Arnolfo di Cambio (12401300/10)
Italian medieval sculptor and architect, Arnolfo di Cambio designed several monuments which became the model for Gothic funerary art. He became one of the foremost architects of his era, designing some of the most beautiful buildings of Florence which still exist today, including Florence Cathedral (construction began 1296). Di Cambio's architectural style embodies the transition from late Gothic art to the more classical Renaissance style. His most famous works of Gothic sculpture include his monument to Cardinal de Braye, and a bronze statue of St Peter at St Peters Basilica (1300).
Born in Colle Val d'Elsa, Tuscany, little is known of di Cambio's life except that he learned the art of sculpture from the famous sculptor Nicola Pisano. He was in fact chief assistant to Pisano on the famous Siena Cathedral pulpit (126568), and worked alongside Nicola's son Giovanni Pisano.
Trained in Romanesque sculpture, Nicola Pisano was a classicist by nature but moved towards a Gothic style, a style which both his son, Giovanni and di Cambio would develop further in their own way. Di Cambio also studied painting under Cimabue (whose other student, Giotto, would go on to become one of the greatest artists of the Italian Renaissance).
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Tomb of Cardinal Riccardo Annibaldi
Very soon after working on the Siena pulpit, di Cambio was called to Rome, as a protege of King Charles I, to work on creating a tomb of Cardinal Riccardo Annibaldi, at the Basilica of St. John Lateran (also known as the Church of San Giovanni in Laterano). The tomb is accessible today via the entrance to the cloisters, which is at the end of the left aisle near the transept. This was the first of many commissions di Cambio would receive.
Other Sculpture by Arnolfo di Cambio
Around the same time he also decorated the tomb of Pope Adrian V, found in the Church of San Francesco, Viterbo (Lazio region of central Italy). In 1281 he executed a fountain at Perugia 'Griffin and Lion'. The fountain no longer exists but five marble sculptures do survive and can be seen in the National Gallery of Umbria. The museum recently commemorated the 700th year of the sculptors death by reconstructing the fountain.
In 1282 di Cambio constructed a monument to Cardinal de Braye (who died that year), which was placed in the church of Saint Domenico, Orvieto. The tomb has in later years been taken out of its original Gothic tabernacle (recess), and so has lost something in the process. Despite this, it is still a vibrant piece of sculpture. The Cardinal is enthroned on top by Madonna (depicted in Classical goddess pose), and flanked on the sides by two saints who present the kneeling cardinal to the Virgin. This is funeral portrait, taken from the French tradition where the deceased is still shown alive. It was acclaimed in di Cambio's time, and seen as a model for Gothic funerary art.
He went on to design the altar canopies for San Paolo Fuori le Mura (1285) and Santa Cecilia in Trastevere (1293). In Rome di Cambio came into contact with Cosmatesque art which is a style of geometric mosaic art typical of Medieval Italy and this influence can be seen in the polychrome glass decorations of the canopies. During this period, he also worked on the presepio of Santa Maria Maggiore and on the funeral monument of Pope Boniface VIII (1300). Only fragments remain of the pope's tomb and they are kept in the Vatican. Some scholars believe that di Cambio also created the famous bronze statue of St Peter in St Peters Basilica (1300), while others believe it is only a 5th century casting. In this iconic work of Christian art, Saint Peter is portrayed as giving his blessing and preaching, while holding the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven. His right foot is literally worn down from centuries of worshippers who kiss and touch it.
Di Cambio is equally famous for his architectural achievements. In 1296 he was charged with the construction of the Cathedral in Florence (1296 to 1462). It is also believed that he was involved in the design of other major buildings in the city, including the Baptistery, the Church of Santa Croce, and the Palazzo Vecchio. The structural and decorative elements of Santa Croce in particular, demonstrate a unity, balance and lightness of movement that shows di Cambio's complete mastery of 13th-century Gothic architecture. The Medieval biographer Giorgio Vasari included a biography of di Cambio in his Lives of the Artists, and in this biography he attributed di Cambio with executing the urban plan of the new city of San Giovanni Valdarno. In any event, the monumental character of di Cambio's architecture and sculpture has left its mark on the appearance of Florence.
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