Reappraising Bezalel: Material, Intermedial, and Cross-Cultural Experiments in the Pisano Workshop (1268-1318)
Luca Palozzi holds a PhD in Art History from the Scuola Normale Superiore di Pisa. Before joining the Kunsthistorisches Institut in Florenz–Max-Planck-Institut in 2018, he was a postdoctoral research fellow and a visiting lecturer in the History of Art at the University of Edinburgh. He specializes in medieval and Renaissance Italian art, with an emphasis on the porosities between art theory and practice; the dialectic between the different artistic media; issues of style, artistic geography, and historiography. He is also interested in how knowledge of the natural world was created, organized, and shared during the Middle Ages and the early modern period. He is completing his book Marco Romano e la costruzione del Gotico in Italia.
Although we are used to thinking of Nicola Pisano as the first great marble carver since Antiquity, almost a new Polykleitos, this project argues that in reality he was more akin to the multi-talented Biblical artist, Bezalel (Exodus 31: 1-6), whom God had filled with wisdom, knowledge, and intelligence so he could work in different media and materials beyond marble, ‘gold, silver, bronze, gems and different types of wood.’ The Pisano workshop experimented with different media and such materials as gold and glass, and tested various stone types and minerals for use in monumental sculpture and architecture. This study explores the ecological and economic backgrounds against which these sculptors refined their ‘chiromancy of rocks and mines’ (Paracelsus), that is, the intensive exploitation of mines and quarries in thirteenth- and fourteenth-century Tuscany and Europe, which fostered a proto-scientific interest in soils, geological formations, and the origins of the Earth, the ‘scientia lapidum et mineralium’ (Albert the Great). In the Pisano workshop, technical audacity was coupled with an interest in foreign forms and objects from afar, including Fatimid woodwork, Persian glass, and ceramics from the Muslim East. This project re-writes the material history of this multi-generational sculptural workshop anew, within its Mediterranean and broader Eurasian contexts.