PISANO, Nicola
(active 1258-1278)

Pulpit: Fortitude

Marble, height 56 cm
Baptistery, Pisa

The most extreme statement of Nicola's Classicism resides in his Fortitude on the pulpit, one of the cardinal virtues derived from Plato's Republic. This statuette is considered the first modern representation of a heroic nude in the Classical manner. It departs from earlier depictions of Hercules in the sculptor's attitude towards the beauty of the nude body. The figure appears to derive from a Hercules like one on a sarcophagus in the Terme Museum, Rome, but the two are technically leagues apart. Nicola's is at once more classical and more finely carved. While the poses are almost identical, Nicola's figure - which has also been identified unconvincingly as Samson or Daniel in the Lion's Den - is assuredly a Classical Hercules which the sculptor substituted for the customary female personification of Fortitude, who holds a club and/or wears a lion skin as attributes other strength. In its attitude to nudity and physical power, Michelangelo's David is its true heir.

Although Nicola's Fortitude is less than a metre tall, it seems more monumental until seen in context. The pose derives from one championed by Polykleitos and other sculptors of the fifth century BC, where the weight is borne on one leg. In contrast, the other leg remains relaxed, with the shoulders at an angle to the pelvis. Adopted by Renaissance artists to lend convincing physicality to their figures, this shift in weight is called contrapposto.