Pulpit by Giovanni Pisano in Church of Sant' Andrea in Tuscany under conservation

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Pulpit by Giovanni Pisano in Church of Sant' Andrea in Tuscany under conservation
Pulpit (detail) by Giovanni Pisano, 1301. Church of Sant’ Andrea in Pistoia, Italy. Photo: Nicolò Begliomini, courtesy of Friends of Florence.

PISTOIA.- The distinctive pulpit created by Giovanni Pisano (1230–c. 1315), an early Renaissance masterpiece completed in 1301 in the church of Sant’ Andrea in Pistoia, Italy, will undergo a two-year, intensive monitoring program with stability studies followed by a conservation process thanks to support from Friends of Florence totaling €230,000 ($262,500). The first phase focuses on urgently needed procedures to close fissures in marble elements while enabling the study of how various components of the pulpit—a tour de force of sculpture and architectural design—are attached to each other. This phase includes research using the latest technological methods to determine the stability of the entire structure.

Over the course of the project, the hexagonal pulpit will undergo a light cleaning to remove deposits from the relief carvings on the second and third registers. The bases of the seven columns will receive deeper treatment. Dust and dirt deposits make the surface appear dull and early wax-based treatments yellowed the white marble. Old and partly degraded fillers that close the joints between parts and fissures will be removed and replaced with more stable and appropriate substances. This will prevent any internal metal pins from being exposed to air and risk of oxidization—a primary cause of degradation and marble cracking. The preliminary work may be modified based on what conservators discover from tests and studies. The sandstone floor will also receive touch-ups with fillers and pigments.

The Soprintendenza archeologia belle arti e paesaggio per la città metropolitana di Firenze e le province di Pistoia e Prato drafted the program for the pulpit’s study and restoration that was presented to and accepted by Friends of Florence. Andrea Pessina, director of the Soprintendenza, said, “Studying and monitoring the pulpit by Giovanni Pisano are essential for determining the real ‘health conditions’ of one of Italy’s great masterpieces. The studies begun by the Opificio delle Pietre Dure between 2007 and 2008 can now be completed with the cooperation of the University of Florence culminating in the restoration. All this will be possible thanks to the sensitivity and generosity of Friends of Florence to whom I would like to express my heartfelt gratitude.”

Simonetta Brandolini d’Adda, president of Friends of Florence, said, “We are delighted to participate in a second important project in Tuscany beyond the city of Florence. The restoration of the Last Supper (1476) by Ghirlandaio in the Badia a Passignano abbey supported by Friends of Florence was completed in 2015. The exquisite pulpit by Giovanni Pisano heralded what would become the golden age of Renaissance sculpture. Great artists have been inspired by its elegant beauty for centuries. The in-depth studies and restoration are of vital importance for the preservation of this masterpiece so that we can offer future generations the same opportunity to see, study, and admire it.”

Pulpit of the Church of Sant’Andrea
Artist and architect Giovanni Pisano, the son of the influential sculptor Nicola Pisano (1220–c. 1284), carved the hexagonal pulpit for the 12th-century Church of Sant’ Andrea in Pistoia in the Tuscan region of Italy. A Latin inscription along the bottom band of panels notes 1301 as the date of completion and the names of the artist, patron Canon Arnoldo, and of the treasurers Andrea Vitelli and Tino di Vitale.

Originally, the pulpit stood in front of the presbytery. It was removed from there, probably around 1619 when Bartolomeo Cellesi was the parish priest, to adapt the church to the liturgical guidelines issued by the Council of Trent. The new placement required modifications to various parts: some corner groups of the parapet had to be moved and the two lecterns were removed. The lectern for the reading of the Gospels, with the Eagle of Saint John the Evangelist, is now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. The other lectern, the Angel Pietà, is in the Gemäldegalerie, Staatlichen Museen, Berlin.

The pulpit stands on seven slender, red marble columns with Corinthian capitals. At the base of the central column is a trio of animals: a winged lion, an eagle, and a gryphon. The other six marble bases alternate between three unadorned and three with figures: a lion killing a horse, a lioness with her cubs, and a male figure identified as either Adam or Atlas. The columns support graceful trefoil arches with the Prophets in the pendentives and six female figures of the Sibyls project from the corners.

The balustrade comprises five panels crowded with figures in the following scenes: on the first panel the Annunciation, the Nativity, the Bath of the Infant Jesus, and the Annunciation to the Shepherds; on the second, the Adoration of the Magi, the Dream of the Magi, and Joseph’s Dream; on the third, the Massacre of the Innocents; on the fourth the Crucifixion, and on the fifth, the Last Judgment. At the corners, between one scene and the next, are six groups depicting a Deacon (perhaps Saint Stephen), the Mystical or Apocalyptic Christ, a Saint (possibly Saint Andrew), the Tetramorph, three Apostles, and the Angels of the Last Judgment.

With its three orders—the allegorical base, the central band with prophetic images, and upper band depicting biblical figures—the pulpit illustrates the theme of Christian Redemption.

In the work, the artist presaged the creative tensions and solutions of sculptors such as Donatello and Michelangelo, using a language that is both tormented and sublime as it recounts a range of human emotions and conditions. The contrast between the finished and polished figures and others that are more roughed-out creates a play of light and shadow that transforms the marble into the appearance of living material. Originally, those tensions were accentuated by pieces of gold, red, and green glass of which only a few fragments remain today.

“In addition to being an extraordinary work of art, the pulpit by Giovanni Pisano in the city’s ancient church of Sant’ Andrea is a reference to that sublime gift to humanity—the Word of God, the Word that is the divine revelation of God’s love for man that was incarnated in Jesus of Nazareth,” said His Excellency Monsignor Fausto Tardelli, Bishop of Pistoia. “Pistoia has appropriately been called the city of pulpits because it has a remarkable number in a unique concentration. The pulpit by Giovanni Pisano is the most beautiful of all because the stone comes to life, telling us the entire story of humanity invested by the creating and regenerating Word of God. Such an important monument needs continuous attention and careful protection. Therefore, I am truly happy that an organization such as Friends of Florence has taken interest in it and with great sensitivity decided to make such an important commitment to its restoration. My heartfelt thanks to the president, Simonetta Brandolini d’Adda, for this concrete help that will enrich our city and make such an exceptionally beautiful monument available to all.”

The project is being conducted with the approval of the Diocese of Pistoia and the Parish of Sant’ Andrea. Earlier this week, the Soprintendenza, Friends of Florence, and the University of Florence (Department of Earth Sciences and the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering) signed a research contract regarding the studies, tests, and structural analyses.

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Pulpit by Giovanni Pisano in Church of Sant' Andrea in Tuscany under conservation

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