The pulpit in Ravello’s Cathedral and a Medieval Mona Lisa
The pulpit of the Cathedral of Ravello was created in 1272 by sculptor Nicola Southern Bartolomeo, from Foggia, who was entrusted with it by Nicola Rufolo, member of one of Ravello’s most distinguished families.
According to medieval art historian Francesco Abbate, the beautiful artifact “recalls, after a whole century, Campania’s traditional quadrangular ambons, with supporting columns and mosaic decorations.”
The expert believes that “Ravello’s major pulpit stands out for the exuberant mosaic layer as well as for its sculptures: the ‘chiseled’ capitals; the two laughing heads under the bookrest, preciously close to the fresh naturalism of Gothic style from Reims (placed in a hard to see part of the pulpit, suggesting a private homage paid by the sculptor to a friend); and most importantly, the enigmatic female figure that folk tradition has poetically identified as Sigilgaita Rufolo, the client’s wife. With a crown that looks like a transposition of Gothic capitals, made lighter by extremely long pendants in Constantinople’s fashion, and facing straight ahead like a Byzantine icon, the woman’s head is as lively as a portrait – with skin animated by subtle vibrations, a half-open mouth hinting at an unsettling smile (like a Medieval Mona LIsa), and the slight asymmetry in the eyes, negating any Byzantine-style fixed canon” (F. Abbate, “Storia dell’arte nell’Italia meridionale, Donzelli, Rome 1998).