The Adoration of Magi

06 Jan 16
Nicola Pisano's Adoration of Magi

The Adoration of the Magi is one of the scenes that are found in the upper part of the pulpit of the Cathedral of Siena, one of the masterpieces of the Italian medieval sculpture. The marble slab that measures 85 x 97 cm and 16 cm thick, is part of a set of seven panels that decorate the parapet of the pulpit.

The magnificent pulpit was created by the renowned sculptor Nicola Pisano between 1265 and 1268 and is an architectural complex of octagonal shape. For its implementation, a contract was made between the artist and the worker in the Siena cathedral Fra Melano, in September 1265, but the work began in March the following year.

Nicola was an artist very responsive to “naturalism” typical of French Gothic of the second half of the thirteenth century – an artistic trend, that was particularly lucky in Siena at the end of the century – Nicola Pisano was also a sculptor who proved to be an expert in botany , representing reliefs of different arboreal type pulpit, from ivy leaves on the capitals of the columns of of the parapet supporting oak trees that we find in the background of the Adoration of the Magi scene.

Beyond the Gothic naturalism, the thread that traces the entire artistic career of Nicola Pisano is the reception of Roman sculpture models: this is an obvious element of the Magi also in the panel, where the horses of the parade reminiscent of some Roman sarcophagi and Nicholas was able to admire in the Cemetery of Pisa, when some years before being called to Siena, he was intent on achieving another pulpit, hexagonal, for the Baptistery in Pisa.

The parapet of the scenes in Siena represents some important episodes of World Salvation: next to scenes from the life of Christ there are two panels depicting the Last Judgment. It is not simply a narrative scenes because the episodes are inserted within a more complex iconological discourse, as Max Seidel carefully distinguished  in an essay, it is a true sum of all medieval theology. There exists a hierarchy between the various elements of the pulpit, from the base of the columns with lions up to the railing frame, through the figures of Liberal Arts and Sibyls, with a total of about four figures carved by the artist and his workshop , a qualified the team that included collaborators later become important sculptors, such as Nicola’s son, Giovanni Pisano – always in Siena will carry the statues of the lower part of the facade of the Duomo – and Arnolfo di Cambio.

For a guided tour of the Cathedral of Siena, where the pulpit by Nicola Pisano is preserved, contact me at info@www.guidaturistica-michelebusillo.com or at (+39) 3332591526.

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Michele Busillo

Licensed Tour Guide of Florence and Siena

Bibliography
– M.Seidel; Padre e Figlio: Nicola e Giovanni Pisano; Venezia Marsilio, 2012. (Italian edition)

This post was written by Michele Busillo