Friday, 11 January 2013

Cimabue and Duccio in Florence.

Despite Cimabue wishing to experiment and develop new iconography and ways of painting, he was probably kept in check when he left Assisi and began painting in Florence in about 1283, due to the conservative climate there. His great rival here would have been Duccio whose installment of an altarpiece for Santa Maria Novella, followed by a legendary celebration, might have been seen in the eyes of the Florentines as a defeat for Cimabue.The fact is that Santa Maria Novella was a much more prestigious commission, and a surprising choice given that Duccio was from Siena.

View of Santa Trinità, Central Florence, begun 1092

  Façade of Santa Maria Novella, 1221, comp. by Alberti in 1470.
 A good comparison of the styles of Cimabue and Duccio can be seen by considering the former’s Madonna for Santa Trinita, (Uffizi) with the Sienese master, Duccio’s Rucellai Madonna

1 Cimabue, The Madonna in Majesty (Maestà), 1285-86, Tempera on panel, 385 x 223 cm, Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence.

An important question is which came first within Florentine stylistic evolution? Duccio made trips to Siena (8th Oct, 1285) (Jan, 1286). In the winter of 1287-8 he delivered the design for the circular windows of Siena Cathedral. 

Duccio, Rucellai Madonna, 1285, Tempera on wood, 429 x 290 cm, Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence.
 Given the large dimensions of the Rucellai altarpiece, could this have been executed outside  the city or within the convent itself? Duccio would have had to spend summers traveling from one city to another; which were the effective working months of the year.  We also have to take into account the personalities of the two painters.  Duccio had a reputation for being more bohemian, and mercurial; in contrast, Cimabue was thought more business-minded and practical.

Stylistically the altarpieces are very different. Cimabue’s ST altar has “unostentatious Gothic” qualities unlike Duccio’s is which a “clear homage to France.” (Battista)

What follows is a paraphrase of Battista's analysis of the Cimabue altarpiece. 

In Cimabue’s painting everything is symmetrical, which might be due to the use of identical models. Cimabue’s altar demonstrates meticulous and strict execution of details: exact geometrical and round pupils; continual deployment of the narrow hooked up band in the angel’s hair. Cimabue also repeats the angels’ colours on both sides of the throne. Though the prevailing symmetry might be due to workshop practice, it might also reflect knowledge of the idea within theological texts of the times. The treatment of the throne is innovative; no steps, but an architecturally precise, yet mystical sense of proportion. In some ways Cimabue anticipates the Florentine dilemma of negotiating between a non-perspectival Gothic and the architecturally conditioned space found in later paintings on this course. There are echoes of the Byzantine treatment of the throne in Cimabue, but with that school of painting, the throne was a symbol of the ascent to heaven, whilist for Cimabue, the emphasis is downward towards the earth. Giotto would add to the throne’s gravity by making it marble instead of wood. Though Cimabue’s faces conform to formulas for the Late Medieval concept of beauty, there are modifications, The Madonna’s face though suggestive of an ancient Byzantine-icon, is softened by a moving smile; and curved delicate brush strokes of flesh are used to convey her tiny mouth. Her eyes have stylistic elegance though the pupils look natural. The tempering of the Byzantine style extends to the prophets down below whose faces are naturalized, not used as vehicles for expression. Note also what Battista calls the “almond shaped stylization of the eyes”, possibly influenced by “oriental objects” brought to Florence by an Apostolic Mission, or maybe by knowledge of treatises on optics. That last hypothesis however may be a fancy of Battista who has a tendency to see Cimabue as an erudite painter.

This is a three shot with Giotto's Ognissanti Madonna ( about 1301-2) flanked by Cimabue's and Duccio's. I'll compare Cimabue and Giotto in another post.

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