Monday, 7 January 2013

Cimabue and the Byzantine Influence.

According to Vasari, the young Cimabue neglected his letters and played truant; he visited the “Byzantine” artists working at Santa Maria Novella and soon surpassed them when he became a professional artist.  Unfortunately Vasari is typically disparaging towards the Florentine Byzantine artists and leaves us little idea of what their paintings looked like. 
Attributed to Coppo di Marcovaldo - Mosaic on the vault (Detail of Christ). Second half of thirteenth century. Baptistery, Florence.
Mosaics exist  in the Baptistery in Florence; these may have been painted by Coppo di Marcovaldo about 1260, but we glean something of the Byzantine style from looking at earlier pictures by the Berlinghieri, a family of artists from nearby Lucca, and a group of artists who may have influenced Cimabue. The Berlinghieri have been consistently misunderstood, but thanks to the pioneering scholarship of Edward Garrison, they have been rescued from obscurity, and their relationship to Florentine painting better understood.[1] 

  Berlinghiero, Madonna and Child, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, about 1230-40, tempera on wood, gold ground, 80.3 x 53.6 cm.
 A good place to start is the wonderful panel of a Madonna and Child in New York which is perhaps the best preserved example of Byzantine-influenced painting in Lucca.[2] This panel probably dates from about 1230-40, much earlier than Cimabue, and may be compared with other works that show a stronger Byzantine influence. 

  Berlinghiero, Madonna and Child, (“Madonna di sotto gli organi”), possibly 1225, Pisa Cathedral, panel.
 For example, the heavily damaged “Madonna di sotto gli organi” for its position which may even date from the beginning of the thirteenth-century. It may be by a Pisan artist, a Byzantine artist working in Pisa, or even one of the Berlinghieri themselves. [3] Both of these works should be compared with a genuine Byzantine Madonna, a portable mosaic shown here. 

Portable mosaic, St Catherine's Monastery, Mount Sinai, prob. 11th cent.

[1] Edward Garrison, “Toward a New History of Early Lucchese Painting”, the Art Bulletin, Vol. 33, No. 1 (Mar., 1951), pp. 11-31.
[2] Federico Zeri, Met catalogue, Italian Paintings: Florentine School, 1971, 1-3. See also Victor Lasareff, “Two Newly-Discovered Pictures of the Lucca School”, The Burlington Magazine for Connoisseurs, Vol. 51, No. 293 (Aug., 1927), pp. 56-67.
[3] Edward Garrison, “Post-War Discoveries III, “The Madonna di sotto gli organi”, The Burlington Magazine for Connoisseurs, Vol. 89, No. 535 (Oct., 1947), pp. 274-281.

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