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Friday, 3 June 2016

Painting of the Month (62) June 2016: Cimabue

Cimabue: Fresco in the Basilica di San FrancescoAssisi c.1278
The picture depicts the Madonna and Child with four Angels and St Francis 
Sometimes in art, as in life in general, greatness is soon eclipsed by a still superior greatness. Cimabue (1240 - 1302) was the last great Byzantine painter but his pupil Giotto is generally regarded as the first great painter of the Italian Renaissance.  Today the name of Cenni di Pepi, known as Cimabue (pronounced as Cheema-boo-ay) is barely known while the genius of Giotto is rightly recognised. The characteristics of Byzantine painting were; an almost total concern with religious expression, mainly icons;  flatness and lack of perspective; often a severe almost abstract other-worldly style was used and background and highlights were of gold which had the ability to make a solitary figure appear to be floating somewhere between the wall and the viewer. The intention was to depict images of the divine that were raised above the mundane. Despite, or possibly because of these restrictions, the art managed to convey great beauty.
St Francis, detail
It can be seen from the detail, left, that Cimabue was beginning to get some individual expression into the faces he painted. Before his time there was no individuality shown in portraits. It's important to realise that new styles in art don't just cut in with the suddenness of a banjo chord; Cimabue was a genuine link between Byzantine and Renaissance art. Little is known about his life although a few details are given in Vasari's Lives of the Painters (1550).
I'm listening to a cast recording of the 'American Tribal Love-Rock Musical' Hair. The current track is 'What a Piece of Work is Man', lyrics by W.Shakespeare. Listen here.


Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Bazza - how interesting to read about Cimabue - I'd never heard of him ... but the links here re Byzantine and Renaissance art ... fascinating for someone like me loves to learn. I must one day read more about Vasari.

The development of perspective into art works in those early centuries is interesting to read about ... and then that lightening and lifting with highlights of gold ...

Thanks so much .. cheers Hilary

bazza said...

Hello Hilary. I thought I'd give him a little bit of promotion as he seems to be fairly well overlooked! For early examples of perspective in Renaissance art you might check out Masolono's St Peter Healing a Cripple or Ucello's Battle of San Ramono.

Anonymous said...

From the desktop of the sensational Sir Tom Eagerly:
Well Bazza old son, it looks like you have finally resorted to making things up. Cheema-boo-ay indeed. Oops!, nearly knocked over my fourth glass this morning of Chateau Margaux 2011 (Premier Cru of course). Cheers, Sir Tom

bazza said...

Sir Tom, I thought you had given up on the world (or vice-versa!). I suppose they have released you into the community again.....

All Consuming said...

I think I'd like it better in real life, the gold would stand out and shimmer some methinks. This kind of artwork can be my bag, but it isn't very often. Interesting to see it mind you *smiles and waves*.

bazza said...

Hi AC.I suppose this post was more about the artist than the painting but I am interested in the way one can look, in retrospect and the slow 'progress' of art through the ages and understand better what we see today. Just sayin'.

David said...

Hi bazza,
I quite like the painting and find very old works of art quite fascinating. I hadn't heard of Cimabue before, but was, of course, familiar with the name of Giotto. Indeed, wasn't it Giotto who was famous for drawing a perfect circle freehand, or is that just some historical myth that I've picked up along the way?
Fascinating post, bazza. And well done Sir Tom Eagerly for drinking Chateau Margaux in the morning!
Best Wishes,

bazza said...

Hello David. Vasari relates that it was Giotto who drew a perfect circle to demonstrate his ability to a messenger from the Pope.
Sir Tom is a rascally reprobate!

Sherry Ellis said...

Interesting that he started incorporating expression on the faces of the people in his pictures. I think the expressions make the art more interesting.

John said...

Hi Bazza! Saw a lot of 'Religous' art when visiting Florence a few years back. Not really my cup of tea, but the vibrancy of the colours is something that sticks in my mind.

bazza said...

Hi Sherry. It was probably that the concept of the 'individual' was relatively unknown at that time. It was quite progressive to recognise it!

bazza said...

Hi John. It doesn't really appeal to me either because it's just too far removed from modern times. I just think it's interesting to look back at these early work from an 'art historical' viewpoint - which is what I have done here! I enjoyed the religious art in Florence too.

klahanie said...

Hello Bazza, old chap,

Once again, you enlighten your adoring fans. And this particular adoring fan had never heard of the dude. Yet, you have brought awareness with your informative articulation.

I thank you, sir.


bazza said...

Hi Gary. Would you like an autograph? I like to keep in touch with my fans! :-)