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Fibonacci's statue in Pisa

by Gian Marco Rinaldi

Fibonacci. Giovanni Paganucci, 1863.
Pisa, Camposanto Monumentale.
Foto Frank Johnson, 1978.

Fibonacci. Giovanni Paganucci, 1863.
Pisa, Camposanto Monumentale.
Foto A.

If you visit the famous Piazza dei Miracoli in Pisa, you may enter the Camposanto Monumentale (the ancient cemetery annexed to the cathedral). There, in a corner at one end of the long cloister, stands the imposing nineteenth-century marble statue of Leonardo Pisano, or Fibonacci as he is better known in modern times. The inscription on the pedestal reads: “A Leonardo Fibonacci Insigne Matematico Pisano del Secolo XII”. The indication of the 12th Century is not quite exact, as Leonardo lived from about 1170 to the 1240s and his books were produced, starting in 1202, during the first decades of the 13th Century.

If observed at close distance, the statue shows the scars of the wounds it suffered during World War II, but it has been satisfactorily restored and at first sight it looks as if practically undamaged. However the fingers are lacking from both hands.

The likeness of the statue is a work of fiction. Any portrait or statue of Leonardo must have been created out of fantasy, since there are not extant any contemporary portraits of him and nobody knows what his appearance looked like.

The initiative of honouring the memory of Fibonacci with this statue was not taken in Pisa but in Florence. The merit goes to two politicians from ancient aristocratic families in Tuscany: baron Bettino Ricasoli and marquis Cosimo Ridolfi. In 1859 the Grand Duke had been exiled and the following year Tuscany was to be annexed to the Savoy reign, soon to become the new unified Italian state. During the intervening months, Tuscany was ruled by a provisional government. Ricasoli was the Prime Minister and Ridolfi was the Secretary for education. They both were active in promoting culture (they founded a modern institute for advanced studies that later became the University of Florence). With a decree of 23 September, 1859, they resolved that the State of Tuscany should finance the carving of a statue of Fibonacci, “the initiator of algebraic studies in Europe”, to be placed in Pisa.

The work was commissioned to a sculptor in Florence, Giovanni Paganucci. The statue was finished in 1863 and was placed in the Camposanto of Pisa, where other statues of eminent personages were kept.

In 1926 the fascist authorities in Pisa removed three of the statues from the Camposanto and placed them in three squares of the town. They tought that the statues should be visible to all the people and not kept hidden within a cloister. All the three statues were of personages called “Pisano”: one was our Leonardo, the other two were the famous sculptors and architects, father and son, Nicola and Giovanni Pisano. (Of course “Pisano” means simply “from Pisa” and in medieval times, when the use of surnames was not yet established, it was customary to designate persons from their town.) A sentence was added to the inscription on the pedestal of each statue: “From Oblivion to Glory for Fascist Will”. Perhaps this inscription was the reason why one night in 1945 the statue of Giovanni was blown up with gunpowder at the hand of unknown persons.

Fibonacci’s statue was placed in a prominent position, just in front, at its southern end, of Ponte di Mezzo, the bridge on the river Arno at the centre of the town. In 1944, when American and German troops fighted for over a month from the opposite sides of the river, the town suffered from widespread destruction. The area around Ponte di Mezzo was gravely ruined and several buildings, and the bridge itself, were destroyed. But the statue was still standing, even if somewhat damaged, when the battle ended. At this website,


one can see a photograph (Figure 14) with a view of the place as it showed after the battle. One can discern, a little to the right from the centre of the photograph, the white profile of the tall statue on the dark background of the "Logge".

Now the statue had to be removed for leaving space for the rebuilding of the bridge. The Camposanto was itself partly ruined and under restoring. The statue was enclosed inside a depôt and left there forgotten for several years. Eventually it was somewhat repaired and was placed at Giardino Scotto (Scotto Garden), a small park up the river at the eastern access to the old town. The street that borders the wall of Giardino Scotto and runs along the river is called Lungarno Fibonacci. (Lungarno is the common name for any street running along the river Arno.) It was as recently as 1950 that a street in Pisa was named after Fibonacci, even if there are no less than nine other streets named after the one or the other of the many Pisanos who honoured the ancient history of the town.

Finally, in the years around 1990 the statue was accurately restored and was placed back in the Camposanto where it belongs.

Reference: Bernardini R., "Leonardo Fibonacci nella iconografia e nei marmi." Pisa Economica, 1977 (1), 36-39.

Traducción castellana.


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Alberto Rodríguez Santos.
Correo: alberto@epsilones.com.
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