Sunday 27 January 2013

Recovering the Dugento.

 Master of the Orcangesque Misericordia, Head of Christ, c. 1380, tempera on wood, gold ground, 29.5 x 20.6 cm, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.
It would be a mistake to think that Giotto’s achievement marked the demise of the Dugento Byzantine- influenced style in Florence. For a long time, the advent of Giotto was put on a par with the shifting of tectonic plates, or a form of continental drift, but the situation was more complicated than that. As Meiss pointed out, even though Giotto’s followers transcended and denied the Dugento, they nonetheless assimilated some of it into their own art. Reactionary artists like Orcagna attempted the recovery of the thirteenth-century or Dugento, though his roots are still in Giotto. [1] The residue of Pre-Giotto-esque painting is revealed by scrutiny of iconography, expression and colour. For example, the colours of Dugento panels and mosaics show up in the work of Florentine masters like Jacopo di Cione, one of Orcagna’s brothers (though more sombre in hue), Giovanni di Milano (favoured a light apple green), and Niccolo do Tomasso (light orange, especially in the hair). A particularly revealing panel in the Met, once attributed to Bernardo Daddi, a Holy Face, has flesh colours of dark red-brown, with terra verde underpainting, which is known to have used in Byzantine art.[2]
 Niccolò di Tommaso, St Bridget and the Vision of the Nativity, after 1372, Pinacoteca, Vatican, Tempera on wood, 44 x 54 cm.
 Giovanni di Milano, Madonna and Child with Donors, c. 1365, tempera on wood, gold ground, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.
 Jacopo di Cione, Coronation of the Virgin, 1370s, Panel, Galleria dell'Accademia, Florence.

[1] Meiss, Painting in Florence and Siena After the Black Death, 44.
[2] Federico Zeri, Met catalogue, Italian Paintings: Florentine School, 1971. See also Meiss, 35-8.

The Giottos and Anti- Giottos in Fourteenth-Century Florentine Art.

San Miniato  al Mont, Florence.
According to a Florentine writer, Franco Sacchetti, an important meeting between a group of celebrated Florentine painters occurred just outside the city, at San Miniato al Monte in 1390, where a discussion on painting took place.[1] In response to the question “Who was the greatest master of painting we have had, other than Giotto,” some of the company replied, Cimabue, some Stefano, some Bernardo (Daddi), and various others. One master present at this conference, Taddeo Gaddi, sounded a pessimistic note. “Certainly there have been plenty of skilful painters, and they have painted in a manner that it is impossible for human hand to equal; but this art has grown and continues to grow worse day by day.” Commenting on this story- which he included in his important study, Painting in Florence and Siena After the Black Death- Millard Meiss observed that the choice of competitors for Giotto was “remarkable.”[2] Interestingly, Taddeos’s melancholic announcement was heard by Orcagna, thought then to be the premier Florentine Trecento painter after Giotto. For some reason Maso di Banco, now thought to be the finest interpreter of Giotto’s art is not mentioned. As Meiss noted, Taddeo’s dismissal of Orcagna and his followers, by omission, all of whom were considered inferior to Maso, suggest “a profound truth.” This is that there was a great difference between the art of Orcagna and his contemporaries from that of Giotto and his successors in the earlier part of the Trecento, or the fourteenth-century.

[1] Sacchetti, Trecento novella, c. 1390.
[2] Millard Meiss, Painting in Florence and Siena After the Black Death, (New York, 1964, rep. 1974), 3, and Appendix III, 172-4.