Catholic Encyclopedia (1913)/Fra Guglielmo Agnelli

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From volume 1 of the work.

Agnelli, Guglielmo, Fra, sculptor and architect, b. at Pisa, probably in 1238; d. probably in 1313. He was a pupil of Niccolo Pisano, who had then brought the art of sculpture to a great perfection, modelled on Greek and Roman ideas, matured by the study of actual truth, and preserving only such traditions of the earlier medieval school as seemed necessary for Christian art at a time when art was truly the handmaid of religion. Agnelli joined the Dominican Order at Pisa in 1257, as a lay brother. He was soon engaged in work on the convent of the brethren at Pisa and built the campanile of the Abbey of Settimo, near Florence. His best work is the series of marble reliefs executed, in conjunction with Pisano, for the famous tomb of St. Dominic in the church of that Saint at Bologna. The figures on the funeral urn, in Mezzo-rilievo, are about two feet high. Fra Guglielmo's work on the posterior face of the tomb deals with six Dominican legends, vis: the Blessed Reginald smitten by a distemper; the Madonna healing a sick man and pointing to the habit of the Friars Preachers, indicating that he should assume it; the same man freed from a terrible temptation by holding St. Dominic's hands; Honorius III having his vision of St. Dominic supporting the falling Lateran Basilica; Honorius examining the Dominican rule, and his solemn approbation of it. This work afforded little scope to Fra Guglielmo's imaginative powers, but its masterly execution places him among the greatest artists of his time, second only to his master, Niccolo Pisano. On the other hand, the figures show some faultiness characteristic of the period in the stiffness and lack of finish in the extremities. They are also crowded into too narrow limits. Fra Guglielmo and Niccolo also embellished the upper cornice of the urn with acanthus leaves and birds. We know no more of Fra Guglielmo until 1293 when we find him occupied on the famous Cathedral of Orvieto. Though his share in the sculptures of this edifice is not fully established, it is believed that the bas-reliefs are in great part his work. The length of time he spent at Orvieto is also unknown. In 1304 he was engaged on works of sculpture and architecture at his native Pisa, and was called upon to adorn the façade of the Church of San Michele di Borgo with historical bas-reliefs. These labours, together with his work on other parts of that church, and the construction of a pulpit, engaged him for the remaining nine years of his life. Fra Guglielmo was not only the foremost among the Dominican sculptors, but according to Marchese, "by reason of his many and important works, deserves to be ranked among the grandest Italian sculptors, far excelling all contemporaries. Arnolfo, Giovanni Pisano, and his master excepted."

Marchese, Lives of the Most Eminent Painters, Sculptors and Architects of the Order of St. Dominic (tr. Dublin, 1852), I, 38–70; Mortier, Histoire des maîtres généraux de l'ordre des Frères Pricheurs (Paris, 1905), II, 46–61; Berthier, Le tombeau de Saint Dominique (Paris, 1895); Razzi, Vite de' Santi e Beati Domenicani, I 296 sqq.