PISANO, Giovanni
(b. ca. 1250, Pisa, d. 1314, Pisa)

Pulpit

1302-11
Marble, height 461 cm
Cathedral, Pisa

In 1302, after the completion of the Pistoia pulpit, Giovanni was commissioned by the head of Pisa Cathedral, Burgundio di Tado, to execute yet another pulpit in Carrara marble. It was installed in the right choir but damaged by a fire in 1595 and dismantled. (Most of the fragments were gathered into a problematic reconstruction in 1926, while others are dispersed in museums around the world.)

In this last and most ambitious of the four Pisano pulpits, Giovanni reverted to an octagon as had his father in Siena Cathedral. This decision was again at least partly determined by the size of the building. Giovanni further modified the shape by including a platform at the top of the stairs, which allowed for two additional reliefs. The pulpit consequently has 9 historiated panels, 2 flat ones on the platform and 7 on the main body of the pulpit in a new convex shape. This convexity gives a circular impression to the monument. The narratives read like a cohesive, unrolled scroll, aided by the heavy cornice which helps to propel the viewer's eye. Giovanni, a gifted raconteur, increased the superimposition of episodes and created variations on the standard Pisani narratives. He also introduced two new subjects - one with three episodes in the life of John the Baptist, and another depicting the Betrayal, Mocking and Flagellation, as well as Christ before Caiaphas.

No systematic study has distinguished the many hands at work on the pulpit. While the reliefs are tilted towards the spectator as at Pistoia, there is less stylistic unity and decorative elements seem more profuse. The undercutting is still deeper, so that in places, heads are freestanding and the background translucent in daylight. There are also unusual proportional dissimilarities among the figures. The pointed Gothic cusps of the archivolts have been replaced by double scrolled volutes which do not meet in the centre below the reclining prophets. These dynamic vaguely Classicizing forms lend an unresolved quality to that section of the pulpit.

The lower supports, which may not be correctly reconstructed, are the most interesting elements and include several innovations which grew out of the atlantid of the Pistoia pulpit. For example, the most complex one is crowned by Ecclesia or Pisa, shown with two suckling babes at her breasts, like later Charity figures. She stands on a base with the four cardinal virtues: the female personification of Fortitude holds a lion and Prudence, depicted as a "Venus pudica" covers her genitals and breasts. In their heavy facial types and attitudes one can sense that Giovanni has fallen under the sway of his father's nearby Baptistry pulpit and the antiquities of Pisa. This influence also appears in one of the two single supporting figures, the older anguished Hercules which, in comparison with the Herculean `Fortitude' on the Baptistry pulpit, reveals how different Giovanni's style was from that of his father.