The Pisan Cemetery through the Eyes of Chroniclers, Artists and Travelers

Category: Geography

Jérôme Richard (d. ca. 1790), Description historique et critique de l’Italie (1761/1766)

Jérôme Richard is not a well-known figure today, but his book (Description historique et critique de l’Italie) allows us to glean that he was a learned man, greatly interested in providing in-depth knowledge about Italy. Almost like a handbook on Italy, the book discusses both ancient and modern Italy while giving practical information such as the route from France. Richard even includes the chronology of the Roman emperors to provide exact historical information in volume 1, and volume 3 begins with a chronology of the different painting schools of Italy. At the Camposanto, it seems that Buffalmacco’s “Triumph of Death” impressed him most. He describes in detail the three coffins and the three noblemen looking at the coffins. The effect of the holy earth on corpses is not stated, as is the case with many other travel accounts from the early and mid-eighteenth century. / DJ

Description_historique_et_critique_de_l (excerpt)

Source: Jérôme Richard, Description Historique Et Critique De L’italie, Ou Nouveaux Mémoires Sur L”Etat Actuel De Son Gouvernement, Des Sciences, Des Arts, Du Commerce, De La Population Et De L’histoire Naturelle, 5 vols. (Dijon/Paris: Desventes-Lambert, 1766), 3:261-262.


Le campo santo, ou cimetiere général, est un très-grand édifice public ou cloître bâti en quarré long & environné de portiques: il est entierement de marbre à l’intérieur & e à l’extérieur: on y voit quelques tombeaux antiques, d’autres que l’on peut appeller modernes, quoiqu’ils soient déjà très-anciens et traités de bon goût. Le cloître à l’intérieur est tout couvert de peintures fort anciennes, qui ont été faites peu de temps après la construction, qui est de la même date que l’église, la tour & e le baptistere. On y voit l’histoire de Job en six tableaux, par le Giotto. Le jugement dernier, par Orcagna. L’histoire de saint Rainier, par Simon Memmi. A côté du tableau du jugement universel, est représenté la mort de l’homme et l’état où tombent les cadavres: on voit trois tombeaux ouverts; dans l’un est un corps qui commence à se corrompre; dans l’autre il est presque entierement corrompu et il commence à se dépouiller de ses chairs; dans le troisiéme il n’y a plus que des os secs. Plusieurs cavaliers qui paroissent d’un rang distingué, examinent ces cadavres; l’un d’eux se bouche le nez; on voit qu’ils raisonnent sur l’effet de la terre de ce cimetiere, que l’on dit avoir été apportée de Jérusalem et avoir servi à lester quarante ou cinquante galeres des Pisans: dévotion singuliere, mais bien dans le goût du douziéme siécle. De toutes les puissances maritimes de ce temps-là, les Pisans sont les seuls qui ayent imaginé de transporter chez eux une partie du sol des lieux saints.


The Campo Santo, or general cemetery, is a very large public building, or cloister, built in a long quadrangle and surrounded by porticoes: it is made entirely of marble inside and outside. We see some ancient tombs along with others which may be called modern, although they are already very old and made in good taste. The cloister inside is entirely covered with very old paintings, which were done shortly after the construction, which is of the same date as the church, tower and baptistery. We see six paintings of the story of Job by Giotto, the Last Judgment by Orcagna, the Story of Saint Rainier by Simon Memmi. Next to the painting of universal judgment, the death of man and the state of their corpses is represented: we see three open graves; in one is a body that is beginning to corrupt; in the other the body is almost completely corrupted and begins to shed its flesh; in the third there are only dry bones. Several horsemen, who appear to be of distinguished rank, examine these corpses; one of them is covering his nose. We see that the scene is based on the effect of this cemetary’s earth, which is said to have been brought from Jerusalem and to have been used to ballast forty or fifty galleys of the Pisans; a singular devotion, but very much in the taste of the twelfth century. Of all the maritime powers of that time, the Pisans are the only ones who imagined transporting soil from holy places to their own country.

Leandro Alberti (1479-1552), Descrittione di tutta Italia (1550)

Leandro Alberti, born in 1479 in Bologna (where he probably also died in 1552), was a Dominican friar and historian. He studied under the Bolognese rhetorician Giovanni Garzoni and in 1493 he joined the Dominican order. After he finished his philosophical and theological education, he went to Rome to serve as a secretary to his friend Francesco Silvestro. In 1517, he published six volumes of a treatise on the famous men of his order in collaboration with some of his friends such as Giovanni Garzoni among others. He was also part of the inquisition, probably as early as 1544, although he only used the title ‘inquisitore di Bologna’ from 1551. It is not clear if he remained official inquisitor until 1551 or 1552, the year of his death.
Alberti published several works, but he is mainly known for his Descrittione di tutta Italia, which was published in the vernacular in Bologna in 1550, and was followed by a Latin translation in 1567. The Descrittione is almost 500 pages long and was dedicated to Henry II of France and his wife Catherine de Medici. To a large extent, he follows the earlier work of Flavio Biondo. The book is divided into different regions of Italy. In comparison to Biondo, he divides Italy into 19 rather than 18 regions. This expansion is due to the fact that he added the Italian islands (not mentioned in Biondo’s work) as part of his description. He is also more precise in dealing with his sources and is clearer in presenting them. Still, he doesn’t see his broad collection of materials through a critical lens and often follows Raffaello Maffai or Annio da Viterbo. Viterbo was a Domincan friar and is known to have faked historical documents. In the Descrittione, Alberti presents historical and political, but also topographical and archeological descriptions. One can find a description of Pisa over several pages, where he mentions the Camposanto and the legend of the holy earth that was brought to Pisa by Archbishop Ubaldo after the failed Third Crusade. This makes his work a valuable source for any study of literature mentioning the Camposanto.


Source: Leandro Alberti, Descrittione di tutta Italia (Bologna: Anselmo Giaccarelli, 1550).


“Vero è che dopo tre giorni fecero pace insieme à suasione die Gregorio Ottavo, ch’era venuto a Pisa. Et così mandaro Lanfranco loro Arcivescovo con cinquanta Galere a Federico Barbarossa chi volea passare all’acquisto di Terra santa. Vero è che poi essendo pericolato nel fiume il Barbarossa, empiendo li navili di Terra santa ritornaro a Pisa e di quella Terra ne fù fatto Campo santo. Poscia più prevalendo loro la amicitia di Federico secondo della Chiesa nemico che l’osservanza, che semprea haveano havuto al Pontefice e agli huomini Ecclesiastici, à suasione de ‘l detto Federico pigliaono Giacomo Vescovo Prenestino e Odone amendue Cardinali della Chiesa Romana con molti altri Prelati, che di Francia passavano al Concilio Lateranense, ove era Gregorio Nono Papa con assai Prelati ra[d]unati contra Federico.”


It is true that after three days they made peace at the behest of Gregory VIII, who came to Pisa. They sent their Archbishop Lanfranco with fifty galleys to Frederick Barbarossa who wanted to proceed to purchase the holy earth. It is true that Barbarossa drowned, and the ship filled with the holy earth returned and this holy earth was made Camposanto. For them, the friendship with Frederick, the second enemy of the church, was more important than the observance always held by the pontifex and other churchmen. At the suggestion of the aforementioned Frederick, they captured Giacomo Vescovo Prenestino and Odone, both cardinals of the Roman church, and many other prelates who travelled from France to the Lateran Council, where Pope Gregory IX and other prelates against Frederick met.

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