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Murray Seminar: Luca Palozzi on The Holy-Water Basin of San Giovanni Fuorcivitas

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Venue: Birkbeck 43 Gordon Square, Keynes Library

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Giorgio Vasari writes in his Lives of the Artists that Giovanni Pisano “carved in marble the holy-water font of the Church of San Giovanni Evangelista in Pistoia,” and that this work, “by reason of its having then been held very beautiful, was placed in the centre of that church as a remarkable thing (come cosa singolare).” Despite Vasari’s mention in his Lives, the Pistoia holy-water basin remains little-known. The scant literature focusses on issues of style, date and authorship, failing to address the reasons why contemporary observers considered the Pistoia holy-water basin a truly beautiful and remarkable object. This paper from Luca Palozzi explores this object’s surprising materiality, considering Nicola and Giovanni Pisano's daring technical and artistic experimentations with stones and minerals scarcely used in monumental sculpture from the period. Their knowledge of materials, as well as their awareness of liturgy, crucially informed the making of this extraordinary object. The basin casts light on the ‘material turn’ of the 1260s and 1270s in Italian sculpture–a phenomenon whose magnitude and importance still await to be assessed. 

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