Giovanni Pisano and Arnolfo di Cambio

Madonna and Child with escorting Angels (1305-1306), sculptures in marble by Giovanni Pisano (high altar of the Cappella Scrovegni, Arena Chapel, Padua, Italy).

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.

The cast of Giovanni Pisano’s effigy of Enrico Scrovegni, in the Cappella Scrovegni (Padua, Italy).

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.

The two rows of decorative Gothic gables of the Pisa Baptistery (pictured above) and the general design and sculptures of the facade of the Siena Cathedral (pictured below) were also provided by Giovanni Pisano.

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.

The pulpit in the church of Sant’Andrea (Pistoia, central Italy) by Giovanni Pisano, between 1297-1301. Giovanni was approaching the age of 50 when he began this work. The structure of this pulpit is similar to the pulpit in Pisa: a hexagonal plan with seven columns (one in the middle), two of which are supported by lions and one by a figure of Atlas, while the central one rests on three winged gryphons and the remaining ones on plain bases.
The reliefs of the parapet of the pulpit of Sant’Andrea in  Pistoia were inspired by those of the Siena pulpit by Giovanni’s father Nicola. These five narrative panels included scenes from the Life of Christ: Annunciation, Nativity and Adoration of the Shepherds (top left), Dream of the Magi (top right), Massacre of the Innocents (bottom left), Crucifixion (bottom right) and Last Judgement (below). The sixth parapet is missing since the access to the pulpit is located at its side. These scenes are crowded and dramatic. In this pulpit’s reliefs, Giovanni Pisano tilted the carvings, with the upper parts projecting further out than the lower, this allows for the position of the viewer below to better appreciate the reliefs.

Similar to the Siena pulpit by Giovanni’s father Nicola, the Sant’Andrea pulpit includes figures of Allegories on the arches’ spandrels, as well as Sibyls and Prophets on top of the columns’ capitals.
Some decorative elements of the pulpit of Sant’Andrea in Pistoia: the figure of Atlas in the base of one of the columns (left), the lectern in the form of the Eagle of St John (center), and The Sybil and the Angel, one of the beautiful sculptural groups decorating the pulpit (right).

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 pulpit of the Pisa Cathedral by Giovanni Pisano (between 1302-1310). With its intricate architecture and its complex sculptural decoration this work presents one of the most sweeping narratives of the art of the 13th-century. The pulpit is again polygonal (as in the analogous works in the Baptistery of Pisa, in the Siena Cathedral, and in the church of Saint’Andrea in Pistoia); but differs from them in the slightly curved surfaces of the parapet’s panels and in the sense of movement given by the numerous figures that fill up every empty space.
The slightly curved panels of the pulpit of the Pisa Cathedral were also sculpted with episodes of the life of Christ. Pictured above the panel representing the Nativity and the Adoration of the Shepherds.
Other original feature of the pulpit of the Pisa Cathedral is the use of decorative scrolls in place of lobed Gothic arches to support the raised platform over the Corinthian style columns.
The lower supports of the Pisa pulpit are the most interesting elements. For example, the presence of caryatids in place of simple columns and accompanying sculptural decoration are other remarkable features of the pulpit of Pisa; like the figure of an older Hercules (pictured above, a rare medieval depiction of a nude), or the crowned figure of the Ecclesia or Pisa (below) standing on a base with the figures of the four cardinal virtues among which is Prudence depicted as a “Venus pudica” (below) while covering her breasts and genitals.

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.

The ciborium in marble with polychromatic incrustations of the Basilica of Saint Paul outside the Walls (Rome) by Arnolfo di Cambio (1285, pictured above and below). In this ciborium, Di Cambio masterfully combined architecture, sculpture, and mosaic Cosmatesque decoration. The ciborium is located at the center of the transept, above the Papal altar. This structure has ben heavily restored after the great fire of 1823; it was rebuilt on 19th century columns with some additions. Today the body of the Apostle is below the Altar of the Confession.

Like in the ciborium of Saint Paul Outside the Walls, Arnolfo di Cambio combined architecture, sculpture and cosmatesque decoration for the ciborium in the presbitery of the church of Santa Cecilia in Trastevere (Rome, 1293, pictured above and below, including details of their sculptural and cosmatesque decorative elements). The Gothic ciborium is surrounded by four marble columns white and black, decorated with statuettes of angels, saints, prophets, and evangelists.

The tomb in marble of Cardinal Guglielmo de Braye (after 1282) by Arnolfo di Cambio (Church of San Domenico, Orvieto, Italy). Arnolfo played a seminal role in creating the trecento sepulchral monument. Its majestic, enthroned Madonna (at the top of the monument), taken from a Classical goddess, presides over the heavenly realm. Below, flanking the central inscription, are two saints, one of whom (probably St Mark, the deceased’s patron saint) presents the kneeling cardinal to the Virgin. Directly below is the tomb chamber whose side curtains are being drawn by two angels or acolytes to reveal the recumbent effigy. Below this area is a sarcophagus with columns and a base heavily decorated in cosmati work. This monument is Arnolfo’s first signed work.
The statue of Saint Peter Enthroned, sometimes atributed to Arnolfo di Cambio, though some scholars date it to the 5th century. The statue is in St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican City, set against the north east pier of the dome  at the end of the central nave. One foot of the statue is largely worn away by pilgrims kissing or touching it for centuries.
Statue of Charles I of Anjou by Arnolfo di Cambio (ca. 1277) carved in marble (Hall of the Middle Ages, Capitoline Museums, Rome).
Statue of Pope Bonifacius VIII by Arnolfo di Cambio, ca. 1298 (Museo dell’Opera del Duomo, Florence).
Detail of the tomb/monument of Riccardo Cardinal Annibaldi, at the Archbasilica of San Giovanni in Laterano (Rome), ca. 1276. This was the first major work of Arnolfo di Cambio in Rome.
Tomb of Pope Honorius IV by Arnolfo di Cambio in the Church of Santa Maria in Aracoeli (Rome). The columns and upper entablature are late additions.

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.

The marble reliefs of the right wall of the facade of the Orvieto Cathedral (Orvieto, Italy). Lorenzo Maitani (ca. 1275–1330) was primarily responsible for the construction and decoration of the facade with the aid of his collaborators. The Gothic facade of the Orvieto Cathedral is considered as one of the great masterpieces of the art of the Late Middle Ages. The bas-reliefs on the piers depict biblical stories from the Old and New Testament. Depicted above are the reliefs with scenes of the Last Judgment and the Book of Revelation.
Details of some bas-reliefs from the facade of the Orvieto Cathedral by Lorenzo Maitani. From left to right and from top to bottom: Expulsion from Paradise, Adoration of the Magi, The Cure of the Blind Man or the Raising of Lazarus, The Original Sin.

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.

The Ark of Saint Eulalia in the crypt of the Cathedral of the Holy Cross and Saint Eulalia (Barcelona). The author of this sepulchral ark is unknown but the influence or hands of Pisan artists is evident.


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.