PISANO, Nicola
(active 1258-1278)

Pulpit relief: Presentation in the Temple

Baptistery, Pisa

The panels of the pulpit give a continuous narrative with the Annunciation, Nativity and Annunciation to the Shepherds; the Adoration of the Magi depicted as the Three Ages of Man; the Presentation in the Temple; the Crucifixion; and the Last Judgment. Traces of pigment suggest that paint once increased the polychromy of the coloured marble, while the addition of black paste to some drill holes intensified the light and dark contrast of the carving.

Directly inspired from figures on the Phaedra sarcophagus in the Camposanto, Pisa, are the wizened heads of the expressionistic prophetess Anna and St Elizabeth in the Presentation in the Temple. This scene also contains another fascinating adaptation all'antica, the transformation of a Hellenistic aged Dionysos supported by a satyr into the old priest with an acolyte. (Michelangelo used this general prototype later for his Bacchus.) Nicola adapted to a Christian context the pagan form derived from a Roman copy of a Neo-Attic carved krater in the Composanto. His borrowing also had a civic dimension because the krater was believed to have been given to the city by Augustus, thus alluding to Pisa's origins and alliance to the Ghibellines.