Arnolfo di Cambio (ca. 1240 – 1302)
Sculptor and Master Mason
Although Arnolfo di Cambio is best known for his architectural achievements in Florence, the Sienese sculptor and architect (c. 1240) began as a student and assistant to Nicola Pisano, who many consider the leading figure in the art of sculpture, just as Giotto was an innovator in painting. During his time under Nicola Pisano, Arnolfo helped with the construction of the reliefs for the marble pulpit of Siena Cathedral (1265) and those for the Tomb of San Dominic (1264-67). Arnolfo developed his classical style during this period and continued working in this idiom throughout his career.
Although he remained heavily influenced by Nicola Pisano in Siena, Arnolfo’s own style evolved after his move to Rome around 1277. While in the service of Charles of Anjou, Arnolfo revived the classical past in works such as the representation of the enthroned French Duke (c. 1280), which is thought to be one of the earliest portrait statues since ancient times, and the bronze statue of St. Peter for the Vatican (c. 1290), which is still venerated by pilgrims to this day. Arnolfo also carved the innovative Monument to Cardinal De Braye (1282) in the church of S. Domenico, Orvieto. By combining the classicist’s attention to volume and proportion with the elegance and intricacy of a Gothicizing artist, the sculptor created a theatrical scene that relates the death of the cardinal to his eternal salvation above. The style and construction that he used would influence wall tombs for over a century.
Arnolfo di Cambio’s two altar canopies in San Paolo fuori le Mura (1285) and Santa Cecilia in Trastevere (1293) suggest his engagement with the Rayonnant Gothic style typically associated with the patronage of Louis IX of France. While both canopies demonstrate a keen eye towards form, proportion, and geometry, the employment of lacework, intricate patterns, and columns that taper toward the top suggest an awareness of the French artistic tradition. Other works that suggest Arnolfo’s responsiveness to this style include the Ciboria at St. Paul’s (1284), the Annibaldi monument in Saint John Lateran (c.1290), the Crib of Santa Maria Maggiore (1285-91), and the Chapel of St. Boniface (c. 1296).
Although he contributed greatly to the beautification of the city, Arnolfo di Cambio lived in Florence for only a short time. Originally brought in as a consultant for the construction of the cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore in 1296 (completed only in 1436 when Filippo Brunelleschi finished the famous cupola over the building’s crossing), recent research suggests that the basic layout of Santa Croce was also designed by Arnolfo in 1295, and Vasari attributed to Arnolfo the designs for the Palazzo Vecchio (initiated in 1298). His sculpted works can be seen in the façade of the Duomo, which include the Nativity, the Dormition (destroyed), and the Madonna and Child (1296), as well as the effigy of the Enthroned Pope Boniface VIII that harkens back to Arnolfo’s images of St. Peter and Charles of Anjou in Rome.
For his work in Florence, Arnolfo di Cambio would be honored by the Council of One Hundred in 1300, but the artist enjoyed this prestigious award only briefly: his activity was cut short by his untimely death in 1302.
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Toker, Franklin K. B. “Florence Cathedral: The Design Stage.” The Art Bulletin 60, no. 2 (June 1978): 214-31.
————–. “Arnolfo’s S. Maria Del Fiore: A Working Hypothesis.” Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians 42, no. 2 (May 1983): 101-20.
White, John. “Arnolfo di Cambio and S. Croce in Florence.” Art and Architecture in Italy, 1250-1400. Baltimore, Penguin Books, 1966, 24-26.