Gold and Ivory Paris, Pisa, Florence, Siena. 1250–1320
Musée du Louvre-Lens
99 Rue Paul Bert, 62300 Lens, France
The 2015 summer exhibition at the Louvre-Lens highlights the wealth of artistic exchanges between the capital of the Kingdom of France and what is now Tuscany, in the latter half of the 13th century. Thanks to exceptional loans from around twenty prestigious European museums, the exhibition lifts the veil on the relationships between the major centres of artistic creation of the period: Paris, Florence, Siena and Pisa. The exhibition brings together more than 125 ex- quisite works: monumental statuary, gold background paintings, illuminated manuscripts, fine enamels and ivories. In particular, these works reveal the influence of French exponents of High Gothic style on the Tuscan sculptors and painters of the late 13th century, within a cultural area that would become the cradle of the early Renaissance. This exhibition at the Louvre-Lens will be the first to examine this phenomenon, which is of paramount importance to the history of art.
Albeit very short, the period covered by the exhibition (1250-1320) was marked by decisive developments in Europe, politically, economically and socially, as well as on an intellectual and artistic level. The revi- val of ancient thought changed the understanding of the world, and in turn the ways of representing it. Meanwhile, the arts were experiencing significant technological innovations and the rise of very important figures. Gradually, creators were no longer considered as mere craftsmen to serve the Church, but as artists working for society. The latter half of the 13th century therefore takes on a special place in the history of art: that of a complex peak, which varies greatly according to the perspective taken.
With its great architectural sites (the Sainte Chapelle, the Lady Chapel at Saint Germain des Prés, the transept of Notre Dame) and the completion of the courtyard of the Palais de la Cité, Pa- ris became the “capital of luxury”. Indeed, an abundant pro- duction of precious objects developed there (illuminated ma- nuscripts, ivories, goldsmithery), supported by an explosion of artistic commissions by dignitaries. Paris was the heart of what we now refer to as High Gothic.
Across the Alps, starting from the 1260s, Tuscan art sowed the seeds of the early Renaissance. In the tradition of artists such as Cimabue and Nicola Pisano, painters and sculptors deviated from Byzantine traditions, in favour of a new vernacular, characterised by a revival of the ancient world and a greater consideration of Nature.
Considering that these changes first took shape in Tuscany, they were likely to be rooted in the new philosophical, theologi- cal, mathematical and literary references disseminated by the University of Paris.
The history of art has often stressed the extent to which Gothic art was able to develop thanks to its contact with the early Renaissance. We also know the effect that the studies of Giotto and his acolytes had on 14th-century Northern European painting. Still today, High Gothic is often seen as the apogee of the po- tential of Classical Gothic and the late Duecento as the introduction of new forms. To date, however, no exhibition has truly dwelt on the links between these movements. Close examination of the work of Ni- cola Pisano shows that he renewed the style of his predecessors, not only in his perspective on Antique sculpture, but also through his approach to positions and drapery, which he took directly from the Parisian statuary of the previous decades.
Nicola Pisano also passed his consideration of the art of the French Court on to his pupils, including his son Giovanni Pisano and Arnolfo di Cambio. This exhibition is oriented around the working period of these three artists, from the early work of Nicola Pisano around 1260 to the death of Giovanni in 1317. The exhibition is divided into four main sections.
Image: Descent from the Cross © Musée du Louvre, Dist. RMN-GP / Martine Beck-Coppola