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Harmonia Time Capsule: 1250

Detail from the façade of Siena Cathedral. Much of the work on the façade was overseen by Giovanni Pisano.

In Italy, two prominent artists were born in 1250, one going on to work with stone, the other with words.

Giovanni Pisano, son of the famous sculptor Nicola Pisano, worked extensively within Pisa, Siena, and Pistoia.  Pisano's sculptures for the Pisa Cathedral and the Church of San Giovanni featured a blend of Gothic and Roman architectural style, and his statues created for the facade of Siena Cathedral garnered his title: "the first modern sculptor.”

Florentine poet Guido Cavalcanti worked amid the turmoil of a power struggle between the Guelphs who supported the Pope and Ghibellines who backed the Holy Roman Emperor.  Guido secured his interests through an advantageous marriage to the daughter of the Ghibelline party leader.  His poetry demonstrated sensitivity to both current events and centuries-old poetic forms, and he helped develop a distinct Tuscan tradition of courtly love poetry, influenced by French troubadour and trobairitz and the Sicilian School.  The dolce stil novo, or “sweet new style,” may also have influenced Guido's close poet-friend Dante during his composition of La vita nuova.

Also in Italy, mathematician Leonardo Fibonacci died in 1250.  Fibonacci was the son of a wealthy merchant who often traded in Bugia, a Mediterranean port in what’s now Algeria. There, Fibonacci was exposed to the Hindu-Arabic numeral system.  Finding it to be more efficient than the Roman numeral system, he traveled across the region to study with many of the leading Arabic mathematicians of his time.  Following his exploration, Fibonacci published his findings in the Liber abaci or the “Book of Abacus,” which helped introduce to Europe the digits 0 through 9, as well as another well-known sequence of numbers—the Fibonacci sequence, in which each number is the sum of the previous two.

In Germany in 1250, Albertus Magnus, a Domincan friar, isolated the element arsenic.  Albertus's advocacy for the coexistence of science and religion gained him a reputation as a master alchemist.  Subsequent generations claimed he had even discovered the philosopher's stone.  Throughout his life, Albertus cultivated an extensive knowledge of the natural world.  In addition to advancements in metallurgy, he is also credited with the first usage of the word “oriole,” an onomatopoeic term inspired by the bird's very song.

The year 1250 also saw the birth of composer Jehan de Lescurel.  It is believed that Jehan was born in Paris and received his musical training at Notre Dame Cathedral.  His compositions include examples of the poetical formes fixes: the rondeau, virelai, and ballade.  A number of these works feature prominently in the Roman de Fauvel.  A long-standing myth states that Jehan, along with three other young clerics, was condemned for debauchery and sentenced to death by hanging.  Scholars now believe this to be false, speculating that, in fact, another cleric by the name of Jehan was hanged for the lecherous crimes.

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