Cimabue and Giotto: Madonna Enthroned

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Cimabue, Madonna Enthroned, c 1280-90, Tempera on panel, c 1280-90, Italo-Byzantine style

During the 13th century much of Italian art was influenced by the Byzantine art style due to powerful influences of its empire. Cimabue’s, Madonna Enthrone altarpiece is a great example of the early Italo style to the traditional Byzantine art style. Cimabue was born in Florence and learned Greek tradition of art, and was possibly trained in the Byzantine art style as well. The Madonna Enthrone clearly exemplifies the influences of Byzantine style in the use of patterns and ‘stiff’ body forms and faces. The understanding of depth and perception was not regarded at the time. 13th Century Byzantine art was focused on the content of holy figures; disregarding the proportions of the bodies and faces. Thus, important figures are shown to be of larger scale than less important figures. This is seen with Madonna and Christ centered and painted in much larger scale than the surrounding angels or the smaller Hebrew Biblical prophets below. Another indication of Byzantine art is the use of gold to represent holiness and divinity. This panel is 3.9 x 2.2 meter and is garnished in goal leaf. Cimabue’s, Madonna Enthroned is one of his most  important works due to the use of gold leaf and blue pigment (very rare at the time). Also, the Byzantine influence is clearly shown in the emphasis of patterns to show textures of the figures.  However, Cimabue didn’t realize that his art style had a huge influence because his works are one of the first shifts into Italo-Byzantine style art. The blue rope of Madonna is lined with white lines and shapes to show depth and life to the fabric, which had never been seen before. Further more, he attempted to use shadows and patterns to create perspective to the painting. For example the arches at the bottom to the throne, where the Hebrew Prophets stand are in a darker tone than the pillars supporting the arches.

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Giotto, Madonna Enthroned, c 1310, tempera on panel, Florentine proto-Renaissance style with French Gothic Influences

20 years later, Giotto created his Madonna Enthroned painting to depict the proto-Renaissance Italian style. Cimabue was Giotto’s mentor thus his style was similar in Greek Manner or classicism but with more Gothic features and naturalism (express strong emotional content). The angels in the painting seems to be lined behind one to another showing that Giotto had more understanding of perception. The surrounding figures of Madonna is glazing directly at the center figure rather than glazing aside or directly off the painting as Cimabue did on his work.  Also, Giotto treated the figure like light hitting sculptures. He painted using movement from light to dark and created more 3D forms rather than Cimabue’s use of patterns and sudden shifts of color that created flat figures. There is more emphasis on Gothic influences with the pointed arches around the throne and the pointed panel; the kneeling angels showing more content of expression in the worship of Madonna.

Both Cimabue and Giotto’s Madonna Enthrone are located at the Uffizi Gallery, Florence; showing their influences and contrast shifts of the Italian art style through its generation.

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