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Nicola Pisano, Pulpit, Pisa Baptistery; and Giovanni Pisano, Slaughter of the Innocents, Pulpit, Sant'Andrea church, Pistoia

Video transcript

here we're looking at the baptistry in Pisa a building that was begun in the mid 12th century and it's in a very famous location that perhaps people have seen it is where the Leaning Tower of Pisa is that's right the Leaning Tower of Pisa as it's known is actually the bell tower of the Cathedral and this building the baptistry is in front of the Cathedral and usually this is how the buildings were arranged in these late medieval Italian cities the Cathedral with the baptistry in front of it as a kind of religious and civic center of the city and we see that in cities like Florence that's right you see the same kind of arrangement there and baptists trees were especially important buildings of course it was where baptisms would be performed but that had a great great importance in these cities which were dominated by their Christian faith and practices because it was a place where essentially the individual through baptism was welcomed into the Christian community of that city so it makes sense that this is a place that the city government would want to decorate they were usually very richly decorated places focus of a lot of patronage and attention because of their importance in cities of this type well so let's go and say so this is rare in the Middle Ages when we're thinking about the architecture right exactly go inside we see something well inside we're seeing some it's leading to a great transition relatively revolutionary in fact and that's when we look at this structure here which is inside the baptistery this is the pulpit by Nicola Pisano in the piece of baptistry which was finished by about 1260 and Pope it would be a place where the priests would stand to deliver sermons that's right they would climb up and these reliefs here are essentially a low wall and then this eagle supports a little stand where a book where other writings could be placed and the preacher would speak from them and so everyone could see him exactly could hear him we see these multicolored columns with capitals and then above the capitals are these figures of virtues and then above are these reliefs that we see here hystory ated reliefs showing narratives from the life of Christ and those reliefs are separated by small color pets and what I'd like to draw our attention to is this very interesting figure of fortitude this is one of the virtues one of the virtues on top of the Capitol below the reliefs fortitude means strength and so here we see a figure an allegorical figure representing the virtue of strength of fortitude and this figure is interesting and brings about a change and points in a new direction really doesn't look like a medieval sculpture I know it's not very Romanesque looking as we'll see it's definitely not very gothic looking and what it is though is extremely influenced by classical antiquity both in terms of how it looks but also in terms of what it means because of course a muscular athletic figure makes sense as a representation of fortitude we can go even further in terms of who this figure is because as you can see there's a lion skin wrapped around his left arm and a lion cub that he holds on top of his right shoulder and that helps us identify this nude athletic muscular figure as in fact Hercules or Heracles the Greek and Roman mythological deity or half deity who is famous for his strength and so he's both classical looking and a classical figure and a Christian virtue but at the same time so it's a Christian virtue of fortitude as personified by the classical figure of Hercules therefore it has this classical meaning and as you said it also looks very very crass sizing and perhaps we can just see that by comparing it to an actual classical sculpture here we're looking at the figure of fortitude by Nicola Pisano compared to the ado munoz a classical figure probably by polykleitos marble version of it and what you can see are the way is that obviously Nicola Pisano was emulating copying and influenced by the classical sculpture from centuries before it's remarkable they both stand in contrapposto that's right so they both look very relaxed and very natural in their pose and there's a lot of attention to human anatomy to the muscles of the body to the kind of naturalism of the body that's right the body kind of twists it looks in different directions the hips shift the shoulders shift it's relatively naturalistic and attention to the musculature and the way a body stands also think about how Nicola Pisano's figure even though it's attached to the pulpit it exists really freely of it it looks like he could walk away from it exactly what we're seeing here is this very very classical looking figure and it's also a classical figure in terms of its subject matter a little bit because it does represent Hercules and this is pretty important because throughout the Middle Ages up until this point occasionally you would see figures that looked sometimes classically influenced but usually their meaning was very far removed from any kind of classical meaning here for one of the first times in this period we're seeing a kind of reconnection of classical form and classical content even though as we said ultimately it's representing a Christian virtue on a very Christian structure inside an extremely Christian building but what we're seeing is an increasing interest in a kind of influence and a kind of rediscovery of classical antiquity in various ways yeah that's obvious let's compare it to a medieval sculpture to make that point some gothics well here's some gothic sculpture this is from the West Portal at sharps Cathedral and which is from begun in the mid 12th century around the same time that the piece of baptistry was being built these figures were being carved a little bit earlier than Nicola Pisano's pulpit and far away and far go to but what we're showing here is very different schools of sculpture around the same general time and you can see that the Gothic style as you may know is really characterized by very stiff elongated stylized figures purposefully distant from any kind of naturalism with the repeating folds of the drapery the onion dividual eyes faces the repeating gestures here are figures that do not really exist autonomously from their background their proportions and their appearance are really dictated by the Gothic structure that they decorate look at their feet there's no way they could stand they don't seem to be standing they don't seem to interact with any kind of psychological Verity with the world around them now contrapposto contrapposto and so again compared to Nicola Pisano's figure they're really a world away and you can see how he's moving very strongly away from that kind of Gothic tradition and other medieval Romanesque traditions as well here's a view of the upper part of the pulpit the same one so we can see our friend fortitude down here and then above as we said are these reliefs that represent stories or moments from the life and death of Christ in this particular scene that we see above and to the right of fortitude is the adoration of the Magi which shows the three kings coming to visit the newly born Christ and the Virgin Mary who sits here in a chair and what you can see is that this classicizing aesthetic that's moving away from more Romanesque and gothic styles as evidence in these reliefs as well absolutely monumental heavy figures with folds of drapery heavy somewhat naturalistic folds of drapery a very different than those lines exactly injuries there's a little bit of repetition there there's some stylization certainly to be found but what we can see is that it's definitely moving away from that and has Lee influenced by classical antiquity and this is relevant to the piece ins the people who would be using and seeing this object when it was originally built because their city actually has a very strong classical heritage Pisa was founded by ancient Romans the medieval pieces they knew that and the heritage of that classical antiquity surrounded them everywhere they looked there were lots of remnants of classical sculpture around them and one example is this sarcophagus this carved tomb which was and still is in Pisa and there were many many fragments and pieces like this some of which were actually incorporated into the medieval walls and buildings of the city and so there really was the sense that classical antiquity made up the fabric and the identity of Pisa itself now billet had been sort of neglected for a long time and is being now but now they're feeling like they can reconnect with that classical heritage and identity and this particular sarcophagus is important because it shows especially related to the reliefs that we just looked at how the figures are quite large they fill up the height of the relief completely just like in Nicola Sano's reliefs later on this standing male nude figure looks very very much like the figure of fortitude and so might have been the influence for that figure here we see a seated female figure who although she's seated takes up the whole height of the relief in exactly the same way that the Virgin Mary does in the adoration of the Magi we looked at a second ago and so this might be the very example that Nicola Pisano might have looked at and it is very nearby in space the cemetery called the Campo Santo which is just a few yards away from the baptistry so here we can really see that classical influence in action call a Poisson Oh his last name means the P zijn but he's not actually from Pisa he's probably from southern Italy maybe connected to the court of the holy roman emperor frederick ii who in his patronage and interests was revitalizing a classical revival and so perhaps the artist influenced by that and his origins comes to pisa finds a city that's rich in classical heritage of people that are open to these new kinds of connections and from there these changes start blossoming make sense now Nicola has a son named Giovanni and they work together on several projects but then around 1300 Giovanni Pisano starts his own workshop and his own independent projects and this is one of them this is the pulpit from the Church of Sant'Andrea in pistoia which is dated to 1301 this is by Giovanni Pisano and you can see the structure is essentially the same there is colored marble columns with capitals allegorical figures on top of the capitals below reliefs that make up the low walls of the pulpit itself one difference you can see right away is that the corners that separate the reliefs are no longer small columns but rather figures and what this does is give a greater sense of continuity and connection between the individual reliefs as opposed to them being very distinctly separated by the frames that we saw in his father's example from 40 years before where they were attached columns there right and I want to look at one specific thing in this pulpit which is the relief that we see here on top of the massacre of the innocents this tells the story in front the New Testament where Herod orders that all the newly born male children and Bethlehem be executed because he's heard that Christ has been born and this new leader that's going to bring great changes that he doesn't want according to the text and so he orders this execution and what we were looking at here is this really emotional disturbing scene of Roman soldiers slaughtering children and their mothers trying to as we see here protect them or mourning over their dead bodies we see during their averting their eyes running away soldiers with knives and their hands actually executing infants women covering their faces here's Herod giving the order now in some ways Giovanni Pisano sculpture is connected to that of his father there's this naturalism that we saw developing earlier on there's classicism especially in some of the other areas of the pulpit but what makes Giovanni Pisano sculpture of the early 1300s more distinct it's obviously his great interest in communicating emotions a kind of vibrant expressionistic representation of the feelings and this that communicates the horrifying scene that we're looking at it really connects with the viewer it helps gestures their facial exams the keys for him and other artists throughout this period using gestures and facial expressions to tell a story as powerfully as possible and of course this is another sign of moving away from the Middle Ages from those gothic exactly expressionless faces especially in terms of marrying that kind of those kinds of expressions that kind of emotion with naturalism right because sometimes in Gothic art you do see things that are very graphic or violent looking but also very stylized and here we have a kind of naturalistic representation that's naturalistic in terms of the physical appearance and also naturalistic in terms of the psychological expressiveness and what's interesting is to think that this is happening in the first years of the 1300s exactly at the same time that job dodo is doing the very same thing in painting