Fortitude/Hercules.  1260. Marble. From the Baptistery, Pisa. Photo on the left was 
taken straight on; the one on the right from the floor.

NICOLA PISANO (active circa 1250-1278)

Vasari's Lives of the Artists

[N. B. : Because of the length of the Lives of Nicola and Giovanni Pisano, they have been split into two sites.]

HAVING DISCOURSED of design and of painting in the Life of Cimabue and of architecture in that of Arnolfo di Lapo, in this one concerning Nicola and Giovanni of Pisa we will treat of sculpture, and also of the most important buildings that they made, for the reason that their works in sculpture and in architecture truly deserve to be celebrated, not only as being large and magnificent but also well enough conceived, since both in working marble and in building they swept away in great part that old Greek manner, rude and void of proportion, showing better invention in their stories and giving better attitudes to their figures.

Nicola Pisano, then, chancing to be under certain Greek sculptors who were working the figures and other carved ornaments of the duomo of Pisa and of the Church of San Giovanni, and there being, among many marble spoils brought by the fleet of the Pisans, certain ancient sarcophagi that are today in the Camposanto of that city, there was one of them, most beautiful among them all, whereon there was carved the Chase of Meleager after the Calydonian Boar, in very beautiful manner, seeing that both the nude figures and the draped were wrought with much mastery and with most perfect design. This sarcophagus was placed by the Pisans, by reason of its beauty, in the side of the Duomo opposite San Rocco, beside the principal side-door, and it served for the body of the Countess Matilda, if indeed these words are true that are to be read carved in the marble:

And then:


Nicola, pondering over the beauty of this work and being greatly pleased therewith, put so much study and diligence into imitating this manner and some other good sculptures that were in these other ancient sarcophagi, that he was judged, after no long time, the best sculptor of his day; there being in Tuscany in those times, after Arnolfo, no other sculptor of repute save Fuccio, an architect and sculptor of Florence, who made Santa Maria sopra Arno in Florence, in the year 1229, placing his name there, over a door, and in the Church of San Francesco in Assisi he made the marble tomb of the Queen of Cyprus, with many figures, and in particular a portrait of her sitting on a lion, in order to show the strength of her soul; which Queen, after her death, left a great sum of money to the end that this fabric might be finished. Nicola, then, having made himself known as a much better master than was Fuccio, was summoned to Bologna in the year 1225, after the death of San Domenico Calagora, first founder of the Order of Preaching Friars, in order to make a marble tomb for the said Saint; wherefore, after agreement with those who had the charge of it, he made it full of figures in that manner wherein it is to be seen today, and delivered it finished in the year 1231 with much credit to himself, for it was held something remarkable, and the best of all the works that had been wrought in sculpture up to that time. He made, likewise, the model of that church and of a great part of the convent.

Afterwards, Nicola, returning to Tuscany, found that Fuccio had departed from Florence and had gone to Rome in those days when the Emperor Frederick was crowned by Honorius, and from Rome with Frederick to Naples, where he finished the Castel di Capoana, today called the Vicaria, wherein are all the tribunals of that kingdom, and likewise the Castel dell'Uovo; and where he likewise founded the towers he also made the gates over the River Volturno for the city of Capua, and a park girt with walls, for fowling, near Gravina, and another for sport in winter at Melfi; besides many other things that are not related, for the sake of brevity.

Nicola, meanwhile, busying himself in Florence, was going on exercising himself not only in sculpture but in architecture as well, by means of the buildings that were going on being made with some little goodness of design throughout all Italy, and in particular in Tuscany; wherefore he occupied himself not a little with the building of the Abbey of Settimo, which had not been finished by the executors of Count Ugo of Brandenburg, like the other six, as was said above, And although it is read in a marble epitaph on the campanile of the said abbey, GUGLIELM. ME FECIT, it is known, nevertheless, by the manner, that it was directed with the counsel of Nicola. About the same time he made the Palazzo Vecchio of the Anziani in Pisa, pulled down in our day by Duke Cosimo, in order to make the magnificent Palace and Convent of the Knights of St. Stephen on the same sport, using some part of the old, from the design and model of Giorgio Vasari, painter and architect of Arezzo, who has accommodated them into the new. Nicola made, likewise in Pisa, many other palaces and churches, and the was the first, since the loss of the good method of building, who made it the custom to found edifices in Pisa on piers, and on these to raise arches, piles having first been sunk under the said piers; because, with any other method, the solid base of the foundation cracked and the walls always collapsed, whereas the sinking of piles renders the edifice absolutely safe, even as experience shows. With his design, also, was made the Church of San Michele in Borgo for the Monks of Camaldoli.

But the most beautiful, and the most ingenious, and the most whimsical work of architecture that Nicola ever made was the Campanile of San Niccola in Pisa, where is the seat of the Friars of St. Augustine, for the reason that it is octagonal on the outer side and round within, with stairs that wind in a spiral and lead to the summit, leaving the hollow space in the middle free, in the shape of a well, and on every fourth step are columns that have the arches above them on a slant and wind round and round; wherefore, the spring of the vaulting resting on the said arches, one goes climbing to the summit in a manner that he who is on the ground always sees those who are climbing, those who are climbing see those who are on the ground, and those who are halfway up see both the first and the second--that its, those who are above and those who are below. This fanciful invention, with better method and more just proportions, and with more adornment, was afterwards put into execution by the architect Bramante in the Belvedere in Rome, for Pope Julius II, and by Antonio da Sangallo in the well that is at Orvieto, by order of Pope Clement VII, as will be told when the time comes.

But returning to Nicola, who was no less excellent as sculptor than as architect; in the facade of the Church of San Martino in Lucca, under the portico that is above the lesser door, on the left as one enters into the church, where there is seen a Christ Deposed from the Cross, he made a marble scene in half-relief, all full of figures wrought with much diligence, having hollowed out the marble and finished the whole in a manner that gave hope to those who were previously working at the art with very great difficulty, that there soon should come one, who, with more facility, would give them better assistance, The same Nicola, in the year 1240, gave the design for the Church of San Jacopo in Pistoia, and put to work there in mosaic certain Tuscan masters who made the vaulting of the choir niche, which, although in those times it was held as something difficult and of great cost, moves us today rather to laughter and to compassion than to marvel, and all the more because such confusion, which comes from lack of design, existed not only in Tuscany but throughout all Italy; where many buildings and other works, that were being wrought without method and without design, give us to know no less the poverty of their talents than the unmeasured riches wasted by the men of those times, by reason of their having had no masters who might execute in a good manner any work that they might do.

Nicola, then, by means of the works that he was making in sculpture and in architecture, was going on ever acquiring a greater name than the sculptors and architects who were then working in Romagna, as can be seen in SantUIppolito and San Giovanni of Faenza, in the Duomo of Ravenna, in San Francesco, in the houses of the Traversari, and in the Church of Porto; and at Rimini, in the fabric of the public buildings, in the houses of the Malatesti, and in other buildings, which are all much worse than the old edifices made about the same time in Tuscany. And what has been said of Romagna can be also said with truth of a part of Lombardy. A glance at the Duomo of Ferrara, and at the other buildings made by the Marquis Azzo, will give us to know that this is the truth and how different they are from the Santo of Padua, made with the model of Nicola, and from the Church of the Friars Minor in Venice, both magnificent and honored buildings. Many, in the time of Nicola, moved by laudable envy, applied themselves with more zeal to sculpture than they had done before and particularly in Milan, whither there assembled for the building of the Duomo many Lombards and Germans, who afterwards scattered throughout Italy by reason of the discords that arose between the Milanese and the Emperor Frederick. And so these craftsmen, beginning to compete among themselves both in marble and in building, found some little of the good. The same came to pass in Florence after the works of Arnolfo and Nicola had been seen; and the latter, while the little Church of the Misericordia was being erected from his design in the Piazza di San Giovanni, made therein in marble, with his own hand, a Madonna with St. Dominic and another Saint, one on either side of her, which may still be seen on the outer facade of the said church.

The Florentines had begun, in the time of Nicola to throw to the ground many towers made formerly in barbaric manner throughout the whole city, in order that the people might be less hurt by reason of these in the brawls that were often taking place between the Guelphs and the Ghibellines, or in order that there might be greater security for the Site, and it appeared to them that it would be very difficult to pull down the Tower of Guardamorto, which was in the Piazza di San Giovanni, because the walls had been made so stoutly that they could not be pulled to pieces with pickaxes, and all the more because it was very high. Wherefore, Nicola causing the foot of the tower to be cut away on one side and supporting it with wooden props a braccio and a half in length, and then setting fire to them, as soon as the props were burnt away it fell and was almost entirely shattered; which was held something so ingenious and useful for such affairs that later it passed into use, insomuch that, when there is need, any building is destroyed in very little time with this most easy method. Niccola was present at the first foundation of the Duomo of Siena, and designed the Church of San Giovanni in the same city; then, having returned to Florence in the same year that the Guelphs returned, he designed the Church of Santa Trinita, and the Convent of the Nuns of Faenza, destroyed in our day in order to make the citadel. Being next summoned to Naples, in order not to desert the work in Tuscany he sent thither Maglione, his pupil, a sculptor and architect, who afterwards made, in the time of Conradin, the Church of San Lorenzo in Naples, finished part of the Piscopio, and made there certain tombs, wherein he imitated closely the manner of Nicola, his master.

Nicola, meanwhile, being summoned by the people of Volterra, in the year 1254 (when they came under the power of the Florentines), in order that their Duomo, which was small, might be enlarged, he brought it to better form, although it was very irregular, and made it more magnificent that it was before. Then, having returned finally to Pisa, he made the pulpit of San Giovanni, in marble, putting therein all diligence in order to leave a memorial of himself to his country; and among other things, carving in it the Universal Judgment, he made therein many figures, if not with perfect design, at least with infinite patience and diligence, as can be seen. And because it appeared to him, as was true, that he had done a work worthy of praise, he carved at the foot of it these verses:


The people of Siena, moved by the fame of this work, which greatly pleased not only the Pisans but everyone who saw it, gave to Nicola the making of the pulpit of their Duomo, in which there is sung the Gospel; Guglielmo Mariscotti being Praeter. In this Nicola made many stories of Jesus Christ, with much credit to himself, by reason of the figures that are there wrought and with great difficulty almost wholly detached from the marble. Nicola likewise made the design of the Church and Convent of San Domenico in Arezzo for the Lords of Pietramala, who erected it. And at the entreaty of Bishop Ubertini he restored the Pieve of Cortona, and founded the Church of Santa Margherita for the Friars of St. Francis, on the highest point of that city.

Wherefore, the fame of Nicola ever growing greater by reason of so great works, he was summoned in the year 1267, by Pope Clement IV, to Viterbo, where, besides many other works, he restored the Church and Convent of the Preaching Friars, From Viterbo he went to Naples to King Charles I, who, having routed and slain Conradin on the plain of Tagliacozzo, caused to be made on that spot a very rich church and abbey, burying therein the infinite number of bodies slain on that day, and ordaining afterwards that there should be prayers offered by many monks, day and night, for their souls; in which building King Charles was so well pleased with the work of Nicola that he honored and rewarded him very greatly. Returning from Naples to Tuscany, Nicola stayed in Orvieto for the building of Santa Maria, and working there in company with some Germans, he made in marble, for the facade of that church, certain figures in the round, and in particular two scenes of the Universal Judgment containing Paradise and Hell; and even as he strove, in the Paradise, to give the greatest beauty that he knew to the souls of the blessed, restored to their bodies, so too in the Hell he made the strangest forms of devils that can possibly be seen, most intent on tormenting the souls of the damned; and in this work he surpassed not merely the Germans who were working there but even his own self, to his own great credit. And for the reason that he made therein a great number of figures and endured much fatigue, it has been nothing but praised up to our own times by those who have had no more judgment than this much in sculpture.

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