By Ragnhild Marthine Bø
Medievalista Online, Vol.4:4 (2008)
Introduction: There are four Gothic ciboria in Rome today: one in S. Paolo, executed by Arnolfo di Cambio (c.1240-1302) in 1285, one in S. Cecilia, also by Arnolfo di Cambio, made in 1293, one in S. Maria in Cosmedin, made by Deodato di Cosma (active c.1290-1305) in 1296, and, finally, one in S. Giovanni in Laterano, attributed to Giovanni di Stefano (active c.1365-1395) and assistants, which was carried out between 1367-1369. The ones made by Arnolfo and Deodato are altar ciboria, while the one in Lateran is a reliquary ciborium.
These Gothic ciboria differs from the ciboria constructed in the 12th and the first half of the 13th century, i.e. the ciboria executed by the so-called cosmati, in two ways: In architectural terms by being centred around a pitched roof, having trefoil arches, gables and pinnacles; in iconographical terms by being enriched with narrative decoration, i.e. statues, reliefs and frescoes. The ciboria have all been given scholarly attention in various studies concentrated on style, typology and attribution. The aim of this short article, however, is to take a closer look at a hitherto ignored aspect of the Gothic ciboria in Rome, i.e. their iconography. An interpretation of the iconography will, I believe, throw some light upon the ciboria’s pedagogical and political raison d’être.