PISANO, Andrea
(active c. 1290-1349 in Pisa)

Weaving

1337-42
Relief
Campanile, Duomo, Florence

The reliefs on the campanile at Florence, probably designed by its architect Giotto and partly executed by Andrea Pisano, were begun a quarter of a century after those at Orvieto and have very little of the latter's Bible-based theology. They speak to us with a new voice. These arc the accents not of the older, narrow, monastic order of things but of the newer scholastic outlook, shaped by the universities which embraced all knowledge, secular as well as sacred. Salvation is still the theme, to be obtained, however, not directly through the person of Christ, as at Orvieto, but through the mediation of the Church by its sacraments, administered by the priest. Daily labour, which is atonement for Adarn's sin, is the road to virtue. This recipe for social harmony in the rising industrial cities of the Middle Ages is presented in several connected series of images. They consist of hexagonal and lozenge shaped reliefs arranged in two tiers on all four sides of the tower.

It is no accident that nearly every set of images is seven in number.The Middle Ages attached a mystical significance to numbers which it inherited from the ancient world as far back as Pythagoras. Three was a spiritual number because of the Trinity; four was related to life on earth because there were four elements and four evangelists. Twelve, the product of three and four, was the number of the Church in which divine and earthly met and which the twelve apostles symbolized, and so on. Dante deliberately organized the Divine Comedy, both as to the structure of the poem and the world it describes, on the basis of three and multiples of three. Medieval man, like us today, sought through numbers to understand the workings of the universe, though he arrived at rather different conclusions. In particular he expected to find an underlying connection between series of things having like numbers. Seven, which was closely related to the divine plan because it measured the days of Creation, was particularly rich in such concordances.

On the campanile are represented the seven Mechanical (or Technical) Arts and their inventors. Next come the seven Planets, seven Virtues, seven Liberal Arts and finally seven Sacraments. The whole cycle commences with seven scenes from the Old Testament beginning with the creation of Adam and Eve and followed immediately by their toil.

Here, in the shorthand language of images, is the whole framework of the moral and intellectual ideas of the high Middle Ages. It was drawn from the encyclopaedias, the great literary compilations that were the typical products of the period, particularly the thirteenth century. What Aquinas achieved for Christian philosophy, others set out to match in the field of universal knowledge. The most comprehensive and influential of these huge works was by a French Dominican friar, Vincent of Beauvais (c. 1190-1264). He enjoyed the protection of King Louis IX and was given access to the royal library of some twelve hundred manuscripts, earning for himself the nickname " Librorum helluo", devourer of books. The outcome of his labours was the "Speculum Majus", the Great Mirror, a vast yet systematic undertaking, only completed after his death, which embraced the whole of knowledge, interpreting it in the light of orthodox Christian doctrine. This was a continuation of the tradition begun by Bishop Isidore in the sixth century. It was the begetter of other similar compilations, notably, in Italy, the Libro del Tesoro, the Book of the Treasure, or Thesaurus, and the Tesoretto, both by a Florentine layman, Brunetto Latini (c. 1212-94) who was a friend of Dante. These were much shorter popularisations written in Italian, the second in verse, and so were widely read.

The "Speculum" of Vincent of Beauvais and works based upon it proceed from the proposition that there are three evils brought upon us by our first parents, namely sin, ignorance and mortality. For them God has provided three corresponding remedies, virtue, wisdom and practical necessity. At the human level these divine gifts are represented by the Seven Virtues, Seven Liberal Arts, and Seven Mechanical Arts respectively. The cycle of scenes on the campanile, having begun with Adam and Eve who spin and till the soil, shows us the founders of civilization. Besides Old Testament representatives they include Hercules, who is portrayed having overcome a monster; the legendary Daedalus, the marvellous craftsman, here shown in winged flight; a legendary Greek king Phoroneus, the first legislator; and a certain son of Noah about whom the Bible is silent but who was known to Brunetto Latini and whom he calls Gionitus, the father of Astronomy. These, as it were, laid the foundations for the Mechanical Arts which are represented in scenes of everyday occupations: weaving, building, navigation, agriculture, hunting and medicine. The seventh is an exception and shows a Roman charioteer, recalling the public spectacles in the ancient hippodrome. Unlike the others, this is a leisure occupation, chosen perhaps from the analogy of the seventh day of creation. The influence of the woollen guild, which was responsible for the building's construction, can be seen in the representation of the art of weaving. It shows what must then have been a familiar sight in Florence, a woman seated working a loom with a female overseer beside her. The latter may, alternatively, represent the goddess Minerva who was patroness of spinners and weavers.