Italian art: Medieval Pisa

Mar 16, 2020 96

Crossing the threshold of the new Museo dell'Opera del Duomo in Pisa gives the sudden sensation of feeling elsewhere. Yet, the building of the ancient Episcopal Seminary is also located in the crowded Piazza del Duomo. After five years of work, from the 3000 square meters of the renovated museum emerge the cultural interweaving and the skill of the artists who shaped the image of the Maritime Republic of Pisa.

Inseparable is the link between each of the 380 pieces on display and the monuments of the square, to such an extent that it is not risky to qualify a visit to the museum as the key experience for a concrete deepening of the devotion and magnificence of Pisa since the twelfth century.

The museographic layout, developed by the same team that took care of the Museo dell'Opera del Duomo in Florence four years ago, is all built around each individual work, varying the exhibition methods from time to time in front of works with different meanings, as well as in front of different spaces, so as to make it easier to read.

Old and new materials are combined in a path marked by works that recall the places for which they were conceived, in the admirable Piazza dei Miracoli. From the Cathedral to the Bell Tower, the opening rooms are dedicated to the great Pisan school sculpture. Alongside them there are videos and graphic supports, thanks to which it is possible to clarify the Islamic influences - it is impossible not to dwell on the 12th century bronze Grifo, originally placed on the apse tympanum of the Cathedral - and of Provençal matrix.

A few meters from Piazza dei Miracoli, it has re-emerged thanks to a recent renovation that has restored the marble of the Church of San Nicola to its former glory, an explicit reference to the discoveries of the first great mathematician of the Christian West, the Pisan Leonardo Fibonacci. An original study by Pietro Armienti, professor of Petrology and Petrography at the University of Pisa, recently published in the Journal of Cultural Heritage, has made it possible to interpret the elegant geometries of the inlay of the lunette above the original main portal as a reference to the famous numerical succession identified by the mathematician.

For centuries the signs of the time had made illegible the inlays of the church façade, whose construction, which dates back to the early thirteenth century, is attributed by many to Nicola Pisano. After the restoration, the message inlaid in the lunette of the portal emerged in all its details and allowed to demonstrate that the valuable artifact, which involved the joint work of mathematicians, theologians and craftsmen, celebrates the insights that marked the birth of a school of thought in Pisa capable of transforming the medieval vision of the world and make the city the cradle of modern scientific thought.

According to Professor Armienti's interpretation, the elegant symmetries of the work are a direct reference to the Pisan mathematician's discoveries: "The inlay is in fact an abacus to represent irrational numbers or the Golden ratio, as well as to calculate with an excellent approximation the sides of the regular polygons inscribed in the larger diameter circle. It is therefore an important monument whose presence was conceived for the education of the elites, according to the program of scholastic philosophy: a precious gift of the wisdom of the ancients who came after eight hundred years of oblivion and whose presence must be enhanced".

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