Of all his father’s disciples, Giovanni was the least willing to follow his lessons of serenity and calm inspired by the ancient art. As he was forgetting what he had learned from Nicola, his violent and decomposed genius freely manifested. Giovanni was called to Padua to carve the sculptures that were to adorn the chapel of the Arena. There Giotto was painting the chapel’s walls, and as guest of the Scrovegni (lords of Padua) Dante was also there. It is possible that the three greatest artists of that time coincided while residing in Padua. Giovanni, in addition to the Virgin which is still placed on the altar, sculpted two angels guarding her and the portrait of the Lord of Padua, Enrico Scrovegni, standing and praying. Giovanni must have worked on other commissions which precisely because they had so much of his personality and so little of classic were dismantled and dispersed by Renaissance people of the 15th and 16th centuries, who did not properly appreciate them.
At Pisa Cathedral, Giovanni sculpted between 1277–1284 the statues in the two rows of traceried gables at the exterior of the Baptistry, and in the period of 1287-1296 he was appointed chief architect of the Siena Cathedral where he contributed with the architectural design and elegant sculptures for the facade blending Gothic and ancient Roman art.
In 1301, when Giovanni Pisano was about 50 years old, signed the pulpit of the church of Sant’Andrea in Pistoia, which showed after almost half a century, the same hexagonal shape of Nicola’s first pulpit of the Pisan baptistery. But here we can see a regression in the way of restoring classical artistic beauty and ideals. Giovanni’s figures appear crowded and dramatic on the parapets of this pulpit of Pistoia, agitated by a storm of tragic passions. Even in peaceful scenes, the characters seem to strive to hide a strange torment they suffer under their apparent rest; for this reason when Giovanni had to represent the great tragedies of the slaughter of the innocents or the sacrifice on the cross, the agitated movement of those figures had no limits; the tumult of the scenes exceeded all expectations. Not even in the representations of the most painful scenes during the Gothic Middle Ages sculpture managed to express the intense feeling reflected by Giovanni’s reliefs in Pisa. Therefore, within the art evolution, this new Master had no true imitators because no one could imitate him in his style. He did left though children and disciples, but they had to refer to the purest artistic source of their grandfather Nicola or, indirectly, to the old Master’s teachings followed by his Florentine disciple Arnolfo. Due to Giovanni’s artistic excesses and the most equanimous temperament of Arnolfo, the Renaissance sculpture, which strictly began as Pisan, developed later in Florence during the 14th century.
After finishing the pulpit of Pistoia, Giovanni Pisano was called to his homeland when he was more than 60 years old to carve the pulpit of the cathedral, which had to surpass the one executed by his father for the baptistery. Dismantled by baroque lobbyist, the pulpit of the cathedral was reduced to fragments in the Episcopal museum, but in 1926 it was restored and placed back inside the cathedral. There, a few steps from the baptistery, Giovanni’s work can be compared with that of his father Nicola. Giovanni’s pulpit for the cathedral of Pisa, made between 1303 and 1310, is a work even more extremely passionate than that of the pulpit of Pistoia and much more charged with intellectualism than the pulpit executed 40 years earlier by Nicola for the baptistery. This pulpit is supported by several columns and rigid figures like caryatids showing an extraordinary sentimental force. One of them, the statue that epitomizes the city of Pisa itself stands convulsed over four symbolic figures of the Virtues and the Imperial eagle, exponent of the Ghibelline character of the city of Pisa.
The most surprising feature about this pulpit, in contrast to the serenity shown by the baptistery pulpit, is the large number of small linear notations that divide the volumes into luminous waves of light, the elongated proportions of the figures and their gestures of extraordinary vehemence. The themes range from didactic allegory to the most existential allusions of the path of salvation, a subject so dear to the mendicant orders. However, the Renaissance had to go on its way. Giovanni of Pisa was a great episode in its beginnings.
Arnolfo di Cambio, less a genius than Giovanni was, was guided by the artistic path traced by Nicola. After leaving Nicola and Giovanni working on the construction of the Perugia fountain, Arnolfo returned to Rome where he was commissioned with two beautiful works which we still see in their original place: the ciboria or baldachins for the altars of the basilicas of Saint Peter Outside the Walls and Santa Cecilia in Trastevere. Both have a very similar shape; they stand on four columns that support as many ogival arches decorated in their spandrels with angels and prophets; these reveal the pure style of Arnolfo as a faithful disciple of Nicola’s teachings. One of these ciboria, that of St. Paul Outside the Walls, was signed by Arnolfo: Hoc opus fecit Arnolfus. After finishing them he returned to his homeland, Florence, but before he stopped in Orvieto to carve the grave of Cardinal de Braye, which will later serve as a model for the sepulchers of these early times of the Renaissance. Just as the ark carved by Lapo di Ricevuto in Bologna was simply in the shape of a classic sarcophagus, in Orvieto the sarcophagus of Cardinal de Braye is placed inside a canopy, two angels raise some curtains to reveal the corpse lying on the tomb.
We must also mention Lorenzo Maitani, a disciple of Giovanni Pisano. The reliefs he made on the facade of the cathedral of Orvieto between 1310 and 1330 are distinguished from the violence of his teacher’s by the smooth undulation of their lines and by a tender modeling.
We do not know the author of the sepulchral ark that holds the remains of Saint Eulalia in the cathedral of Barcelona, but he must have been Pisan. The artistic style of this ark may reveal the hand of a disciple of Lapo di Ricevuto. Above the sepulcher, sculptures of the Virgin and angels seem to confirm this attribution.
Parapet: (From the Italian parapetto, parare meaning “to cover/defend” and petto meaning “breast”). A barrier which is an extension of the wall at the edge of a roof, terrace, balcony, walkway or other structure.