The Italian sculptor Nicola Pisano (ca. 1220–1278) liberated
sculpture from the hieratic Byzantine manner. His art marked the beginning
of the Italian Gothic style.
The birthplace of Nicola Pisano has been the subject of speculation among
scholars. His name would seem to indicate that he was a Pisan, but two
documents relating to the marble pulpit of the Cathedral in Siena
(1265–1268) that he executed refer to him as Nicola d'Apulia
(Nicholas of Apulia, in southern Italy) rather than the more common
Nicola Pisano. The significance of his birthplace derives from the
remarkably classical quality of his earliest extant work, the marble
pulpit in the Baptistery of Pisa, signed and dated 1260. Emperor
Frederick II, whose court was near Naples, was an admirer of ancient
Roman civilization. He encouraged artists to work in the more realistic
style of Roman antiquity rather than the more abstract contemporary
Romanesque and Byzantine styles. If Nicola had been a native of Apulia
and trained in the sculptural workshops of the Emperor, the classical
character of the Pisa Baptistery pulpit would be easier to explain. No
definitive solution to this problem is possible, however, with the
evidence presently available.
The pulpit for the Baptistery in Pisa is adorned with narrative reliefs
depicting the Life and Passion of Christ on five of its six sides. Nicola
reduced to a minimum the number of figures telling the story so that they
dominate the rectangular field. Among them are a number of direct quotations
from antique works brought to Pisa by its fleet. The style of the reliefs
is remarkably classical and depends on a few monumental figures moving in
a stately way across the foreground. Nothing else carved by Nicola bears
such a strong resemblance to the antique.
A contract dated Sept. 29, 1265, commissioned Nicola to build a similar
marble pulpit for the Cathedral in Siena. The pulpit, which was completed
by 1268, varied somewhat in format and style from the Pisan one. He
expanded the format by making the pulpit octagonal, and he made the
narrative easier to read by substituting statuettes for the clustered
columns used to divide the reliefs in the earlier work. In style they
reveal a concern for the surface play of highlights and shadows, achieved
by deeper cutting and undercutting, and for a growing elegance and grace
among the figures, similar to that of Gothic sculpture.
The Gothicism of the Siena Cathedral pulpit continued in Nicola's great
secular monument, the Fontana Maggiore in Perugia. This was a joint
undertaking of Nicola and his son, Giovanni Pisano. Probably begun in 1277,
the fountain was finished in 1278. It consists of two superimposed polygonal
stone basins topped with a circular bronze basin carried by three caryatid
figures. The lower basin is decorated with reliefs; the upper basin is
decorated with statuettes affixed to the angles. In the portions usually
attributed to Nicola, the style represents a resolution between the earlier
classicizing tendencies and the later Gothicizing tendencies of his art.
The work of Giovanni, on the other hand, was wholeheartedly in the new
style, that is, the Gothic.
From October of 1916 through January of 1917, Rudolf Steiner gave a series
of nine lectures known as the Art Course. These lectures were given
the title of:
The History of Art.
Click here to discover what Steiner said about Nicola Pisano in the
or in the entire