(b. ca. 1245, Colle di Valdelse, d. ca. 1310, Firenze)

Interior view

San Paolo fuori le Mura, Rome

The erection of elaborate ciboria or baldachins over high altars had been common practice in Rome throughout the Early Middle Ages. The figurative element of these constructions was mostly limited to the carving of capitals, so that the principal decorative effect was gained through the application of glass mosaic to the surfaces of the architectural features. Although Arnolfo's first ciborium, for San Paolo fuori le Mura, belongs to this tradition it departs quite radically from the earlier ciboria in both embracing the Gothic forms of France and creating a programme of sculpture which complemented the decorative scheme of the basilica's interior and referred specifically to its setting.

The spiky architectural form of the ciborium has been related to that of Rayonnant Paris, more particularly to the similar structure containing the Crown of Thorns in the Sainte-Chapelle, and it may be that such forms were introduced through reduced versions in metalwork. Four free-standing figures - Sts Paul, Peter, Timothy and Benedict - occupy the niches at the corners, and in the spandrels between are shown the Abbot Bartholomeus offering a model of the ciborium to St Paul (front), the Sacrifices of Cain and Abel (side), two prophets (back), The temptation of Eve and the Admonishment of Adam (side). Above, flying angels appear to support the oculi of the gables. Inside the ciborium four angels float around the boss of the vault and a further four at the corners hold censers and a candlestick.

The photo shows the interior of the basilica with Arnolfo's ciborium in the centre.

© Web Gallery of Art, created by Emil Krén and Daniel Marx.