With that of the Baptistery (Nicola) begin a turn which is completed with the Duomo (Giovanni). A great season of art.
For centuries, Italian art has maintained an unchallenged leadership in the world. The conquest of a language so full of beauty and innovative drive to become dominant, it usually goes back to the Renaissance, or a little further back, to the great discoveries of Giotto, that would change the course of art forever.
In fact, if there is a good reflection of the traces of a big change, real change and the emergence of a language typically Italian art making, they are already at an earlier time. And before being developed by the skill of the Florentine painters, the shocking pictures of revolution and styles, go to the chisel of a sculptor, Apulian origin and of adoption of Pisa.
It all happens in Pisa. Because here you create an extraordinary communion between the talent of the sculptor "Nicola de Apulia" and the seaside town that welcomed him. The fusion of individual genius and the environment, vital for things to happen.
The artist arrived in Pisa from Puglia. We know this because the first to sign with the name that is famous in the world, Nicola Pisano himself "Nicola de Apulia". But we know also because its visual culture is full of classical references, quotations and allusions to ancient sculpture. And these impulses come from the the south by the workers working in Castel del Monte and in the buildings commissioned by Frederick II, the court of which rivaled the size of the Roman Empire, also through the literary, visual arts, philosophy . So the formation of Nicholas (of unknown date of birth is supposed to around 1220) is dedicated to antiquity: his eye feeds on proportions and drapery, in search of the vestiges of the past and these sets its fees. And when you arrive in Pisa is the confirmation that his way of looking is the right one. The Pisan fact more than one hundred years collecting memories of ancient history. In the classical marbles were looking for the cultural roots of their present fiercely local and Ghibellines. In the cathedral, these findings were actually performed, as evidence of the origins of the great city of Pisa. And if we are to believe Vasari, author of Lives of the Artists in the sixteenth century, the beginning of a modern conception of art criticism, it seems that some of these sarcophagi, inscriptions, fragments of sculptures were actually the result of a search outside the boundaries of Pisa; short items of import.
However Nicola sees them and studies them. It just so happens to figurative something similar to what happens to poetry: the seeds sown in southern Tuscany bloom. It is the first flower of marble is the pulpit of the Baptistery of Pisa, a masterpiece that Nicola Pisano worked from 1255 to 1260.
Immediately this artist is his powerful and solemn classical sources: transforms the figure of Dionysus supported by a satyr, he has seen in a pot kept in the old cemetery, in which Simon attends the presentation of Jesus in the temple. And the majestic Lady of the Nativity seems to derive directly from the Etruscan and Roman sarcophagi, while the Fortress is represented in the guise of a naked Hercules.
Nicholas, however, does more than just a recovery operation. Returns to these figures a kind of infallible truth and create harmony between architectural structure and decoration of the pulpit that covers it. A relationship between architecture and sculpture, so happy, it was seen only in the French Gothic cathedrals, and many scholars have suggested a visit by Nicola in the yards of the great works beyond the Alps, besides the usual trip to Rome. It is not known whether this is true or not. But we know that the Pisan pulpit began the great period of Italian art, from the moment the idea of the right proportions, space research, the movement, the feeling of actually entering a key part of Western figurative language. And the years between 1260, when Nicholas dismisses this, and 1300, when Giotto has now finished his History of St. Francis of Assisi, are decisive for the forty years of Italian art. Because if it is true, as the great writer Marguerite Yourcenar writes, that "the day on which a statue is finished, it begins, in a sense, his life … through the alternation of adoration, admiration, love and defiance or indifference … ", the existence of the grand work of Nicola is beginning to take a little ‘everywhere.
The beauty of the reliefs of the Nativity, the Adoration of the Magi, the Presentation in the Temple, the Crucifixion, the Last Judgement, their lively narrative, the solemnity of figures symbolizing the virtues at the corners of the structure, allow Nicholas to receive many other committees: to Siena, Perugia, Pistoia, Bologna. Vasari there transmits it as one of the most sought after architects of his time, but unfortunately we can not link his name to any medieval building. However, the artist travels and spreads his language that combines the rigor classic gothic elegance. It brings with him his students, the most important being his son John. That reflects the heritage of a father so admired by even risking to become cumbersome, and makes it a treasure.
John even know the date of birth that you think you can place between 1245 and 1248, as it participates in ’65 with his father to the pulpit of the Cathedral of Siena. The place where the event is happening but surely Pisa.
In Pisa John works for the decoration of the Baptistery of people from outside, but when his father died in 1284, there he is leaving the city to go to Siena where he left several masterpieces.
When he returns to his city becomes direct confrontation with Nicholas. Even he, in fact, was commissioned a pulpit, this time for the Duomo. And if Nicholas had revolutionized this object, which was the first against the wall and square or rectangular, isolating it and softening the forms in a hexagon, John goes even further. There are no edges in the perfect form of the octagonal pulpit, where the surfaces of the balustrade curving smoothly and everything was returned to an ideal circle. And John tells the stories that are vital and full of energy. His figures are the result of careful observation of the truth of gestures and attitudes. The sculpted faces that express different feelings, reactions, and individual characters. There are memorable moments as the angel who eagerly shaking the old man asleep in the Flight into Egypt or twisting of the bodies that pass the child, which seems to feel the weight, the Presentation in the Temple. The entire surface is richly carved in every corner, the figures are elongated upward, mobile, safe movements. There is a moment’s rest, the events follow each other in an intense and vibrant, and the curved line that dominates the set creates a brightness never seen before.
And if this were not enough to put John in the large sculpture of all time, will visit the Museo dell’Opera del Duomo to dispel any doubt. Here are some examples of the subject kept most loved by this great master: the Madonna and child. In the sculptures of John, Mary and Jesus look, talk, communicate like a mother and a son any. The baby is calm, but his mother, who knows the fate, maintains an air of melancholy. Maria is a humanized one that comes to us from this gothic twist of bodies, from this intimate, sad game looks. Sister of the Virgin sung in verse by Fabrizio De Andrè in the Good News: a woman who ends up tentatively accepting, trusting and resigned, a destiny far greater than her.
Lea Mattarella, art critic, teaches at the Brera