A masterpiece in the Siena Cathedral
The Adoration of the Magi is a masterpiece to see in the Siena Cathedral. The marble alt-relief is one of the scenes that makes part of the Cathedral’s pulpit. In itself, the pulpit is a masterpieces of all Italian medieval sculpture. The marble slab that measures 85 x 97 cm and 16 cm thick, is part of a set of seven panels that decorate the parapet of the pulpit.
The magnificent pulpit was created by the renowned sculptor Nicola Pisano between 1265 and 1268 and is an architectural complex of octagonal shape. For its implementation, a contract was made between the artist and the worker in the Siena cathedral Fra Melano, in September 1265, but the work began in March the following year.
Nicola was a very responsive artist to “naturalism”, a typical trait of French Gothic art of the second half of the thirteenth century. This artistic trend was particularly lucky in Siena at the end of the century. What moreover Nicola was particularly inclined was the botany’s knowledge, representing the reliefs of different arboreal type in the pulpit, from ivy leaves on the capitals of the columns to the oak trees that is possible to see in the background of the Adoration of the Magi’s scene. What also stands out of this masterpiece of Siena Cathedral is the presence of the painting still preserved on the background of the scene.
Adoration of Magi, marble panel, Nicola Pisano’s pulpit, 1265-68, Siena Cathedral
The classicism of Nicola
Beyond the Gothic naturalism, the thread that traces the entire artistic career of Nicola Pisano is the reception of Roman sculpture models: this is an obvious element of the Magi also in the panel, where the horses of the parade reminiscent of some Roman sarcophagi and Nicholas was able to admire in the Cemetery of Pisa, when some years before being called to Siena, he was intent on achieving another pulpit, hexagonal, for the Baptistery in Pisa.
The parapet of the scenes in Siena features some important episodes of World Salvation: next to scenes from the life of Christ there are two panels depicting the Last Judgment. It is not simply a narrative scenes because the episodes are inserted within a more complex iconological discourse, as Max Seidel carefully pointed out in an essay, it is a true sum of all medieval theology. There exists a hierarchy between the various elements of the pulpit, from the base of the columns with lions up to the railing frame, through the figures of Liberal Arts and Sibyls, with a total of about four figures carved by the artist and his workshop , a qualified the team that included collaborators later become important sculptors, such as Nicola’s son, Giovanni Pisano – always in Siena will carry the statues of the lower part of the facade of the Duomo – and Arnolfo di Cambio.
This treasure of Italian art can be admired in a dedicated guided tour that you can book together the guided tour of the town ⟢