Carving politics: Niccolò's façades at Piacenza, Ferrara, and Verona Cathedrals
The Cathedral façades at Piacenza, Ferrara, and Verona are traditionally credited to the north Italian sculptor, Niccolò (act. c. 1120s - 1160s), and dated between 1122 and 1139. Though he was one of the earliest artists to sign his façades, little is known about Niccolò and his involvement at each site. Nevertheless, an exorbitant amount of literature is devoted to the sculptor’s oeuvre. In recent decades, this has primarily addressed the imagery in relation to widespread, contemporary political events such as the Investiture Controversy (c. 1076 – 1122) and crusades. In this thesis, I evaluate the subject matter and manner of depiction of the sculptural façades in Piacenza, Ferrara, and Verona in relation to the local and regional political context and patronage that shaped their construction. In doing so, I posit that their iconography derived, at least in part, from local concerns and nearby visual sources not addressed previously. To support this thesis, I shift my focus away from the traditional, biographical approach which places the artist, Niccolò, at the center of each site’s iconography. Rather, I address the impact of patronage, as each city had a new bishop and/or a previously little-considered patron embroiled in the regional political scene during the period under consideration. At Piacenza Cathedral, I consider both the atlantes beneath the lateral porches and the Adoration of the Magi scene in the north lintel in relation to Piacenza’s historical alliance with the Papacy. Then, I turn my attention to Ferrara Cathedral, evaluating both the equestrian rider in the tympanum and the Adoration of the Magi centered below. Finally, I take the tympanum sculpture and the warrior figures framing the portal of Verona Cathedral as subjects. Recognizing the impact of local religious, political and ideological concerns at Piacenza, Ferrara, and Verona Cathedral, this study aims to stimulate more nuanced research concerning other sites typically understood in relation to a singular, overarching political event.