The project to carve reliefs for the lower portion of the Campanile coincided with the earliest architectural plans for Giotto’s bell tower that stands adjacent to the city’s cathedral. Initiated sometime around 1334 by Andrea Pisano, who was by then chasing the bronze panels he had cast for the south doors of the Baptistery, these early reliefs represented [scenes from the Book of Genesis] that were intended for the west side of building’s lowest level.
#Campanile reliefs (1334–1343)
##Andrea Pisano, et. al.
With Giotto’s death in 1337, however, Andrea took over the entire project and, predictably, added to the plan literally dozens of additional reliefs to adorn the Campanile: now the program continued around the rest of the tower and included references to the Labors of Man, the Professions of Florence, and the Visual and Creative Arts. Above them Andrea added a full register of lozenge-shaped reliefs arranged in four sets of seven: there he carved the Planets (including the Sun and Moon among them), the Theological and Cardinal Virtues, the Liberal Arts, and the Seven Sacraments, with a relief of the Madonna and Child placed over the north door and the symbol of the Wool Guild (in the form of a banner totting lamb) above the east one(images). A third level of standing effigies was also planned, and Andrea’s workshop managed to complete a handful of the sibyls and prophets there before quitting the site. By the time of Andrea’s departure for Pisa in 1343, most of the images in this cycle were completed and installed on the bell tower’s façade. Donatello, Luca della Robbia, and Nanni di Bartolo ultimately completed the sculptural cycle in the fifteenth century.
The series of reliefs that Andrea carved require a specialized understanding of Biblical lore and Classical mythology, and emanate directly from the French scholastic tradition. A kind of encyclopedic understanding of the universe shines through in this all-inclusive sequence of images that attempts to explain the origins of all life and labor known to contemporary man.
The program begins on the west façade of the tower’s base. Unless otherwise noted, the reliefs have been attributed to Andrea’s hand:
The Creation of Adam and Eve depicts Adam plowing a field while Eve holds a spindle.
Jabal tends his flocks as the first shepherd.
Jubal (attributed to Nino Pisano) blows a horn as the proto-musician.
Tubalcain’s (workshop) bellows and tongs show him working as a smith.
Noah’s post-Deluge, drunken, and naked stupor in a vineyard refers to his profession as a vintner.
Oddly, and in contrast to the programs usually seen in French portal sculptures, the dramatic moments of the Fall and Cain’s murder of his brother Abel have here been omitted. The emphasis instead falls on the creation of the works that occupy the time and energy of contemporary people in fourteenth-century Florence, as well as the heroes who begat them.
Above these reliefs appear the seven planets:
Saturn, the giant, holds in his hand the child he will devour.
Jupiter appears as a chalice-bearing monk/priest, complete with a tonsure haircut.
Mars, the Roman god of war, wears not the tunic of a centurion, but the chain mail of a medieval knight. The horse he rides designates him as a warrior of prominence and power.
The Sun, seated like a Celestial Virgin in her brilliant court, holds the orb and mace of an enthroned ruler.
Venus (attributed to Nino Pisano), goddess of love, happily holds aloft two nude figures – one male, the other female – intertwined in an amorous embrace.
Mercury* (attributed to Nino Pisano) is a total puzzle.
Luna, or the Moon which marks time as it traverses the sky in 28-day cycles, governs the tides below her (designated by ripples of water) and the seasons above (represented by the flowering tree).
The program continues around the other three sides of the tower. Returning to the base we encounter the Seven Mechanical Arts, appearing in order:
Astronomy (workshop): Gazing through an instrument, Gionitus contemplates the celestial bodies that include, in the etched background, references to the Astrological signs of Aries and Pisces. Above and outside the frame emerge the heads of angels and that of God the Father, reminding us that a Heavenly Realm awaits the Saved beyond the boundaries of the universe as we know it. The study of Astronomy, then, is heavily dependent on an understanding of constellations, the myths associated with them, and the omniscient presence of a divine being who oversees all from His perch above us all.
Construction: Masons stand on wooden scaffolding held together by ropes and mounted by a ladder on the left. These laborers lay mortar and pound bricks on a wall that has been designed by the central figure who oversees the entire project as its Capomaestro. One must resist the temptation to see this as either a portrait of Giotto, the original designer of the Campanile on which this relief was attached, or a self-portrait of Andrea Pisano, who took over Giotto’s duties as Capomaestro in 1337. But it may refer to a singular character from mythology, ancient history (Phidias), or Biblical literature (Nimrod).
Medicine (attributed to Nino Pisano): A seated apothecary, perhaps a representation of Hippocrates, reaches up to clutch a jar of herbs so that the doctor next to him can administer a cure for the patients before him. The sloped handles of the amphorae suggest their ancient origin, thus connecting the vignette to a Greek or Roman source. These women, one elderly and veiled and the other two youthful and bareheaded, hold baskets in their hands to cart home the medicines provided for them in this shop.
Horsemanship: A young nobleman, designated by his clean-shaven face and the long tunic that covers his torso, controls his galloping steed as it careens through a wilderness. Note that the rider needs neither saddle nor stirrups to control the beast below him, and that he needs but one hand to guide it through this landscape.
Weaving: Two women – one sitting at the loom and the other standing next to her guiding a strand of imported fleece into the machine – represent the single most important manufacturing trade in Florence. Women often worked as paid laborers in wool shops, handling a multitude of tasks that included weaving raw material into bolts of fabric, and the decision to connect the cloth trade to female laborers is striking. Still, in keeping with trope of connecting mythological figures to contemporary activities, one cannot help but interpret these two weavers as the figures of Penelope and Ariadne, both whom spent their days spinning yarn in the name of Odysseus and Theseus.
Law (attributed to Nino Pisano): Phoroneus invents the study of law, and literally passes judgment down from his seat of wisdom.
Craftsmanship: Daedelus, creator of fantastic things that rival the power of nature, flies through the air covered in birds’ feathers and flapping the wings he made that allows him to equal the gods.
Above these reliefs we see the seven Theological and Cardinal Virtues:
Faith (workshop) holds a chalice and cross while seated on a throne.
Charity holds a pitcher of liquid and an overflowing cornucopia, showing the abundance she intends to administer to the poor.
Hope prays to the crown of God over head, and wears wings by which to fly to the heavens.
Prudence considers all sides of the argument – including the evil ones, represented by the snake – and takes her sweet time doing so, growing old in the process. The mirror she holds in her right hand could associate the relief with the theme of the Vanitas.
Justice holds the scales by which the accused are weighed and the sharpened sword by which clean-cut decisions are made (and heads are lopped off).
Temperance pours the hot water from one jar into the cool water of the second, thus creating a warm, moderate final product.
Fortitude sits resolute, with club in hand (the better with which to beat you) and shield in the other (the better with which to fend off your attacks).
The doorway on the eastern side of the Campanile fills two of the seven registers on the lowest level, but does not extend to the seven lozenges above. Therefore, only five qualities of a prosperous and sovereign territory appear at the base, while all seven liberal arts appear above them.
Navigation shows two men rowing and a third directing their passage through the seas. Their hunched postures suggest the expenditure of energy, the resolute quality of sailors in uncertain waters, or a stealthy passage. Take your pick.
Conquest is shown by the form of Hercules, who holds a club as he defeats the prostrate Cacus in an episode that represents the importance of defeating one’s enemies in military combat. The importance of this skill was understood and thoroughly embraced by the Florentines, who slowly but surely absorbed towns and territories around its walls mostly by way of armed combat.
Agriculture succeeds when men and their sons find a way to yoke oxen, attach a scratch plow behind to their backs, and plants the crops that flower during the harvest season.
Trade (Theater? Festivals?) (attributed to Nino Pisano) carries goods from the fields to towns and cities, and naturally brings to farmlands the manufactured goods produced in those more densely populated areas.
Architecture or Design or maybe, more broadly speaking, Learning (attributed to Nino Pisano) appears as the last of these five civic pursuits. The seated, balding man works a compass on a lectern encrusted with black stone. His robes and the well-constructed high back chair suggest he is an intellectual hard at work on a new product, building, or invention.
The seven liberal arts appear overhead, suggesting that this curriculum prepares students for the endeavors described in the five panels below them. Applying their lessons to real-world problems is at the root of a good education, Andrea Pisano tells us.
Astronomy (workshop) holds an astrolabe as she inspects the universe.
Music (workshop) plays a lyre.
Geometry holds a book and the plyers that workers use to apply her lessons.
Grammar (workshop) bears a knotted whip that she uses to knock the snot out of students who don’t do their homework. Let that be a lesson to you.
Rhetoric has a shield and a weapon, but needs neither to press her case; for the tongue is mightier than the sword. Right?
Logic (workshop) cuts through vague and obfuscated thinking like a shepherd trims his flocks with shears.
Arithmetic (workshop) counts with her fingers. Yeah, not a great image.
In what is perhaps the most intriguing series of reliefs, on the Campanile’s north façade Andrea Pisano celebrates the manual, visual, and intellectual arts of the day. Pay attention to the details he adds to his compositions, for they reveal a lot about the status of these practitioners.
Sculpture – Phidias sculpts a figure that stands with an elevated right arm in a gesture of oration. Note that the tools by his bench are the same as those of the designer on the east side of the Campanile and that a lectern with book cabinet frames the carver behind him. He is both a craftsman and a learned reader, as one might expect him to be as a product of Andrea Pisano’s devising.
Painting(attributed to Nino Pisano) – Apelles paints panels by supporting his right hand with his left. Behind him, perched on a shelf, we see a small devotional triptych for sale to retail customers. Behind him, to the right, we see a larger ensemble presumably prepared for an altar somewhere. Books do not figure into this composition, a subtle jab at painters who might not be as intellectually capable as the sculptors in their midst.
Grammar (Luca della Robbia) – Donato the teacher lectures before two students in Luca della Robbia’s fifteenth-century relief. The open cabinet in the background suggests that the books held by both master and students come from the personal library of the teacher. Note the length of the students’ hair and the difference in clothing between elderly professor and youthful prodigies. Some things never change.
Philosophy/Dialectic (Luca della Robbia) – Plato and Aristotle argue amongst themselves in another relief by Luca, with Plato pointing to his book to find a philosophical argument and Aristotle ignoring the wisdom of writers in deference to the evidence that nature provides.
Music (Luca della Robbia) – Luca’s image of Orpheus strumming his lute includes an audience of animals in a natural landscape. The ancient character has been dressed like a contemporary troubadour, and he plays an eight-string lute for his beastly listeners.
Geometry and Arithmetic (Luca della Robbia) – Euclid and Pythagoras consult books and rattle off points as they touch their fingers as mneumonic devices. Luca’s relief shows these scholars in the togas and turbans popular among fifteenth-century dandies in Florence.
Astronomyor Architecture (Luca della Robbia) – Luca depicts Pythagoras as he pounds on the anvil with his hammers.
The north side concludes with the seven sacraments matched with the seven arts below. These show us how both the clergy and observant lay men and women conducted ritual performances in fourteenth-century Florence. All of these reliefs have been attributed to assistants or partners of Andrea Pisano, with the name of the painter, Maso di Banco, appearing periodically. Unless Maso’s training as a marble carver can be confirmed with archival evidence – and it hasn’t – this attribution cannot be accepted.
Baptism (workshop) shows a tonsured and robed priest pouring water over an infant, held aloft by his father who has covered his head to demonstrate his deference to the religious space in which this performance transpires.
Confession (workshop) depicts the same father kneeling before a clean-shaven priest, who absolves him of whatever transgressions the layman has confessed.
Marriage (workshop) shows the union between a very young woman and her slightly older husband. The fathers stand behind the man and the mothers join the bride. The priest, literally and figuratively in the very center of this holy union, provides a ring for the husband to present to his wife. Her bent leg, slung belt, and unveiled hair lend a certain kind of sensuality to the scene that everyone appreciated at the time (wink wink, nudge nudge).
Holy Orders (workshop) actually appears just above the image of the Madonna and Child, discussed below. A bearded man in a miter consults a lectern, presumably holding a manuscript with a passage describing the requirements of the priesthood.
Confirmation (workshop) illustrates the moment when children, accompanied by their parents (in this case, the mother) enters into a holy relationship with the Church. Here a bishop blesses a child, thus welcoming her or him into a community which extends well beyond the physical or spiritual boundaries of the institution to include the social fabric of the entire commune.
Communion (workshop) might be the most interesting and instructive lozenge in the entire series. Here we see that priests celebrated mass before the altar table with their backs turned to the congregation so as to heighten the dramatic effect of the wafer and chalice, the substance of which has miraculously transformed into the actual body and blood of Christ. An acolyte knees beside the tonsured priest, holding in his hand an enormous taper made of wax – the medieval equivalent of a modern-day spotlight. No wonder wax was such a precious commodity then! We must imagine that the altar depicted in this relief would have also been adorned with a painted triptych that framed the ritual performed by the priest each day. Altarpieces were not only pretty objects to behold (if one could actually see them during a service): they also had an actual function as the visual descriptors of rites at the altar.
Extreme Unction (workshop) acknowledges the most important of all the sacraments: the acknowledgment of the end of days and the state of the deceased upon his or her departure from this earth. Again, a tonsured priest appears in the composition, this time reading the Last Rites, while an acolyte holds a long taper to illuminate the space. A family member tends to the decedent, here represented rather optimistically as an old man who has outlived epidemic, warfare, and accident (a rare occurrence in the fourteenth century). Andrea Pisano shows the difference in status and age through clothing, wrinkles in skin, and fullness of face, and succeeds in rendering one of the more poignant vignettes of contemporary life that comes down to us from the period.
The Madonna and Child is one of the earliest sculpted images of a type that came to be pervasive in Renaissance Florence. Andrea Pisano’s composition shows a smiling mother with her smiling son, both engaged in an entirely human interaction common infants and parents – the intimate tickling of the child’s chest. Mary extends her finger to stroke Jesus’ chest, and he does what most babies do: he giggles, grabs the intruding wrist, and tries to wriggle away from the silliness. The mother laughs too, and we see her loving inclination toward her son’s head.
The composition, one must say, does not entirely work when seen from below (as it was in 1345). Andrea presents three loci for consideration: the two heads of the figures and the clasping of hands around the Virgin’s wrist. From below, our eye wants to settle on the middle of the composition, but that area – where hands and wrist converge – cannot be understood as the real core of the image, which extends from the Virgin’s tilted head to the grinning child. Donatello and then Verrocchio would have entirely different solutions to this problem in the fifteenth century.
This lovely representation of the relationship between mother and child would soon be replaced by a more doctrinaire approach to this composition that would last for centuries. As such, Andrea’s depiction is one of the more remarkable and important representations of this unusual scene that we have today.
Finally, in the area of the niches overhead appear the larger figures of prophets, sibyls, and kings produced in the fifteenth century by Donatello, Luca della Robbia, and their contemporaries – a subject of an altogether different essay.
The reliefs produced by Andrea Pisano conforms to those he designed for the south doors of the Baptistery of S. Giovanni, just across the piazza from the Campanile. As such, Andrea’s forms framed this ecclesiastical core of the city in important ways, and came to symbolize the Florentine approach to theology, history, and contemporary society. By emphasizing the professions, and by placing them in such a way as to face the most densely populated portion of the city, Andrea promoted the economic engines that drove the commercial and political interests of the commune by connecting them to the oldest possible archetypes he could find. Weavers and builders and even shepherds could see themselves depicted in the guise of Adam’s progeny, and in that they could take enormous pride in their endeavors.
Becherucci, L. “I rilievi dei Sacramenti nel Campanile del Duomo di Firenze,” L’Arte 30 (1927), 214-23.
Moskowitz, Anita. The Sculpture of Andrea and Nino Pisano (Cambridge University Press: New York, 1986).
Trachtenberg, Marvin. The Campanile of Florence Cathedral, (New York, 1971).
Van Os, Henk. Sienese Altarpieces, I (Gronignen, 1984).
White, John. Art and Architecture in Italy, 1250-1400 (Penguin Books: Baltimore, 1966).