Niccola, Di Pisa

Niccola, Di Pisa an eminent Italian sculptor and architect, is noted not only for his inventive genius and devotion to sacred art, but also as the principal restorer of sculpture in connection with Gothic architecture. The precise dates of his birth and death have not been ascertained. It is probable, however, that he was born near the beginning of the 13th century, as he was greatly advanced in years in 1273, and is reported to have died at Pisa in 1276 or 1277. Niccola is distinguished among the earliest restorers of sculpture, which he elevated to a much higher state of perfection than he found it. He quitted the hard, dry, and mechanical style of his predecessors, and introduced a style which, though falling far short of the antique, was based upon similar principles, and evinced a vigorous mind and much feeling, if not always the most refined taste. It is said that his adaptation of the antique was brought about by the sight of an ancient sarcophagus brought from Greece. in the ships of Pisa, but he must have had other opportunities of studying the antique sculpture, if we are to judge from his works. Though most of the finest specimens of Greek sculpture were not discovered till long after Niccola's time, he doubtless examined the various classic ruins with which Italy then abounded as much as to-day. Niccola's earliest work is supposed to be the Deposition over one of the doors of the facade of the cathedral of Lucca, dated 1233. In 1235 Niccola was employed to execute the arca, or tomb of St. Domenico at Bologna, which he embellished with a series of bass-reliefs and figures, truly admirable for the time. Several of these subjects are given by Cicognara in his Storia della Scultura, and many of the heads and countenances are finely expressed. It is composed of six large bass-reliefs, delineating the six principal events in the legend of St. Dominic, and is ornamented with statues of our Savior, the Virgin, and the four doctors of the Church. The operculum, or lid, was added about two hundred years afterwards. Among his other and most excellent works in sculpture are the pulpit in the Baptistery at Pisa, executed in 1260, reckoned the most elegant pulpit in Italy. It is of white marble, six-sided, supported by seven Corinthian columns, and adorned with five bass-reliefs of subjects from the New Testament. His next work is the pulpit in the cathedral at Siena. The subjects on this pulpit are the same as those on that at Pisa, with the substitution of the Flight into Egypt and the Massacre of the Innocents for the Presentation, and the enlargement of the concluding composition, the Last Judgment. "In these compositions there is great felicity of invention and grouping, truth of expression, and grace in the attitudes and draperies; and in that of the Last Judgment the boldness displayed in the naked figures, twisted and contorted into every imaginable attitude, is wonderful, and evinces the skill with which Niccola drew on the antique and on nature. But it must be admitted that there is a degree of confusion or over- fullness in the grouping, and that the heads of his figures are often large in proportion to the bodies-faults incidental to all early efforts. In this last work it appears by the contract for its execution that Niccola was assisted by his scholars, Lapo and Arnolfo, and his son Giovanni; and this accounts for a certain feebleness that may be observed in portions of it." Both these works are highly praised by Cicognara, and are sufficient of themselves to prove the great excellence of Niccola in this department of art. As an architect Niccola seems to have acquired no less distinction. In 1231 he erected the celebrated church of St. Antonio at Padua. He was subsequently commissioned to build the church Dei Frari at Venice; and his reputation extended so widely that he was successively employed at Florence, Pistoia, Volterra, Naples, and Pisa. Among his most important works at Florence is the church and monastery at Santa Trinith, highly extolled by Michael Angelo as an edifice of surpassing excellence for its simple grandeur and the nobleness of its proportions. In 1240 he commenced the cathedral of Pistoia, and likewise improved and embellished that of Volterra. Among his other works in architecture were the convent of St. Domenico at Arezzo, the church of St. Lorenzo at Naples, the cam, panile of St. Niccola at Pisa, and the magnificent abbey on the plain of Tagliacozzo, erected by Charles I of Anjou, in 1268, in commemoration of his decisive victory over Conradino, and thence called Santa Maria della Vittoria. Another work, which is regarded as one of the masterpieces of Italian sculpture, is the representation of the Last Judgment and Inferno, in the facade of the Duomo of Orvieto, which has generally been attributed to Niccola, but is now determined by the best critics of Italian art to have been the production of the following, whom; for completeness' sake, we notice here.

GIOVANNI DI PISA was the son and pupil of Niccola. He may have been born somewhere about 1235, as at the time of his death, in 1320, he is said to have been "vecchissimo," exceedingly old. We may at least suppose him to have been nearly twenty-five when he was invited to Perugia to erect a splendid monument to Urban IV, who died in that city in 1264. That work gave such satisfaction that he was employed also upon the embellishments of the fountain in front of the Duomo, wherein he displayed extraordinary ability in the architecture, the sculpture, and the bronzes. Scarcely had he completed this work. when his father died, and he returned to Pisa to take possession of his patrimony. One of the first tasks committed to him by his fellow-citizens was that of adorning the small but celebrated church of Santa Maria della Spina, one of the richest and most remarkable specimens of the peculiar Gothic style in Italy. For the facade and other parts of the exterior he executed a number of statues, bass-reliefs, and other ornaments of sculpture, and is said in one of the figures to have portrayed his father, Niccola. What. he there did, however. was merely the embellishment of a building, in which others shared with him; but it was not long before opportunity was afforded him of displaying his architectural ability on an ample scale, for in 1278 he began, and in 1283 completed, the renowned Campo Santo, or cemetery, one of the most remarkable monuments of its period, and that which, together with the adjacent cathedral, campanile, and baptistery, offers a most interesting group of architectural studies. The edifice is of marble, and forms a cloister of sixty-two arches (five at each end, and twenty-six on each side), enclosing the inner area or burial- ground; but neither this latter nor the exterior is a perfect parallelogram, the cloister being fifteen feet longer on one side than on the other, viz. 430 and 415 feet, and consequently the ends not at right angles to the sides. This defect would almost seem to have been occasioned by oversight, as it could not have been worth while to sacrifice regularity for the sake of a few feet. After .this, according, to Vasari, he went to Siena, where he made a model or design for the facade of the Duomo; this, however, is questionable. One of the first commissions he received after finishing the Campo Santo was from Charles I of Anjou, who invited him to Naples, where he erected the Castel Nuovo, and built Santa Maria Novella. In 1286 he was employed to erect the high altar in the Duomo at Arezzo, an exceedingly sumptuous work, in the Tedesco style, with a profusion of figures and sculptures, all in marble. This work, and his Virgin and Child, on one side of the cathedral of Florence, are reckoned by Cicognara as his best productions; but another of great celebrity is the marble .pulpit by him in the church of San Andrea at Pistoia, which, like that by Niccola in the Duomo at Pisa, is a hexagon supported by seven columns. He also executed many of the sculptures of the Duomo of Orvieto, where he employed various assistants and pupils, some of the latter of whom afterwards became celebrated, particularly Agostino and Agnolo di Siena. At the instance of the Perugians, he returned to their city and executed the mausoleum of Benedict XI. He was also invited by the citizens of Prato, in 1309, to build the (Capella della Cintola, and to enlarge their Duomo. TJoaded with honors and distinctions as well as years, he in 1320 closed his life in his native city, and was ῥ there buried within that monument which he had himself constructed about forty years before, the Campo Santo, which for others was a burying-place, for himself a mausoleum. See Vasari, Lives.; Lord Lindsay, Christian Art; Agincourt, Davia Memorie Istoriche; .Rosini, Storia, etc.; Cicognara, Monumenti Sepolcrati della Toscuna, vol. i; English Cyclopaedia, s.v.'; Spooner, Biog. Hist. of the Fine Arts, s.v.

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