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Andrea Pisano's reliefs on the Campanile in Florence

Andrea Pisano, Reliefs for the Campanile in Florence, c. 1336 Speakers: David Drogin and Beth Harris. Created by Beth Harris and Steven Zucker.

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Video transcript

Voiceover: Here we have a view of Florence where we can see the bell tower, the Campanile in the center, and then on the left just a little corner of the Baptistry, and on the back end the Cathedral of Florence with Brunelleschi's dome at the top. Voiceover: Right. The Baptistry is a medieval building from the 10th century probably. The Cathedral, the Duomo, they began building almost around 1300 and the bell tower starts going up a little bit after that and then the dome is built from the early 1400s and finished in the 1470s. Voiceover: So what are we looking at with the bell tower? Voiceover: The bell tower, right now, we're gonna concentrate on the very bottom. Around 1340, even though the tower wasn't complete yet, they decided, the town and the guilds of Florence, specifically the wool guild that was in charge of decorating the cathedral, decided that they wanted to decorate the bottom of the tower because even though it wasn't complete, it was embarrassing having just this bare undecorated surface where everyone's walking around, as you can see, all the time. And so the two very bottom layers are decorated with many reliefs and these are in stone marble rather than the bronze that's on the Baptistry. The reliefs cover a lot of subjects. There are Biblical scenes. There are signs of the Zodiac. There are also scenes of local art and industry. Some of these things may sound unusual. Of course, the Biblical scenes makes sense on the church building. Voiceover: Industry and the - ? Voiceover: Those are a little bit unusual. We'll see why they might want to include those. We should also say that the Zodiac signs are not unusual because the medieval Christians were very able or very comfortably blended their belief in Christianity and their Christian devotion with interest in the horoscope. Voiceover: Yep, and we see that a lot on medieval churches. Voiceover: That's right. Let's look at some of these reliefs. Here's one of the religious scenes. This is the Creation of Adam. The artist is Andrea Pisano, who around the same time is working on the bronze reliefs just across the street on the south doors of the Baptistry. Those scenes were about John the Baptist and here's one of the Biblical scenes on the bell tower. And again, this is typical of his style as we've described it. It's very, very simplified with mostly a blank background, just a few things to give you a sense of the setting, here a few stylized trees, and we have God leaning over and creating Adam. Voiceover: Yeah, literally out of the dust of the earth and he sort of takes form. Voiceover: Right and this is another good example of how Andrea Pisano combines a kind of gothic stylization with a naturalistic classicism. Voiceover: Where do you see the gothic stylization? Voiceover: Well, the figure of God the Father, in some ways the way the robes are rendered without a great sense of the body underneath, the kind of rhythmic folds, all of this is pretty traditional. Voiceover: Right so we have sense of the body, but there's not an entire sense of a real physical anatomically correct body underneath it. Voiceover: That's right. Voiceover: Like there will be later with Donatello. Voiceover: Mm hmm and instead, the figure of Adam is a nude athletic male even though it's damaged here, it's classicizing and it's naturalistic. He's in a contrapposto stance evnen though he's lying down. That doesn't make any sense. Contrapposto is usually something for standing up, but the fact that he's done that anyway shows how interested he was in giving it a classic appearance. Voiceover: Yeah, I mean, we can see his ribs and some muscles there too. Voiceover: That's right. So this is very typical for his style. Here now we're looking at one of the scenes of local industry. Voiceover: Wow, this looks a lot like the one of God creating Adam. Voiceover: Well, it's interesting that you say that because the industry that's represented here is sculpture and this is an interesting way for an artist, Andrea Pisano, to suggest that the work of the sculptor, the work of the artist, is in some ways like the work of God. Both are creators. In fact, we also see again the creator here, the artist, leaning over a bearded man, in rather stylized robes, leaning over a nude, more naturalistic, more classicizing figure. Now, of course, he's not going to get in trouble. There's a sense of modesty here because look again and compare this to the way God creates Adam. God is in nature, He uses a gesture of his hand, and Adam is clearly supposed to be a real living person. When we look at the sculptor in the studio, he's in the studio, he's using tools. The use of the tools is really conspicuous. Voiceover: He can't create simply by his word or by some kind of spiritual action. Voiceover: That's right. And also what he's creating is not going to be mistaken for a real person. It's stiff and it's much smaller in scale. Voiceover: But still it seems to be almost a sign of the desire to elevate the status of the artist. Voiceover: It absolutely is a sign of that and it's also definitely a sign of the pride that the Florentines take in their arts. I mean, this is a very important location, the bell tower of the Cathedral, and they're displaying in a way what makes them proud and prosperous as Florentines. In one part, it's the arts. Voiceover: And so this could be described as part of that civic pride that I always think is so important in terms of commissioning so much art in the Renaissance. Voiceover: That's right. Here's another scene of local industry. This is weaving, which is one of the main reasons why Florence is so very prosperous around 1340 when these reliefs are being made. You could talk about it in terms of the style being typical for Andrea Pisano, the boiling down to the essential ingredients, but really what stands out is the way it celebrates industry, manual labor and the things that make this city where it is. Voiceover: It's amazing. And so the guilds were really powerful in enriching the city and decorating the city with beautiful sculptures and reliefs and at the same time wanting to see their own image in a way. Voiceover: That's right.