Saint Ranieri’s Door, from single moments to eternity
Saint Ranieri’s Door in Pisa’s Duomo is a masterpiece by sculptor Bonanno Pisano, who towards the end of the 12th century also created the portal of the Duomo in Monreale.
Saint Ranieri’s Door, once at the entrance of the right-side transept of Pisa’s Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta, was built when the church’s façade was first designed. It has since been replaced by a replica, while the original – after miraculously surviving the 1595 fire that destroyed the church – is kept at the Museum of the Opera del Duomo).
The monumental door is made up of twenty-four bronze tiles, twenty of which represent stories from the New Testament.
Art historian Giulio Carlo Argan has explained:
“The Door of Saint Ranieri was invented with much more creative freedom than the one in Monreale, which is closer tied to Byzantine iconographic and decorative tradition. It seems as though Bonanno wanted to preserve in bronze the same freshness and spontaneity of clay models. He did not start from thinking of a given space, in which stories had to be placed; he mostly thought of the main characters and, of course, included trees and niches that define the space where each story plays out.”
“The story seems naive and primitive only because it is not guided in a preset ‘way’, but given in its initial state. This beginning and genuine invention was fixed in bronze, a noble and timeless material, to decorate the biggest monument of civic glory […].”
“Bronze is sensitive to light, and leaves room for playing with reflexes. Going from clay to bronze, stories went from vile matter to space, from single moments to eternity” (translated from G. C. Argan, “Storia dell’arte italiana”, vol. 1, Sansoni, Florence 2002).