The Gothic style of art in medieval Italy
The Gothic era marked pretty much the only time Italians imported a style from elsewhere in an otherwise unbroken 1800-year run—from the Romans the late baroque—of being at the forefront of Western art.
The Gothic was perhaps at its most advanced in sculpture.
Nicola Pisano probably immigrated from southern Puglia to work in Pisa, where he crowned that city’s great Romanesque building project with a Gothic finale in 1260. He created for the Baptistery a great pulpit, the panels of which were carved in high relief with a new kind of figurative emotion displayed in the sway of the figures, and a degree of activeness in their positioning and apparent movement.
Nicola Pisano was inspired by some of the classical works he found in Pisa, and by the time he carved the panels on his second pulpit in Siena along with his son Giovanni Pisano, the figures were moving into a radically new sort of interaction, with an active, squirming multitude of bodies and pronounced stylized curves to add a graceful rhythm and emotion to the characters. Giovanni would go on to carve two more pulpits (in Pistoia and back to Pisa for the Duomo) and numerous individual large statues for niches on the facade of Siena’s Duomo, on which he was working as an architect, furthering his father’s innovations in dipictive storytelling.
Andrea Pisano (no relation) picked the thread up in Florence when he cast in 1330 the first set of bronze baptistery doors in the now-established Gothic style.
Byzantine tradition kept its hold over painting for quite a while, and the Gothic didn’t really come to the fore in Italian painting until the tail end of the 13th century. When it did, the humanist philosophy was starting to catch on. Humanism was reviving academic interest in the classical world, its philosophy, and its architecture, and its was encouraging a closer examination and contemplation of the natural world and everyday life[md]as opposed to the medieval habit of chaining all intellectual pursuits to theology and religious pondering.
True, in the 1280’s Florentine master painter Cimabue was beginning to infuse his religious art with more human pathos than Byzantine custom had ever seen, and his Sienese compatriot (some say student) Duccio began adapting a narrative naturalism to his decorative, Byzantine style (see “The Sienese School”). But when the Gothic finally did catch up to painting, it did so with a vengeance and almost overvaulted the Gothic mind set to land squarely in the Renaissance. When the Gothic entered the realm of painting, its avatar was Giotto.