Last Judgement. The backgrounds of these scenes were originally painted and enamelled, while the eyes of the figures were coloured. This contributed to a realistic depiction of these religious scenes. All these scenes, except the last two, reflect his knowledge of the style on the sarcophagi. The figures wear a tunica in a Roman fashion. The Virgin wears a pallium over her head in the same manner as a Roman matron.

The scene The Last Judgement was probably based on a Byzantine ivory and The Crucifixion was sculpted with the same elegance as contemporary French Gothic art.

He must have found his inspiration for this pulpit in the triumphal arches, he had seen in Rome when travelling to Ostia. The form of this pulpit diverges completely from contemporary art. The sculptures are represented in the same manner as those of the Arch of Constantine in Rome, with the figures standing atop columns. Furthermore, the same arch has an attic storey with sculpted scenes, as does the pulpit.

Between 1260 and 1264 he finished the work of the architect Diotisalvi on the dome of the baptistery. He increased its height with a system of two domes : a small truncated cone on top of the hemispherical dome. The two rows of traceried gables were later decorated by his son Giovanni Pisano between 1277 and 1284.

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Nicola Pisano" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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