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Work: The art of building, a carved panel from Giotto’s bell tower

Copy of sculpture

The art of building, a carved panel from Giotto's bell tower (cast in plaster)

Copy

Dimensions
44 cm long about (side)
Technique
cast from the original
Material
alabaster plaster
Space
Medieval and 15th Century

Original

Author
Andrea Pisano
Date
1337 - 1341
Period
Gothic
Dimensions
44 cm long about (side)
Material
marble
Location
Museo dell'Opera del Duomo, FlorenceSi apre in una nuova finestra

Description

“All these constructions must have the requisites of solidity, usefulness and beauty” Marcus Vitruvius Pollio, De Architectura

Theorists and great masters of the past have dedicated themselves to the art of building, the subject of this hexagonal panel. About 44cm wide, it is an alabaster plaster copy of a true cast of the carving made in the first half of the 14th century by Andrea Pisano and his workshop to decorate Giotto’s Bell tower, at Florence Cathedral. The original is in the Cathedral Museum as all of the sculptural decorations on the bell tower have been replaced by copies for conservation reasons. The panel was situated in the first order, south side, which is dedicated to the history of trades.
The hexagon is almost entirely filled by a brick wall with scaffolding in front. Above it, set frontally, is the master builder, who has the appearance of Christ: his hair and beard are long and his right hand is raised giving orders to the two masons on the scaffolding. These are shown in profile, at each end of the wall, busy carrying out the instructions. The evident disproportion in size between the small masons and the much larger master builder, is an iconographical convention used to demonstrate authority and hierarchy. On a tactile level, the wall and scaffolding are clearly defined, even to details in the brickwork.

The construction of the bell tower of Santa Maria del Fiore in Florence, begun by Giotto in 1334, was a great novelty. It is an imposing tower, both elegant and slender, with a square base. It is 84.7m high and about 15m wide and is decorated with white, red and green marbles like those adorning the Cathedral.
The architecture is in the Florentine-Gothic style with rich sculptural decoration. The first order is embellished with twenty-six hexagonal marble panels with relief carvings illustrating the history of the man’s progress in the arts and sciences: from the earliest activities corresponding to natural needs (west side), to the representation of the crafts arising from civilization (south side), up to artistic activities (east side) and intellectual activities (north side). The theme of the cycle is work, which is seen as a creative expression of a free man, and it reflects the cultural context in which it is set: a fourteenth-century city whose prosperity was built on the entrepreneurial and intellectual activities of its citizens. Thus, the idea of man fulfilling himself through work underpins not only the greatness achieved by the city of Florence, but also this Christian building that rises towards heaven and therefore towards God.