Wednesday, November 25, 2020

The Cathedral of Siena (Part 3): The Pulpit, Choir and Organ

Continuing with Nicola’s photos of the cathedral of Siena, today we focus on some of the church’s more important liturgical fixtures: the monumental pulpit, the choir stalls, and the organ.
The pulpit is the work of Nicola Pisano (1223-81), executed between 1265-68. His proper last name (if he had one) is unknown, but contemporary documents refers to him as “de Apulia – from (the southern region of) Puglia.” He is now usually called “Pisano – the Pisan” from his long stay in the city of Pisa, where he served as master-builder of the cathedral, and did a monumental pulpit in the baptistery in 1260, similar to the slightly later Sienese one. In a very real sense, he deserves to be considered the first sculptor of the Italian Renaissance, since he was first to closely imitate ancient Roman sculptures in his own works. The style of the seven narrative panels on the outer part of the balustrade, with a large number of figures packed into a tight space, is imitated from ancient Roman sarcophagi. These panels depict (in clockwise order, starting next to the staircase, which was added in the 16th century): the Visitation and Nativity; the Adoration of the Magi; the Presentation in the Temple and the Fight into Egypt; the Massacre of the Innocents; the Crucifixion, and the Last Judgment in two parts, the Elect and the Damned.
At the corners between the panels are statues of: the Virgin of the Annunciation; St Paul with Ss Timothy and Titus; the Virgin and Child; two angels; Christ giving the Eucharist; symbols of the Four Evangelists; Christ as judge; an angel.
A common motif on ancient Roman sarcophagi was a lion devouring a herbivore, usually a donkey or a deer; for the Romans, this may have been intended to represent the victory of death over all things. Here, Nicola Pisano has copied it very successfully; his lions are far more realistic than those commonly seen at the doors of Italian Romanesque churches, which are often just very hairy, elongated cats. Their placement at the base of the pulpit represents the savagery of the world, which is tamed by classical civilization, symbolised by base of the central column, on which are represented Philosphy and the Liberal Arts. Figures of the Virtues on top of the external columns, to represent their role in bringing us to Christ, and the exercise of them through His grace. This same set of motifs was later reproduced by Nicola’s son Giovanni in the pulpit of the cathedral of Pisa.
As was the case in many churches throughout Europe, the liturgical choir was originally set between the high altar and the nave, which in this case put it in the crossing under the dome. (This arrangment can still be seen in many French churches that predate the Counter-Reformation, such as St Germain l’Auxerrois in Paris.) In 1506, however, the church was radically rearranged; the old high altar was dismantled and replaced, and the choir moved behind the new altar (shown in the first post of this series) so that the latter could be better seen, anticipating a development which would become very common in the Counter-Reformation.
The seats were originally made between 1363 and 1397 by several different artists; unfortunately, many of them were lost when the choir was moved. The lighter inlaid wood panels (1503) are the work of an Olivetan monk from Verona named Giovanni, who did similar projects in important churches in many parts of Italy, and in the Papal office (now part of the Vatican Museums) known as the Stanza della Segnatura.
The stand for the choir books, which are housed in a special library that will be seen in a future post in this series.
The walls above the choir stalls were frescoed by a native of Siena called Ventura Salimbeni (1568-1613) from 1608-11; here we see on the left side of the choir The Fall of the Manna...
and next to it, Blessed Ambrose Sansedonius and other Sienese Blesseds present Siena to Pope Gregory the Great. 
The seats for the priest, deacon and subdeacon.
The current organ was built in 1966, partly by reusing pieces of earlier ones, by a firm called Tamburini, which did almost 1000 others up and down the Italian peninsula between 1893 and 1996.

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