GOTHIC PERIOD, 1250-1400.
THIS school, whose centre was the city of Florence, is the first that won distinction, and is, perhaps, most important in Italian painting.
Characteristics. Early subjects, wholly religious ; later, classic themes were introduced ; expressive, idealistic, and severe ; great attention paid to the human figure, in which it excelled after the beginning of the fifteenth century; drawing and composition more important than color, which is cool and simple.
Cimabue (1240-1302), born in Florence, is the first painter who won fame by decidedly improving the Byzantine style, although Margaritone (1216 about 1290), of Arezzo, whose work may be seen in Santa Croce, Florence, and National Gallery, London, gave a faint expression to the Byzantine forms he so faithfully copied.
Cimabue was of noble birth and was a friend of Dante, whom legend declares to have been at one time his pupil. He was an ambitious man, a believer in himself, and scornful of others’ criticism ; hence was fitted to take his place as a pioneer, and was able to make his work of worth to mankind.
His style of drawing and painting is very like that of his predecessors. His pictures are Byzantine in character, thoroughly stiff in composition, painted on flat gold backgrounds. The high lights and drapery folds are indicated by gold. There is little knowledge of foreshortening or anatomy shown. The figures are destitute of proper proportions, and the hands and feet impossible. There is, however, a certain life infused into his work an expression, a feeling after the truths of nature, that had been wholly wanting for centuries.
He gave a slight turn to the head, avoided the round, staring eyes, but went to the other extreme by making them very long and narrow, and gave a faint expression to his faces.
He also changed somewhat the old stereotyped system of color, and gave more warmth to the flesh tints.
The Florentine people received his pictures with great joy. One of them, a ” Madonna and Christ-Child,” was borne from his studio without the city, through the streets of Florence, by a festive procession, with music and banners, and placed in the Rucellai Chapel-of Santa Maria Novella, where it still remains. It is painted on a wooden panel in tempera. Existing works by Cimabue are rare. These are :
” Madonna and Child.” Santa Maria Novella, Florence.
” Madonna and Child.” Academy, Florence.
” Madonna and Child.” Louvre, Paris.
Frescoes representing scripture scenes. Church of St. Francis, Assisi (doubtful).
” Madonna and Child.” National Gallery, London (doubtful).
Giotto di Bondone (1276-1336), born in Vespignano, a few miles from Florence, is the greatest name in early Italian art, and, because of his influence, must be ranked high among the painters of all ages.
He was a protégé and pupil of Cimabue. The story of their meeting is interesting : Giotto, a shepherd boy, while tending his father’s sheep, often amused himself by drawing them on the ground with a pointed stone. One day he was surprised in this act by Cimabue, who, attracted by the boy, asked him to go to the city and live with him. Thus Giotto’s art life began.
The advance which Giotto wrought in painting may be explained by the fact that he was gifted with a love for the art of representation, with a keenness of observation, and with a bold disregard of traditions that enabled him to develop rapidly the spirit of change and growth in art that had already begun. He was a personal friend of Dante, and such an intimacy must have strengthened his conceptions of spiritual truths. His life was crowded with work. We read that he gathered about himself a large number of pupils, or followers, and journeyed into many of the Italian cities, leaving in each some pictures to tell of his visit.
Few other painters have exerted so great an influence as did Giotto. So far beyond all others of his time was he, that no real advance on his work was made for almost a hundred years after he lived.
Characteristics.In studying Giotto’s works we are at first struck by his originality of invention. He attempted many representations of scriptural scenes and occurrences in the lives of saints, that had never before been thought of, while those that had before been pictured he treated in a wholly new manner. He seems to have always shunned the old spirit of imitation.
He possessed a strong feeling for the dramatic, and employed many people to illustrate his story, introducing shepherds, servants, and even domestic animals. He linked the two interests, human and divine, by thus introducing common, everyday incidents into his pictures, and, therefore, he spoke to the hearts of the people who had before seen only the dreary monastic representations of the preceding centuries. He wrought a wonderful change in composition. Before him figures had been put in rows one above another, with little thought of connection between them. Giotto placed them in groups.
He drew his figures with a somewhat flexible movement, and introduced simple draperies falling in straight folds from the shoulders to or below the feet. His bodies are short and sturdy, his eyes are long and narrow (though much less so than those by Cimabue), and placed rather close together, and his chins are rounded and massive. His faces express fleeting emotions, that is, they smile and grieve, look angry or loving. He never arrived at beauty, but only at the expression of some feeling.
He abandoned the Byzantine manner of painting on a hard gold background, with colors thick and heavy, without any attempt at harmony or truth. He studied nature, and so we find his pictured people out in the open air, under the blue sky, with rocks and trees and grass about them, and dressed in fresh bright colors.
His technical representation, of course, falls far short of his design, because the laws of perspective, foreshortening, etc., were all unknown.
He could not draw his figures properly, and used often to put shoes and long draperies on his men and women rather than attempt to draw their feet, and could never make his figures look flat when he represented them as lying down.
His landscapes also were nothing but most imperfect and crude suggestions of the truth, but these are little things compared with the spirit and invention of his pictures and the changes he wrought.
Most of his painting is in fresco.
Most important works :
FRESCOES. ” Meeting of St. Joachim and St. Anna,” ” Birth of the Virgin.” Cloisters of Santa Maria Novella, Florence. Series of frescoes illustrating scenes in Life of St. Francis of Assisi. Bardi Chape], Santa Croce, Florence.
Series of frescoes illustrating Lives of St. John the Baptist and St. John the Evangelist. Peruzzi Chapel, Santa Croce, Florence.
These two series in Santa Croce were covered by white-wash about a century after Giotto’s death, and were not completely uncovered until 1863. The result of giving them back to the world of art has been to awaken a great enthusiasm with regard to Giotto and his work.
Series of about forty frescoes illustrating scenes in Lives of our Saviour, the Virgin Mary, and St. Anna. Arena Chapel, Padua. FRESCOES. Church of St. Francis, Assisi.
Recent criticism has cast much doubt on the authorship of the injured frescoes in the Chapel of the Bargello, Florence, which were formerly attributed to Giotto. Here is the celebrated portrait of Dante walking in Paradise, so often reproduced.
These were probably painted by one of Giotto’s pupils after the master’s death.
Taddeo Gaddi (1300 about 1366) is the most important of Giotto’s pupils. He imitated Giotto very closely, though he never equalled him. Indeed, the great number of Giotto’s pupils were always behind their master in the best qualities of his art.
Gaddi’s early work is his best, showing how much he owed to the direct influente of Giotto.
He differed from his master in the length and attenuation that he often gave to the limbs of his figures, while the hands and feet are short and coarse.
Some of his best work shows a fine feeling.
Many frescoes formerly attributed to this artist are now lost. Existing works are :
Frescoes illustrating scenes in the Life of the Virgin Mary. Baroncelli Chapel, Santa Croce, Florence.
Frescoes illustrating scenes in the Life of Christ. Spanish chapel, Santa Maria Novella, Florence. These have been attributed without question, until very recently, to Gaddi. At present critics are divided in opinion ; some still claim them to be his, while others think they were designed by him but painted by an inferior artist.
Agnolo Gaddi (about 1333 about 1396), son of Taddeo Gaddi, painted frescoes similar in character to those by his father.
Examples of frescoes are in the choir of Santa Croce, Florence ; some panel pictures in tempera are in Florence Academy.
Andrea da Firenze (dates of life unknown ; was working 1377) is another of Giotto’s followers whose work resembles that of Taddeo Gaddi.
Modern critics attribute to this painter important frescoes in the Spanish chapel, Santa Maria Novella, Florence, which hitherto have been ascribed to Simone Martini.
It has been learned, by a recently discovered receipt of payment dated 1377, that this artist also painted the upper series of frescoes illustrating scenes in the life of San Ranieri in the Campo Santo of Pisa. These have also hitherto been ascribed to Simone Martini.
Orcagna (Andrea di Cione : exact dates of life unknown; was painting probably from 13401375) was painter, sculptor, and architect. He is distinguished as being one of the most noted of the immediate successors of Giotto. It is, however, believed that he never knew that master personally.
In composition he advanced beyond Giotto.
His figures show a greater sense of beauty and proportion. His color was rendered softer and more harmonious by his study of the Siennese masters (Chap. VI), from whom also he learned to engraft a tenderness of expression upon the stern simplicity of the Giottesque School.
His paintings are among the masterpieces of the fourteenth century. These are :
A fine altar-piece and large frescoes representing the ” Last Judgment” and ” Paradise” (accounted his best work). Strozzi Chapel, Santa Maria Novella, Florence.
San Zenobio Enthroned.” Cathedral, Florence.
FRESCOES. Medici Chapel, Santa Croce, Florence.
“Coronation of the Virgin” (from Church San Piero Maggiore, Florence). National Gallery, London.
In the Campo Santo of Pisa are two very notable frescoes, ” The Last Judgment” and ” Triumph of Death,” which, on authority of Vasari, have for centuries been ascribed to Orcagna. Recent criticism has determined that the old historian was mistaken, but authorities differ regarding the authorship of the pictures. Crowe and Cavalcaselle advance the opinion that they were painted by the Lorenzetti brothers, Sienna (Siennese School), while Milanesi thinks they are the work of one Bernardo Daddi, a Florentine. Probably the question will never be satisfactorily settled.
Spinello Aretino (about 1333-1410), born in Arezzo, is the last great painter of the Giottesque School.
His painting, like that of Orcagna, shows both Florentine and Siennese influence.
Most important works :
Series of frescoes illustrating scenes in Life of St. Benedict. Sacristy of San Miniato, Florence.
Frescoes illustrating Lives of St. Efeso and St. Potito. Campo Santo, Pisa.
FRESCOES. Palazzo Pubblico, Sienna.
Fragments of fresco (from S. Maria degli Angeli, Arezzo). National Gallery, London.
Don Lorenzo Monaco (about 1370-1422), born in Sienna, was a monk and belonged to the monastery called degli Angioli, in Florence.
He united with the realism of the school of Giotto much of the idealism and religious fervor of expression for which Fra Angelico (his contemporary) is noted.
His execution is very tender and careful ; his color pure and harmonious.
He occasionally attempted to paint nude figures, and these are, of course, very unlifelike.
He improved upon the landscape backgrounds of his predecessors, for some of his show a close study of natural detail.
Only a few of his pictures remain
” Coronation of the Virgin.” Hall of Lorenzo Monaco, Uffizi Gallery, Florence. This picture contains more than a hundred figures.
“Virgin and Child with Saints,” “Adoration of the Kings.” Uffizi Gallery, Florence.
” Annunciation.” Florence Academy.
Fra Angelico (Giovanni Guido, 1387-1455), often called Il Beato (The Blessed) by the Italians, was for about thirty years a monk in the monastery of San Marco, Florence. He took little heed of the growth of art about him and clung to the quaint stiffness of the preceding century, but he infused into the old method of expression a peculiar beauty from his own nature. His name owes its high rank among the painters of his time to the religious sentiment of his work. It is this that earned for him the name of Angelico. He began all his painting with prayer, and then, believing that everything he accomplished was the direct result of divine inspiration, would not suffer himself to make any alterations.
Characteristics. His most frequent subjects represent the lowliness of soul of God’s servants and the devout beauty of angels. He was behind Giotto in composition, in force of expression, and in chiaroscuro. He excelled him in tenderness of expression.
This expression is centered in his faces, which possess a rapt beauty that is distinctively characteristic of the artist.
His figures are peculiarly quiet ; many have passive, folded hands. The motion of his angels, dancing in Paradise, is a most gentle motion, which in no wise disturbs the draperies.
His execution is elaborate, sometimes almost miniature-like in delicacy. His coloring is most pure and simple and has been little affected by time.
He could in no wise picture evil ; when he attempted to do so, as in his evil spirits in ” Last Judgment,” the result is comical. His latest works in Orvieto and Rome show the influence of the dawning Renaissance in a better drawing of the figure.
Most important works :
FRESCOES. San Marco, Florence. This monastery is now simply a museum of Fra Angelico’s works. Each of the nearly forty cells, formerly occupied by monks contains a fresco painted by him, while others’ are on the walls of corridors and various apartments.
“Last Judgment.” Florence Academy.
“Coronation of the Virgin,” ” Madonna and Child.” Uffizi Gallery, Florence. On the wide, flat, gold frame surrounding the latter picture are the twelve angels with musical instruments which are so widely known, either reproduced in color on gilded ;panels, or by photographs.
“Christ, Angels, Saints, and Prophets.” Orvieto Cathedral. Frescoes representing scenes in Lives of St. Stephen and St. Laurence. Vatican, Rome.
” Coronation of the Virgin,” ” Crucifixion.” Louvre, Paris. Predella’ of altar-piece (from Church San Domenico, Florence). National Gallery, London.
Andrea del Castagno (1390-1457) painted pictures full of force and energy, which give evidence of considerable study of the human figure in the nude. They are unattractive in design and color, but mark a step in the gradual evolution of Florentine art, since each figure seems instinct with individual character.
His best work is in the convent of S. Apollonia in Florence, where are powerful portraits of great Italians (Dante, Petrarch, and Boccaccio among them) and a “Last Supper,” which authorities claim to have influenced Leonardo da Vinci in his rendering of the same subject.
Quite a number of his paintings are in the Florence Academy.
Paolo Uccello (Paolo di Dono, 13971475), called Uccello on account of his love for birds, is chiefly famous for his mastery of the science of linear, perspective. His devotion to this study was so great that Vasari says he would often neither eat nor sleep, and when remonstrated with by his wife, would only reply, ” Oh ! this delightful perspective ! ” The knowledge gained and put into practice by him was a great help to contemporary artists.
His works are marked by much stiffness and exact drawing of detail, and by figures so designed as to exhibit to the fullest extent his knowledge of mathematical foreshortening.
Existing works are rare.
FRESCOES. Santa Maria Novella, Florence.
Equestrian Portrait of Sir John Hawkwood. Cathedral, Florence. Battle-pieces. Uffizi Gallery, Florence ; Louvre, Paris ; National Gallery, London.
A famous panel attributed to Uccello, containing portraits of Giotto, Brunelleschi, Donatello, Uccello, and Manetti, is in the Louvre, Paris.
Domenico Veneziano (1461), possibly born in Venice, belongs to the same group of artists as Castagno and Uccello, men whose advanced study of nature helped to prepare the way for the greater masters to follow.
During four centuries Castagno, on Vasari’s authority, bore the terrible accusation of having been the murderer of Veneziano through envy of the praises bestowed on the latter because of the beautiful results of his painting in the oil medium, which at this time was being gradually introduced into Italy.
It has, however, been conclusively proved that Veneziano did not die until several years after his alleged murderer.
Very few pictures by Veneziano are now in existence, and none in oils, although records show that he did freely use this medium. His works are :
Altar-piece, ” Madonna and Child,” in tempera. Uffizi Gallery, Florence.
” Madonna and Child.” Two Heads of Monks, in fresco. National Gallery, London.
Signor Morelli claims for Veneziano the frescoes of St. Francis and St. John the Baptist (usually attributed to Castagno), in Santa Croce, Florence.