Arnolfo di Cambio

Arnolfo di Cambio (1245-1302) was the most important Florentine sculptor and architect of the last half of the 13th century.

Arnolfo di Cambio was trained in the sculptural workshop of Nicola Pisano, where he assisted in carving the marble pulpit in the Cathedral, Siena (1265-1268). Shortly thereafter he left Nicola's shop to establish himself as an independent artist. Little is known of his activities until 1277, when he was working in Rome under the patronage of Charles of Anjou. Arnolfo's three earliest works date from the period 1265-1277: the monument to Adrian V in S. Francesco, Viterbo, made in collaboration with a Cosmati master; the monument to Cardinal Riccardo Annibaldi, of which remnants are in the cloister of St. John Lateran, Rome; and the seated portrait of Charles of Anjou in the Capitoline Museum, Rome. Arnolfo's early style was characterized by simple, geometric forms that gave the figures a certain blockiness and immobility. Drapery folds were deeply cut and arranged in regular patterns, often falling in V-shaped folds.

Arnolfo's services were requested in Perugia in 1277 for work on a fountain. Charles of Anjou gave him leave to go, though Arnolfo's presence in Perugia is not documented until early 1281. Presumably the fountain he worked on is the one known through three fragments representing assetati (thirsty ones) in the National Gallery of Umbria, Perugia, rather than the famous Fontana Maggiore in Perugia by Nicola and Giovanni Pisano, which was completed in 1278. Arnolfo signed his monument to Cardinal Guglielmo DeBraye (died 1282) in S. Domenico, Orvieto. This work, which has lost its canopy, revealed for the first time Arnolfo's assimilation of the style of classical antiquity to which he had been exposed in Rome. This is especially noticeable in the Enthroned Virgin, who has a Junoesque quality. The monument to Cardinal DeBraye established a pattern for 14th-century funerary monuments that was repeated many times, especially in the work of Tino di Camaino.

In Rome, Arnolfo was responsible for erecting two ciboria, or altar canopies, one in S. Paolo fuori le Mura (1285) and the other in S. Cecilia in Trastevere (1293), where he combined his talents as sculptor and architect. Both are Gothic structures with give arches, triangular pediments ornamented with crockets, finials, and figure sculpture at the corners and in the spandrels. The muchadored bronze statue of the seated St. Peter located near the crossing of St. Peter's has been attributed to Arnolfo. This work was derived from an Early Christian marble prototype still preserved in the Vatican Grottoes. Other sculptural works done by Arnolfo in Rome during the 1290s include the statue of Pope Boniface VIII blessing and the funerary monument of Boniface VIII, both in the Vatican Grottoes, and the monument to Honorius IV in S. Maria in Aracoeli.

All of Arnolfo's purely architectural works are in Florence. The major one, the design for the Cathedral, was begun in 1296. This was an enormous undertaking that certainly justified the description of Arnolfo as "the most famous and able church builder in the land." The same document, dated April 1, 1300, reveals that he was capomastro, or artistic director and chief builder, for the Cathedral. The Cathedral project included numerous statues for the facade. Those that have survived include the Virgin Enthroned, Pope Boniface VIII Enthroned, and the Nativity in the Cathedral Museum, Florence, and the Dormition of the Virgin in Berlin. A statue of St. Reparata, also in the Cathedral Museum, is usually attributed to Arnolfo. Two other churches in Florence, the Badia and Sta Croce, are associated with Arnolfo's name, as is the massive town hall, the Palazzo Vecchio, in Florence. Arnolfo died on March 8, 1302, in Florence.


Further Reading on Arnolfo di Cambio

The best English-language source on Arnolfo's sculpture is John Pope-Hennessy, An Introduction to Italian Sculpture, vol. 1: Italian Gothic Sculpture (1955). A standard monograph, in Italian, with numerous black-and-white photographs is V. Mariani, Arnolfo di Cambio (1943). Also recommended is G. H. and E. R. Crichton, Nicola Pisano and the Revival of Sculpture in Italy (1938).

Additional Biography Sources

Carli, Enzo, Arnolfo, Firenze: Casa editrice EDAM, 1993.