Cimabue is estimated to have lived 1240-1300. He was born in Florence and died in Pisa. Very little is known about Cimabue’s life, and nothing at all is known about his early training. He spent some time painting in Florence and is documented in Rome around 1270. Cimabue is famous as the last great painter of the Byzantine style, and as the teacher of Giotto, who was the first great painter of the Italian Renaissance. Using Byzantine techniques as a base, Cimabue broke away from the abstract style distinctive of his time and rekindled the art world interest in emotion, narrative, and naturalism.

Cimabue was likely influenced by Giunta Pisano and Coppo di Marcovaldo, other early Florentine painters. He was a contemporary of Dante Alighieri, and the relationship between Cimabue and Giotto (a rivalry, in which the latter overshadowed the former’s fame) is referenced briefly in the Divine Comedy. According to an anonymous documenter, Cimabue was extremely proud.

Works:

Crucifix, 1287-1288 Oil on panel. Santa Croce Basilica, Florence

Crucifix, 1287-1288
Oil on panel. Santa Croce Basilica, Florence

Madonna Enthroned with the Child, St. Francis, St. Domenico and two Angels, not dated Tempera on panel. Uffizi Gallery, Florence

Madonna Enthroned with the Child, St. Francis, St. Domenico and two Angels, not dated
Tempera on panel. Uffizi Gallery, Florence

Madonna in Majesty, 1285-1286 Tempera on panel. Uffizi Gallery, Florence

Madonna in Majesty, 1285-1286
Tempera on panel. Uffizi Gallery, Florence

This piece features some common Christian iconography from midieval art, primarily focusing on the enthroned Virgin Madonna holding the baby Jesus, surrounded by angels. Mary is recognizable from her blue clothing, covered hair, and peaceful expression. Below Mary’s throne sit the prophets Jeremiah and Isaiah on the sides, as well as Abraham and King David in the center. These four figures symbolize the foundation of Christ’s kingdom and are thus fittingly placed beneath Mary’s throne.

This “majesty” scene (or “maesta” in Italian) is a common iconographic composition in Madonna paintings, featuring a seated Madonna and child, potentially accompanied by angels or saints. This formula is a counterpart of the “Christ in Majesty” iconography popular in the Byzantine style, which featured a seated Jesus surrounded by angels or saints. The Maesta is a slightly more formal rendition of the more common “Madonna and child” subject.

The piece is most formally governed by symmetry and balance. The Madonna is placed directly in the center, and is balanced on both sides by an equal number of angels in parallel locations and wearing the same colors. The four figures under the throne are equally balanced, even mimicking each other’s poses down to the tilt of the head. The geometry is seen from perfectly straight-on and recedes cleanly into the center of the image. The only thing slightly asymmetrical is the child, which is still balanced by the Madonna’s right arm.

The composition is visually divided into three rows and three columns. The light sides of Mary’s throne create a distinct division between her long blue cloak and the angels beside her, which then flow into the center two columns at the bottom, creating a vertical division of three sections. Horizontally, an upper row is created by the red fabric cutting through the sides of the throne and by Mary’s arm and the child. The dark geometry of the receding floor creates another visual line and separates the lower third of the image into another row. This tripartite division is characteristic of much religious art, symbolizing the trinity. This sort of composition is also rooted as far back as the Roman Republic, first appearing on Roman wall paintings.

Cimabue’s Byzantine influences are evident in the flat forms of the figures and the simple shading on their skin. The slight tilt of Mary’s head (and also the heads of the angels) is a common characteristic of Byzantine figures. These elements create a feeling of the abstract. This is contrasted against the geographic realism in the throne and floor, which recede backwards into perspective and create an illusion of depth. The striking contrast of the bright yellow background against the dark blues and browns of the figures also add a layer of emotion and drama. The geography and narrative are more characteristic of Italian Renaissance art, calling to mind Giotto’s future style, and thus quite novel for Cimabue’s time. The combination of Byzantine and Renaissance styles, together in the same image, mark Cimabue as a major player in the transition between them in his contemporary art world.

Citations:

“Cimabue”. Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica Online.

Encyclopædia Britannica Inc., 2013. Web. 09 Aug. 2013

<http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/117871/Cimabue>.

“Madonna in Majesty.” Web Gallery of Art. Emil Kren and Daniel Marx, n.d. Web. 09 Aug. 2013.

Advertisements