Friday, 18 January 2013

Giotto's Crucifix.

Giotto, Crucifix, 1290-1300. Tempera on wood, 578 x 406 cm, Santa Maria Novella, Florence.

The story of Florentine painting in the thirteenth-century could be considered the encroachment of an increasingly naturalistic style on the Byzantine obsession with pattern and form. This struggle is encapsulated in the “genre” of the crucifix which pins the human cross of Christ to a wooden structure of the same shape.  A comparison between Cimabue’s treatment of the type- shown last week- and Giotto’s version reveals striking differences, even from painters who were contemporaries of one another. In the words of Bruce Cole, “the remote, heroic Son of God has been replaced by a very human image of a dead man divested of all the old associations of hierarchical grandeur which date back to the very beginning of Florentine art.” [1] Amongst the modifications is the reversal of the “S” curve of Christ’s body, so that Giotto’s Christ resembles less a formalized shape and more a real man. Instead of moving the figure laterally, the figure is moved back into depth alerting us to the discovery of pictorial space which commences with Giotto and culminates in the precision of the later quattrocento.  Function has won out over form. In Giotto’s Crucifix, light is used more naturalistically; and colour is used with restraint, as can be seen by comparing Giotto’s colouring of Christ’s body with Cimabue’s.  

[1] Bruce Cole, Giotto and Florentine Painting 1280-1375, (New York, 1976), 40.

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