Thursday, May 1, 2008

Giotto and the Dawn of the Renaissance

Schematic of Room 2 of the Uffizi - Giotto Revolution?
Giorgio Vasari in his famous book Lives (1550 first publication) has this whopper of a sentence as an opening for the chapter on Giotto di Bondone (c. 1267 – 1337):

“The very same debt painters owe to Nature, which continuously serves as an example to those who strive always to do their best by selecting her best and most beautiful parts in order to reproduce and imitate them, is also owed, in my opinion, to Giotto, the Florentine painter; for when the methods and outlines of good painting had been buried for so many years by the ruins of war, he alone, although among inept artists, revived through God’s grace what had fallen into an evil state and brought back to such a form that it could be called good.”

Imitate: because imitating nature was one of the themes common in the Renaissance. Fallen: because since the fall of Rome, there were basically no good painters and finally someone was picking up where artists left off over 1,000 years earlier.

One of the places to see the new style in contrast to the old style is in Room 2 of the Uffizi dealing with Giotto and 13th Century Painting. In that room you can compare the monumental altarpieces of Cimabue, Duccio and Giotto. All painted panels of the Madonna enthroned with angels with similar pictorial layouts, but Giotto’s is different in that it emphasizes the human characteristics of Mary whereas the others don’t. Heck, Mary even has breasts in Giotto’s rendition. Remember this is the early 1300s still just at the dawn of the Renaissance, but who can say exactly?

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