The decision to cast the bronze door
The third most important sculptor, Andrea Pisano, from the trecento, also did not hail from Florence (Click here for the architecture of the Baptistery). He likely received his training in Pisa. Little is known of what Pisano did prior to 1330. He produced the first of the three bronze doors for the Baptistery. Andrea Pisano was commissioned by the wealthy wool guild: the Calimala. Sources in 1330 first mention him as a maestro delle porte. Originally, according to a 1329 document, the wool guild wished for the wooden doors to be lined with gilt red-copper or another metal. Some years later, they reach the decision to have the doors made entirely of bronze, instead. After all, Florence was to surpass cities like Pisa or Venice.
The goldsmith, Piero di Jacopo, is tasked with making sketches of the bronze doors in Pisa. These doors from the second half of the twelfth century by Bonanno da Pisa were a technical masterpiece for that period (Wikipdia: Porta di San Ranieri). ‘In said year of 1330 the beautiful metal doors of San Giovanni, of marvellous workmanship and expense, were begun. The parts were modelled in wax and the figures then chased and gilded by a Master Andre Pisano; they were cast in a furnace by Venetian masters. And I the present writer, on behalf of the merchants of the Calimala, wardens of the workshop of San Giovanni, was the official to direct said work.’ according to Giovanni Villani in his Chronica.
The first door by Andrea Pisano (now southern side)
Jacopo also had to scout the best bronze casters of that time. In Venice, which was known for its vast knowledge on bronze casting, they tracked down a man named Leonardo d’Avanzo. Under his supervision and with the help of workers from Venice, the panels and doors were cast. This is also how the mosaic in the Baptistery dome was made by craftsman from Venice. After all, Florence still lacked the know-how of casting such large doors. What we know from the sources is that there was a casting error, because ‘the doors were so slanted that they were impossible to use’. The wax models for this door were completed by Andrea Pisano in 1330, and the actual casting was done six years later. The frame and the panels were cast separately as can easily be seen from its backside (See Wikipedia).
Giovanni Villani writes the following in his Chronica: ‘In said year of 1330 the beautiful metal doors of San Giovanni, of marvellous workmanship and expense, were begun. The parts were modelled in wax and the figures then chased and gilded by a Master Andre Pisano; they were cast in a furnace by Venetian masters. And I the present writer, on behalf of the merchants of the Calimala, wardens of the workshop of San Giovanni, was the official to direct said work.’
The reliefs were later mounted in the frame. Fourteenth-century chronicler, Simone della Tosa, wrote in 1336 about the inauguration of this door: ‘All of Florence convened to see the bronze door made by Andrea Pisano for the Baptistery chapel and which was located in the centre entryway [later transferred south]. The Signoria, who were not ones to usually leave the palazzo apart for on major holidays, came to see it erected, together with the ambassadors of both Crowns of Napels and Sicily, and they awarded Andrea citizenship of Florence for his efforts [later, Andrea Pisano was also granted permission to work on the Campanile].’ Pisano signed the door leaves anno 1330 with: Andreas: Ugolini: Nini: de: Pisis: me: fecit: A: D: M: CCC: XXX or ‘Andrea son of Ugolino Nino from Pisa made me in the year of the Lord 1330’
Ghiberti (second door) will keep the story running along the leaves from left to right with his doors. Usually, Old Testament stories were arranged from top to bottom. Scenes from the New Testament, however, were arranged from bottom to top. Pisano deviates from this. His arrangement is from top to bottom, while describing the history of John the Baptist in the New Testament (Click here for an overview of the panels with the scenes). By doing this, it probably becomes clear that John should be regarded as the prophet of the old law and as the predecessor of Christ. The panels are bronze, but the landscape, figures and inscriptions on the doors are gilded. For the many images of the door of Pisano, see Wikipedia.
The exception in the series of narrative panels is ‘the Birth of John the Baptist’. Elisabeth, John’s mother, is lying on her bed and watching the women bathing her new-born. The bed she is on is situated implausibly to the floor. This unfortunate spatial arrangement that is not seen in the other panels is often interpreted as Pisano first having started on ‘The Birth of John’ and that he gradually grew better.
In ‘John baptizes the heathens’, a bent over John is pouring water over the head of a half-nude, kneeling heathen. This scene is lacking in depth. The landscape is convincingly done with some simple elements like rocks, a tree, a bush, some shrubs and a watching bird. The story is legible with a single glance. Through gestures, postures and lines of sight, the eye of the spectator is being steered and the story is told. This applies equally to the other narrative scenes. The folds in the drapes of the various figures are all different.
This is very different from how Bonanno da Pisa did this for his 12th century (two) reliefs in the doors of the Duomo in Pisa, as you can see. Examining the gowns worn by the figures of Bonnona, and comparing them to Pisano’s, you see an enormous difference. Pisano has portrayed the drapes in a much more convincing manner and you get more of an impression, though faulty as it is, that the garments are at least hiding a body. Besides, the rhythm of the pleating is different for each figure of Pisano, as opposed to the ones by Bonanno. This does not mean that Pisano is part of the Renaissance. For instance, he still uses the same nose or beard for his figures, and consequently many of them look pretty similar.
The influence of Giotto on Andrea Pisano’s door
There is a clear connection between the work of Pisano on the doors and Giotto especially the frescos of Giotto (Web Gallery of Art) in the Peruzzi-chapel (Santa Croce). Not only in terms of style, but even when it comes to the general theme like the naming of John the Baptist.
For the virtue, Spes, Pisano copied the figure that Giotto pained in the Arena chapel in Padua.
The interior is effectively portrayed by Giotto and Pisano by some simple elements like a kind of doll house and the occasional detail like a chair. Gestures and postures add immediate clarity to the situation. The figures all have sufficient volume and are modelled convincingly.
Giotto invented ‘the law of Apelles’ as can be read in the section about painting in Florence. This is very different from the figures of Bonanno da Pisa as can be seen below.
The relief of ‘Baptism of Christ by John‘ shows a remarkably body of Christ. A nude upper body, for the first time in a thousand years, which seems to come straight from the classical era because it looks so authentic. Genuine anatomical perfection would not be understood until the late 15th century by, for example, a sculptor like Michelangelo.
The framing of the door by Pisano was later added by Ghiberti’s gallery, in a style that is far removed from the person who made the first door: Andrea Pisano (Wikipedia: framing door Pisano).