The sculptural masterpiece in the Chiesa of Sant’Andrea: A style characterized by movement and dynamism.
The presence of the Pisano’s in Pistoia officially began in 1273 when Nicola Pisano was given the commission of the altar of Saint Jacob inside the Duomo; it was his son, Giovanni, however, who reached the peak of medieval Italian sculpture with the realization of one of most beautiful marble pulpits in the world, conserved to this today inside the Church of Sant’Andrea.
Pistoia was already acclaimed in the 15th century as “the city of pulpits,” and in addition to Pisano’s there were four others, all of inestimable worth. Still today remain the pulpits by S. Bartolomeo in Pantano, Fra’ Guglielmo da Pisa (a student of Nicola Pisano), S. Giovanni Fuorcivitas, while a fourth pulpit, originally placed in the Cathedral of San Zeno, was lost.
The structure built by Giovanni Pisano between 1298 and 1301 is only partly comparable to those sculpted previously by his father in Pisa and Siena. Hexagonal in form, it rests on six lateral red marble columns and the center: two of these are supported by stiloforo lions and one of Atlantis bent down, while the central column rests on three winged griffons.
The iconography of the work refers to the doctrine of the Redemption and tells the story with the lower register being dedicated to the Allegories, the middle one to the Prophecies, and the upper one to the manifestation of Christ in the history of the world, from birth to his crucifixion, and finally the universal judgment.
Even if the similarity to symbolic representations from the Romanic era is evident, Giovanni’s style is actually more closely tied to the turmoil of the Gothic period, for the elevated dynamism of the sculpted figures and for their overwhelming expressive charge. In this aspect he differs from Nicola, whose great pulpits appear more measured and ordered.
This is possibly the point Giovanni intended to make with the Latin inscription posted in the strip that separates the area of the small arches from those of the railing above the galleries. In it are the names of the patrons Arnoldo, the treasurers Andrea Vitelli and Tino di Vitale, and Giovanni Pisano, who, in this pulpit “knew how to supercede his father’s knowledge.” It is here that the equilibrium and harmonious accuracy of Nicola’s representations are disregarded in favor of the new dramatic emotion for the period. With a wealth of details, Giovanni prefers movement and intensity of the gesture, liberating an expressive force from it that is rarely equaled in the European Gothic, and seems rather to detach itself from the canonical conception of relief in order to come closer to the plasticity of the sculptural technique of the tondo.
The pulpit was originally conceived to be placed in front of the presbytery of the church; today, however, it is housed along the left nave near the second to last column.
Bartolomeo Cellesi, of Pieve, removed it in 1619 from its original collocation, by then no longer used for the Masses and only for preaching. In that period, moreover, the pulpit was disassembled and stripped of some of its parts, among which two lecterns which are now conserved elsewhere: the one with San Giovanni Evangelist and the eagle that originally completed the tetramorphe is currently found in the collections of the Metropolitan Museum of New York, while the one with the epistle with Christ in Pietà with two angels that completed the group of three apostles, is kept by the state museums of Berlin.
Inside the Church of Sant’Andrea there are other works attributed to Giovanni Pisano and his school: the two beautiful wooden crucifixes and the statue of Sant’Andrea on the external façade. Throughout the city there are also numerous examples of this important medieval sculptural school and – more in general – from the first Gothic period. One of these, brought recently back to light from restoration by the restorer Barbara Schleicher (of German nationality, but by now a Florentine by adoption) is the 14th century wooden crucifix housed in the apse of the church of San Bartolomeo in Pantano, with the characteristic ‘Y’ form.