Lifelong Learning Programme

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Artists - ArtWorks

Name of the Artist / Artwork:

Giovanni Pisano

Country: Italy
Century: 1200 - The 13th Century
Art Period:

Gothic Art and Architecture in Italy

Synthetic Chronology:

Giovanni Pisano (1248 approx. -1314 approx.) was the son of Nicola Pisano. After the death of his father he became master of the Cathedral in Siena between 1285 and 1296. After that he took responsibility for the Cathedral of Pisa.
In the same period he sculpted the Madonna and Child for the Scrovegni Chapel in Padua and also Madonna and Child for the Cathedral of Prato. Between 1297 and 1301 he worked on the pulpit of the church of St. Andrea Pistoia, and between 1302-1310 he sculpted the pulpit for the Cathedral of Pisa.
In 1313 Margaret Luxembourg commissions him his burial monument.

The Context:

Giovanni Pisano was born in between two centuries.
In the thirteenth century feudal and Christian Europe arrived at its full territorial extension: Europe had never been so densely populated, even in Roman times, and the city had never been so prosperous and numerous. It was the moment of maximum splendour of medieval European civilization.
However, during the fourteenth century, the principal on which civilization was based on, entered straight into crisis and it seemed to have reached its limits. The crisis was primarily economic and hurt mainly the country: the relationships between the population and support resources were behind the rebirth after the XI century was broken. People who lived in Europe in the early decades were poor and weakened by widespread malnutrition.
The empire and the papacy were also in a deep crisis: these two great universalistic powers harshly fought themselves. Though this fact they had always provided society with its fundamental framework within which to think the moral life and politics.
Following the failure of Frederick II who tried reconstructing a large body imperial unit, opened the Empire to a phase of great weakness: the authority of the emperor was almost nominal and could no longer be imposed. Also the papacy entered into a phase of deep crisis. There was an attempt by the Boniface VIII, to assert the primacy of the pope on each other temporal authority.
But it clash with the harsh opposition from the French King Philip the Good that came to imprison the pontiff. On the death of Boniface VIII 1303 was elected a French cardinal and the papal seat was moved to Avignon See page. 236-37 where he remained for almost seventy years. Since then the Catholic Church experienced a moment of crisis and had to face the harsh test of heresy.


Giovanni began practicing sculpting at a young age in the workshop of his father Nicola, with whom he was working for the pulpit of the Cathedral of Siena. Also, under the apprenticeship of his father he worked on the major fountain of Perugia and external decoration of the Baptistery in Pisa, where there are realizations of the Prophets and the Evangelists John and Mark.

National Comparative:

Giovanni Pisano transformed the classical sense of stillness of his father Nichola into a drama made of lines and forms and then returned to an ancient manner, where he took pathos and anxiety which project the artist’s work towards the renewal naturalistic Gothic.

The pulpit of the church of Sant'Andrea of Pistoia is a work completed in 1301 in which we can measure the relationship with other similar works carved by his father (the pulpits of the Baptistry of Pisa and the Duomo di Siena).The structure resumed the pulpit of the Baptistery in Pisa’s structure: hexagonal-shaped supports over seven columns (six in the corners and a central) supported at the base by two lions (so-called ‘stilofori’) and one from an extraordinary ‘telamone’ (a figure supporting the columns) while the middle column based on three winged griffins. Finally, the last three are based directly on the ground. The organization of parapet’s reliefs resumed in place with the pulpit of Siena. Decorations are interspersed by figures placed at the corners. The monument express verticality by the major raising of the three-shaped arches that support the upper part. The scenes are inhabited by a smaller number of characters than the pulpit of Nicola, and the figures are treated with greater plastic sense. Comparing the rhythmic organization composed of Nicola Pisano is easy to recognize stylistic innovation created by Giovanni: here he carved the figures as suddenly emerging from the background, with sharp play of light and shadow derived from different emphasis of each figure and an extreme quest for dynamism. One of the most remarkable scene is the Massacre of the Innocents, where he gave to the scene a whirling motion to the characters, accentuated with the expressionism of the eyes, deformed by pain, fear, consternation. In addition, the yield of relief has many nuances and details preciously executed: these are put in contrast with summarily executed figures. Never a medieval artist had been able to make such a live drama.

Transnational Comparative Analysis:

Giovanni Pisano’s sculptural production reveals interesting similarities with French Gothic sculpture, some have suggested that it is from his stay at the site of Notre-Dame in Paris or some other French cathedral. Others believe more likely that this influence had been mediated by sculptures of small size and miniatures made in France, which since the last decades of the thirteenth century were circulating in Italy.
The sculptor actually recovered the themes and elegant formal schemes of this production, giving them a new and powerful expressive vitality. Pisano knew how to go beyond these French models, instilling in his works a strong sense of volumes and of movement and feelings of expression also. Enlightening in this regard is the comparison between the French Madonna and Child at ‘Abbazia’ of Fontenay and the same subject made by Giovanni about a decade later for the Scrovegni Chapel in Padua. The statue of John Pisano has an undeniable stronger expressive intensity, with psychological aspects absent in the French statue: the Padua’s Virgin attitude seems to presage the future passion for his son, instead of Fontenay’s statue which presents an abstract pleasure in its volumes composition; on the contrary, Giovanni’s statue highlights the dramatic sentiment expressed by the artist.

Development of the artist's work through the years:

The peculiar character of the teacher are particularly evident in the two major works of the artist, the pulpits of S. Andrea a Pistoia and the pulpit of Pisa Cathedral.
In particular the crucifixion in Pistoia’s pulpit shows the artist’s deformation of the figures and faces up to a limit of grotesque.
The pulpit of the Cathedral of Pisa deepens more elements of its language: by adopting a plant octagonal he gets a circular structure connecting the panels through the statues on the corners. The architectural structure seems to become unable to contain the exuberance of forms that invade every area.


Pisano was the greatest sculptor of the thirteenth century. With him, the Italian sculpture of the thirteenth century had developed all of its premises and through the work of the artist it brings us until the beginning of the fourteenth century. Its production highlighted his pivotal role in the renewal of the Gothic style in Tuscany, but also in neighbouring areas (Veneto, Liguria), laying the foundations for good departure of the Italian sculpture of the new century, which will take inspiration from the work of Giovanni rather than from that of Arnolfo.


H. Keller, Giovanni Pisano, Ed. Schroll, Wien,
E. Carli, Giovanni Pisano, Fabbri Ed., Milano, 1966
E. Carli, Giovanni Pisano, il Pulpito di Pistoia, Giorgio Mondadori & Associati , Milano 1986 E. Carli, Giovanni Pisano e il Pulpito di Pistoia, Giorgio Mondadori 1986 S. Spannocchi, Giovanni Pisano, gruppo editoriale l’espresso, Roma, 1988

Comments about this Artist/ArtWork

Date: 2009.05.22

Posted by Nadia Petrova, NSA, Rousse, BG

Message: Giovanni Pisano is by all means the greatest sculptor of his epoch and the Italian gothic. Giovanni knew the cathedrals in Amien and Reims, because in the Pistoia cathedral, when he was decorating the pulpit he repeats the Pisa pulpit composition, but in difference to his father introduces gothic architectonic with the characteristic sharpening of the supportive arches, but still keeping the ancient capitels and the established characteristic bas-relief style. An impressive artist. It is unfortunate that there is not enough online information in Bulgarian on him.

Michelangelo - Copyright 2008 - This project has been funded with support from the European Commission

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