Sunday, May 11, 2014

Art History Everyone Should Know: The Byzantine Tradition and the Transitions in Painting to the Late Gothic, Giotto, Cimabue, Lorenzetti, Pisano etc.

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Transition from the Romanesque and Byzantine or "Greek Manner" to the Late Gothic and Renaissance Styles in Painting and Sculpture

 
 


Bonaventura Berlinghieri, 
"St. Francis Altarpiece" 1235 
tempera on wood 60' x 42' (approx. 5" x 3.5)
Byzantine Style (maniera greca) painted during the Gothic Period
Form: 
This altarpiece is painted in tempera on wood.  At five feet, the representation of St. Francis is depicted as nearly life-size.  Art of the Byzantine period largely influenced Italian Gothic art.  There is no depth to St. Francis.  He is two-dimensional and at the front of the picture plane.  His feet are not standing on the ground but seem to be floating just above it. Iconography: 
St. Francis is situated in the center of the painting - a position usually reserved for Christ or the Virgin Mary.  The identification with Christ is further enhanced with the clearly displayed stigmata on his raised blessing hand.  The three knots on his rope belt represent chastity, poverty and obedience. He is flanked on either side by angels and is surrounded by boxes containing major events in his life. 
Context:
This altarpiece was completed in 1235, less than ten years after Francis’ canonization. St. Francis taught that studying nature was a way to understand God and religious ideas should be discovered through human experience of the world.  These observations were partially responsible for the reflection on nature rather than most art of its time and were a prototype for new works.  This led to new observations of nature in art and the beginnings of scientific study.
Written by Annette Abbott
Context continued:  Many paintings like this have a rather Byzantine flavor or style to how they are painted.  This formulaic attempts to emulate Greek icons is what Vasari (an art hsitorian from the late 16th C) called the maniera greca in Italy.
According to the Brittanica
from Francis Of Assisi, Saint
The Franciscan rule of life. Although he was a layman, Francis began to preach to the townspeople. Disciples were attracted to him, and he composed a simple rule of life for them. In 1209, when the group of friars (as the mendicant disciples were called) numbered 12, they went to Rome to seek the approval of Pope Innocent III, who, although hesitant at first, gave his oral approbation to their rule of life. This event, which according to tradition occurred on April 16, marked the official founding of the Franciscan order. The friars, who were actually street preachers with no possessions of any kind and with only the Porziuncola as a center, preached and worked first in Umbria and then, as their numbers grew, in the rest of Italy.
The early Franciscan rule of life, which has not survived, set as the aim of the new life, "To follow the teachings of our Lord Jesus Christ and to walk in his footsteps." Probably no one in history has ever set himself so seriously as did Francis to imitate the life of Christ and to carry out so literally Christ's work in Christ's own way. This is the key to the character and spirit of St. Francis. To neglect this point is to show an unbalanced portrait of the saint as a lover of nature, a social worker, an itinerant preacher, and a lover of poverty.
Certainly the love of poverty is part of his spirit, and his contemporaries celebrated poverty either as his "lady," in the allegorical Sacrum Commercium (Eng. trans., Francis and His Lady Poverty, 1964), or as his "bride," in the fresco of Giotto in the lower church of S. Francesco at Assisi. It was not, however, mere external poverty he sought but the total denial of self (as in Letter of Paul to the Philippians 2:7).
He considered all nature as the mirror of God and as so many steps to God. He called all creatures his "brothers" and "sisters," and in his "Canticle of the Creatures" (less properly called by such names as the "Praises of Creatures" or the "Canticle of the Sun") he referred to "Brother Sun" and "Sister Moon," the wind and water, and even "Sister Death." His long and painful illnesses were nicknamed his sisters, and he begged pardon of "Brother Ass the body" for having unduly burdened him with his penances. Above all, his deep sense of brotherhood under God embraced his fellow men, for "he considered himself no friend of Christ if he did not cherish those for whom Christ died."
"The Franciscan rule of life.."   Britannica 2001 Standard Edition CD-ROM.   Copyright © 1994-2001 Britannica.com Inc.   November 16, 2002.
Context and Critical points of view:  The previous section is a a biography of St. Francis's life however, Francis represents a pivotal figure that represents the transition in thinking between the Gothic period and the Renaissance. Previous to the life of St. Francis, the Catholic Church was the sole source of information about God for the layman (every day non-clergy).  The Church interpreted, interceded and imposed a very clear point of view about God's teachings and was the sole source of biblical interpretation.  In fact, laymen were not even allowed to own a Bible, not that they could afford one since they were hand written and very expensive.  This point of view and religious/political system meant that everyday people could not actually "know" God for themselves and supported and maintained a point of view that one was born to a place on this earth that was unchangeable.
Francis's point of view that "To follow the teachings of our Lord Jesus Christ and to walk in his footsteps." Breaks with this tradition and demonstrates the beginning of a point of view in which the lay person could not only have a direct experience of God but also alter their behavior in accordance with their knowledge without needing to consult the Church for interpretation.  This is important and interesting because aside form the ideas exhibited in the teachings of Thomas Aquinas, this represents the beginning of a change in the way of thinking and the stirrings of individual critical thought.  The art that follows, after the Byzantine period and in the late Gothic and Early Renaissance exhibits a new and critical point of view of the world.
 
 

Virgin and Child, 
from the Auvergne region, France. c1150-1200
Oak with polychromy, height 31", 
Metropolitan Museum of Art
French Romanesque
Form:  This sculpture is both naturalistic and stylized.  The rendering of the face and hands was an attempt by the sculptor to represent convincing human forms however, the faces show no real expression and the bodies are completely covered with stylized drapery that conceals both figures bodies.  The child Jesus is not rendered as a child buy rather a stiff looking miniature adult.  The poses of both figures are stiff and fairly wooden but in the case of Mary, this is appropriate if you look at her role in  terms of the work's iconography. Iconography:  This image of Mary is significant in it's iconography because it is a perfect example of the Gothic depiction of Mary as the "Throne of Wisdom." Here she not only serves as a mother but as a platform or throne for her child.  Stokstad discusses her pose as regal and that her throne like posture is symbolic of the old testament references to the Lion Throne of King Solomon who is known as a wise and fair ruler and judge.  See Stokstad for a more complete discussion of the iconography.
Context:  Smaller and more portable works like this served as portable symbols of the faith.  The iconography associated with such symbols and the creation of smaller and more portable objects grows over time and has a strong influence on the creation of altars and other religious items in the Renaissance.  The works of such late Gothic/Early Renaissance artists such as Giotto and his teacher Cimabue are most certainly a product of this era although as we'll see they changed the schema considerably.
Cimabue, Virgin and Child Enthroned, 
from the Church of Santa Trinita, Florence
c 1280. Tempera and gold on wood, 12' 7"x7'4"
Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence
Byzantine Style (maniera greca) 
painted during the Gothic Period
Form:  The overall composition of this work is symmetrical.  The largest figures of Mary and Jesus are at the center of the composition and they are flanked by two rows of angels overlapped as if they are standing on bleachers.  Beneath the structure of the throne are several representations of older men with halos.  In order to create space, Cimabue uses the same convention of vertical perspective we saw in Pisano's pulpit.  The figures that are highest up in the picture plane are furthest back. This painting was rendered with tempera paint and gold leaf.  Tempera is a medium which is made from egg (sometimes just the yolk sometimes the whites) glue and ground up minerals that serve as pigment or colorant.  The egg actually glues or binds the pigments to the surface.  The paint is applied in small distinct brush strokes that show the brushwork when looked at closely. 
According to the Brittanica,
Tempera originally came from the verb temper--that is, "to bring to a desired consistency"; dry pigments are made usable by "tempering" them with a binding and adhesive vehicle. Such painting was distinguished from fresco painting, the colours for which contained no binder. Eventually, after the rise of oil painting, the word gained its present meaning. The standard tempera vehicle is a natural emulsion, egg yolk, thinned with water. Variants of this vehicle have been developed to widen its use. Among the man-made emulsions are those prepared with whole egg and linseed oil, with gum, and with wax.
The special ground for tempera painting is a rigid wood or wallboard panel coated with several thin layers of gesso, a white, smooth, fully absorbent preparation made of burnt gypsum (or chalk, plaster of Paris, or whiting) and hide (or parchment) glue. A few minutes after application, tempera paint is sufficiently resistant to water to allow overpainting with more colour. Thin, transparent layers of paint produce a clear, luminous effect, and the colour tones of successive brushstrokes blend optically. Modern tempera paintings are sometimes varnished or overpainted with thin, transparent oil glazes to produce full, deep-toned results, or they are left unglazed for blond effects.

The background is gold leaf on a wooden panel that has been painted with a a combination of glue and marble dust or chalk referred to as gesso.   The gold leaf is then incised and punctured with designs.  Gold leaf has also been added to the drapery as a means to highlight the folds. 
 
 
Make sure you read in Stokstad Technique: Cenini on Painting
The rendering of color and value in this painting is fairly limited.  There is no distinct source of light and very little tonal variation on the faces or drapery of the individual figures and there are no real differences of character or appearance from one face to the next. Cimabue's rendition of the Virgin is very similar to the one from Auvergne.  This painting, like the sculpture, is both naturalistic and stylized.  Again the rendering of the face and hands was an attempt by the sculptor to represent convincing human forms however, the faces show no real expression and the bodies are completely covered with an almost Byzantine style of drapery that almost completely conceals both figures' bodies.  The child Jesus is not rendered as a child buy rather a stiff looking miniature adult.  The poses of both figures are stiff and fairly wooden but in the case of Mary, this is appropriate if you look at her role in  terms of the work's iconography.
Iconography:  As in the French Gothic sculpture Mary is depicted as the "Throne of Wisdom."   The arrangement of the composition places Mary at the center of the image and in the most important location.  So the use of symmetry and the placement of figures can indicate their status.  Notice that Mary is framed and as such "backed up" by the angels.  The less important figures of the prophets are literally beneath her and Jesus.
Color and the gold leaf used also serve as iconographic reminders of Mary and Jesus' status.  Gold leaf and red and blue pigments were made from precious stones and materials and are symbols of there status.
Context: Stokstad relates that this work probably set the standard for monumental panel paintings.  Cimabue was one of the best known and sought after artists of his day and although he stuck to the old Byzantine conventions of depicting the human figure in a caricaturish manner he was still innovative in his illusionistic techniques.  He was also an artist of the times and the production and patronage concerning such works of art was going through a bit of a change at the end of the Gothic era.
Artist's during the late Gothic and early Renaissance periods were reliant on three major groups for patronage, the church, the aristocracy and the new wealthy merchant class.   Wealthy merchants, such as the Enrico Scrovegni, often would contribute frescoes and altar paintings to churches as a form of indulgence.  Often these merchants were wealthy enough to and commission artists to decorate a private altar for their own homes.
During the Gothic period, artists and fine furniture makers were on the same social and economic level.   Each group belonged to guilds that one paid dues to and were governed by certain rules.  A master who would often have a group of assistants and apprentices working for them ran these shops.  Apprentices were children anywhere between the ages of 11-20 years old.  Sometimes the parents of a child would pay the master of a shop a monthly or yearly fee in order for the master to teach the child a trade.  The child was expected to do work in the shop and when they had earned enough respect or mastery of skills, the master would then advance them on to more complex tasks.  After learning these skills for a long enough time, an exceptional child might learn enough to open their own shop; however, some apprentices, as adults remained as an assistant in their master's shop.
How Paintings were commissioned and bought.
The patron and artist negotiate the price.  The cost is established by how many figures are present in the painting, the size, the amount of gold leaf and the colors that are used.
The artist orders a wood panel from a furniture maker. It is very important that the wood is "gassed out." This means the older the wood, the more petrified, the better. This can be the most expensive part.
Panel is prepared by apprentices or an assistant by coating it with gesso.  Gesso is a mixture of chalk or calcium carbonate (marble dust) mixed with rabbit skin glue.
Now the paint is made. For tempera, egg yolk is mixed with ground-up minerals (sometimes even semiprecious stones) to make a very durable paint.
When all this is done and the painting is complete, there is a procession from the artist's studio to the church.
At this time the altarpiece for the high altar was finished and the picture which was called the "Madonna with the large eyes" or Our Lady of Grace, that now hangs over the altar of St. Boniface, was taken down. Now this Our Lady was she who had hearkened to the people of Siena when the Florentines were routed at Monte Aperto, and her place was changed because the new one was made, which is far more beautiful and devout and larger, and is painted on the back with the stories of the Old and New Testaments. And on the day that it was carried to the Duomo the shops were shut, and the bishop conducted a great and devout company of priests and friars in solemn procession, accompanied by the nine signiors, and all the officers of the commune, and all the people, and one after another the worthiest with lighted candles in their hands took places near the picture, and behind came the women and children with great devotion. And they accompanied the said picture up to the Duomo, making the procession around the Campo, as is the custom, all the bells ringing joyously, out of reverence for so noble a picture as this. And this picture Duccio di Niccolò the painter made, and it was made in the house of the Muciatti outside the gate a Stalloreggi . And all that day persons, praying God and His Mother, who is our advocate, to defend us by their infinite mercy from every adversity and all evil, and keep us from the hands of traitors and of the enemies of Siena. This account reminds us how we should remember the integral role of a major work like this in the civic life of the city. Notice also how the adoration devoted to this new image is comparable to that shown the relics of a patron saint of a community. It is important to remember that the Virgin was the patron saint of Siena, and as such she was the center of the civic and religious life of the city. Kneeling beside the throne of the Virgin are the other patron saints of Siena: Ansanus, Sabinus, Crescentius, and Victor. The order of the altarpiece and the privileged position given to the Sienese saints, especially the Virgin, would have been clearly understood to reflect the ideal order of the city of Siena which would stand before it in the Duomo. The civic implications are further brought out by the original inscription: HOLY MOTHER OF GOD BESTOW PEACE ON SIENA AND SALVATION ON DUCCIO WHO PAINTED THEE.
The reference in the account above to the Madonna with the Large Eyes , or in Italian --Madonna degli Occhi Grossi-- relates to a painting done about 1200:

This work was seen to be a miracle working image. The Sienese appeals to this image of their patron saint were believed to have lead to the salvation of the city from the Florentines in the Battle of Montaperti in 1260. Why do you think the Sienese would have wanted to have replaced such a revered image with the Duccio altarpiece?
quoted directly from:
Make sure you read in Stokstad Technique: Cenini on Painting

 

Giotto di Bondone, Virgin and Child Enthroned, 
(Ognissanti Altar,) c 1310. 
Tempera and gold on wood, 10'8"x6'8"
Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence
Late Gothic or Early Renaissance

Form:  Giotto's painting of the Virgin child shows some marked formal differences. Giotto is a kind of special effects master. His paintings are more three dimensional. He also uses more contrasts of light and shadow. This is called chiaroscuro. He also uses overlapping of the figures to create a sense of space. Compare to Duccio or Cimabue's paintings in which the figures that accompany Mary seem to be standing on bleachers as if for a class photo. Giotto also uses more life like gestures. The figures interact and tend to regard one another. Notice the tilted heads in adoration of the Virgin. The figure of Mary is more life like and even dresses more in the Italian style. Notice her hair is slightly uncovered and her clothing reveals the anatomy beneath almost like the wet drapery style of the ancient Greeks. The throne is also more convincingly rendered it looks looks like an actual architectural structure.  Iconography:  In an overt description of the iconography Giotto's rendition of this then seems identical to Cimabue's but on closer inspection, the naturalism and illusionism of the work is symbolic of some of the fundamental changes that were occurring during the late Gothic to Renaissance periods.
The naturalism relates to the study and pursuit of humanism.  The ideas of Christian and Catholic though go through a radical change with the canonization of St. Francis.  The idea that one should and could emulate the life and behavior of Christ meant that art needed to relate more to the individual and strike a chord of compassion.  The heightened realism of such images were designed to create a sense of sympathy or empathy with the religious characters they portrayed. 
Context:  Giotto was the student of Cimabue and considered a genius by Michelangelo and other later Renaissance painters.  Make sure you read about his life in "Liaisons."
According to the Brittanica,
Tempera
A tempera medium is dry pigment tempered with an emulsion and thinned with water. It is a very ancient medium, having been in constant use in most world cultures, until in Europe it was gradually superseded, during the Renaissance, by oil paints. Tempera was the original mural medium in the ancient dynasties of Egypt, Babylonia, Mycenean Greece, and China and was used to decorate the early Christian catacombs. It was employed on a variety of supports, from the stone stelae (or commemorative pillars), mummy cases, and papyrus rolls of ancient Egypt to the wood panels of Byzantine icons and altarpieces and the vellum leaves of medieval illuminated manuscripts. True tempera is made by mixture with the yolk of fresh eggs, although manuscript illuminators often used egg white and some easel painters added the whole egg. Other emulsions have been used, such as casein glue with linseed oil, egg yolk with gum and linseed oil, and egg white with linseed or poppy oil. Individual painters have experimented with other recipes, but few of these have proved successful; all but William Blake's later tempera paintings on copper sheets, for instance, have darkened and decayed, and it is thought that he mixed his pigment with carpenter's glue.
Distemper is a crude form of tempera made by mixing dry pigment into a paste with water, which is thinned with heated glue in working or by adding pigment to whiting, a mixture of fine-ground chalk and size. It is used for stage scenery and full-size preparatory cartoons for murals and tapestries. When dry, its colours have the pale, mat, powdery quality of pastels, with a similar tendency to smudge. Indeed, damaged cartoons have been retouched with pastel chalks.
Egg tempera is the most durable form of the medium, being generally unaffected by humidity and temperature. It dries quickly to form a tough film that acts as a protective skin to the support. In handling, in its diversity of transparent and opaque effects, and in the satin sheen of its finish, it resembles the modern acrylic resin emulsion paints.
Traditional tempera painting is a lengthy process. Its supports are smooth surfaces, such as planed wood, fine set plaster, stone, paper, vellum, canvas, and modern composition boards of compressed wood or paper. Linen is generally glued to the surface of panel supports, additional strips masking the seams between braced wood planks. Gesso, a mixture of plaster of paris (or gypsum) with size, is the traditional ground. The first layer is of gesso grosso, a mixture of coarse, unslaked plaster and size. This provides a rough, absorbent surface for ten or more thin coats of gesso sotile, a smooth mixture of size and fine plaster previously slaked in water to retard drying. This laborious preparation results, however, in an opaque, brilliant white, light-reflecting surface, similar in texture to hard, flat icing sugar.
The design for a large tempera painting traditionally was executed in distemper on a thick paper cartoon. The outlines were pricked with a perforating wheel so that when the cartoon was laid on the surface of the support, the linear pattern was transferred by dabbing, or "pouncing," the perforations with a muslin bag of powdered charcoal. The dotted contours traced through were then fixed in paint. Medieval tempera painters of panels and manuscripts made lavish use of gold leaf on backgrounds and for symbolic features, such as haloes and beams of heavenly light. Areas of the pounced design intended for gilding were first built up into low relief with gesso duro, the harder, less absorbent gesso compound used also for elaborate frame moldings. Background fields were often textured by impressing the gesso duro, before it set, with small, carved, intaglio wood blocks to create raised, pimpled, and quilted repeat patterns that glittered when gilded. Leaves of finely beaten gold were pressed onto a tacky mordant (adhesive compound) or over wet bole (reddish-brown earth pigment) that gave greater warmth and depth when the gilded areas were burnished.
Colours were applied with sable brushes in successive broad sweeps or washes of semitransparent tempera. These dried quickly, preventing the subtle tonal gradations possible with watercolour washes or oil paint; effects of shaded modelling had therefore to be obtained by a crosshatching technique of fine brush strokes. According to the Italian painter Cennino Cennini, the early Renaissance tempera painters laid the colour washes across a fully modelled monochrome underpainting in terre vert (olive-green pigment), a method developed later into the mixed mediums technique of tempera underpainting followed by transparent oil glazes.
The luminous gesso base of a tempera painting, combined with the accumulative effect of overlaid colour washes, produces a unique depth and intensity of colour. Tempera paints dry lighter in value, but their original tonality can be restored by subsequent waxing or varnishing. Other characteristic qualities of a tempera painting, resulting from its fast drying property and disciplined technique, are its steely lines and crisp edges, its meticulous detail and rich linear textures, and its overall emphasis upon a decorative flat pattern of bold colour masses.
The great Byzantine tradition of tempera painting was developed in Italy in the 13th and 14th centuries by Duccio di Buoninsegna and Giotto. Their flattened picture space, generously enriched by fields and textures of gold leaf, was extended by the Renaissance depth perspectives in the paintings of Giovanni Bellini, Piero della Francesca, Carlo Crivelli, Sandro Botticelli, and Vittore Carpaccio. By that time, oil painting was already challenging the primacy of tempera, Botticelli and some of his contemporaries apparently adding oil to the tempera emulsion or overglazing it in oil colour.
Following the supremacy of the oil medium during succeeding periods of Western painting, the 20th century saw a revival of tempera techniques by such U.S. artists as Ben Shahn, Andrew Wyeth, and George McNeil and by the British painter Edward Wadsworth. It would probably have been the medium also of the later hard-edge abstract painters had the new acrylic resin paints not proved more easily and quickly.
Gesso according to the Brittanica,
 
(Italian: "gypsum," or "chalk"), fluid, white coating composed of plaster of paris, chalk, gypsum, or other whiting mixed with glue, applied to smooth surfaces such as wood panels, plaster, stone, or canvas to provide the ground for tempera and oil painting or for gilding and painting carved furniture and picture frames. In Medieval and Renaissance tempera painting, the surface was covered first with a layer of gesso grosso (rough gesso) made with coarse, unslaked plaster, then with a series of layers of gesso sottile (finishing gesso) made with fine plaster slaked in water, which produced an opaque, white, reflective surface. In the 14th century, Giotto, the notable Italian painter, used a finishing gesso of parchment glue and slaked plaster of paris. In medieval tempera painting, background areas intended for gilding were built up into low relief with gesso duro (hard gesso), a less absorbent composition also used for frame moldings, with patterns often pressed into the gesso with small carved woodblocks. Modern gesso is made of chalk mixed with glue obtained from the skins of rabbits or calves.


The Church San Francesco at Assisi
Transition from the Romanesque and Byzantine or "Greek Manner" to the Late Gothic and Renaissance Styles in Painting and Sculpture
 
 

Bonaventura Berlinghieri, 
"St. Francis Altarpiece" 1235 
tempera on wood 60' x 42' (approx. 5" x 3.5)
Form: 
This altarpiece is painted in tempera on wood.  At five feet, the representation of St. Francis is depicted as nearly life-size.  Art of the Byzantine period largely influenced Italian Gothic art.  There is no depth to St. Francis.  He is two-dimensional and at the front of the picture plane.  His feet are not standing on the ground but seem to be floating just above it. Iconography: 
St. Francis is situated in the center of the painting - a position usually reserved for Christ or the Virgin Mary.  The identification with Christ is further enhanced with the clearly displayed stigmata on his raised blessing hand.  The three knots on his rope belt represent chastity, poverty and obedience. He is flanked on either side by angels and is surrounded by boxes containing major events in his life. 
Context:
This altarpiece was completed in 1235, less than ten years after Francis’ canonization. St. Francis taught that studying nature was a way to understand God and religious ideas should be discovered through human experience of the world.  These observations were partially responsible for the reflection on nature rather than most art of its time and were a prototype for new works.  This led to new observations of nature in art and the beginnings of scientific study.
Written by Annette Abbott
According to the Brittanica
from Francis Of Assisi, Saint
The Franciscan rule of life. Although he was a layman, Francis began to preach to the townspeople. Disciples were attracted to him, and he composed a simple rule of life for them. In 1209, when the group of friars (as the mendicant disciples were called) numbered 12, they went to Rome to seek the approval of Pope Innocent III, who, although hesitant at first, gave his oral approbation to their rule of life. This event, which according to tradition occurred on April 16, marked the official founding of the Franciscan order. The friars, who were actually street preachers with no possessions of any kind and with only the Porziuncola as a center, preached and worked first in Umbria and then, as their numbers grew, in the rest of Italy.
The early Franciscan rule of life, which has not survived, set as the aim of the new life, "To follow the teachings of our Lord Jesus Christ and to walk in his footsteps." Probably no one in history has ever set himself so seriously as did Francis to imitate the life of Christ and to carry out so literally Christ's work in Christ's own way. This is the key to the character and spirit of St. Francis. To neglect this point is to show an unbalanced portrait of the saint as a lover of nature, a social worker, an itinerant preacher, and a lover of poverty.
Certainly the love of poverty is part of his spirit, and his contemporaries celebrated poverty either as his "lady," in the allegorical Sacrum Commercium (Eng. trans., Francis and His Lady Poverty, 1964), or as his "bride," in the fresco of Giotto in the lower church of S. Francesco at Assisi. It was not, however, mere external poverty he sought but the total denial of self (as in Letter of Paul to the Philippians 2:7).
He considered all nature as the mirror of God and as so many steps to God. He called all creatures his "brothers" and "sisters," and in his "Canticle of the Creatures" (less properly called by such names as the "Praises of Creatures" or the "Canticle of the Sun") he referred to "Brother Sun" and "Sister Moon," the wind and water, and even "Sister Death." His long and painful illnesses were nicknamed his sisters, and he begged pardon of "Brother Ass the body" for having unduly burdened him with his penances. Above all, his deep sense of brotherhood under God embraced his fellow men, for "he considered himself no friend of Christ if he did not cherish those for whom Christ died."
"The Franciscan rule of life.."   Britannica 2001 Standard Edition CD-ROM.   Copyright © 1994-2001 Britannica.com Inc.   November 16, 2002.
Context and Critical points of view:  The previous section is a a biography of St. Francis's life however, Francis represents a pivotal figure that represents the transition in thinking between the Gothic period and the Renaissance. Previous to the life of St. Francis, the Catholic Church was the sole source of information about God for the layman (every day non-clergy).  The Church interpreted, interceded and imposed a very clear point of view about God's teachings and was the sole source of biblical interpretation.  In fact, laymen were not even allowed to own a Bible, not that they could afford one since they were hand written and very expensive.  This point of view and religious/political system meant that everyday people could not actually "know" God for themselves and supported and maintained a point of view that one was born to a place on this earth that was unchangeable.
Francis's point of view that "To follow the teachings of our Lord Jesus Christ and to walk in his footsteps." Breaks with this tradition and demonstrates the beginning of a point of view in which the lay person could not only have a direct experience of God but also alter their behavior in accordance with their knowledge without needing to consult the Church for interpretation.  This is important and interesting because aside form the ideas exhibited in the teachings of Thomas Aquinas, this represents the beginning of a change in the way of thinking and the stirrings of individual critical thought.  The art that follows, after the Byzantine period and in the late Gothic and Early Renaissance exhibits a new and critical point of view of the world.
 
The Lower Church


 


St Francis Giving his Mantle to a Poor Man
Form:
The building in this image and the others like it are rendered with the illusion of space called intuitive perspective and isometric perspective.  (This kind of perspective is not as illusionistic as the linear perspective that is invented during the Renaissance around 1400 CE.)
 

 

St Francis Renounces His Wordly Goods
RENOUNCES WORLDLY GOODS
  • First panel shows Saint Francis removing his clothing in the middle of a town and renouncing his material wealth
  • Gesture and movement of the figures is life-like.
  • The overall scene makes sense in terms of the picture plane's space.  Overlapping of figures and the size scale difference from foreground to background show Giotto's attempts to create a more rational sense of space. 
    • "This is the fifth of the twenty-eight scenes (twenty-five of which were painted by Giotto) of Legend of Saint Francis. This scene gives an opportunity to examine one of the most important of Giotto's innovations. Although the mastery of the method of representing the third dimension is of fundamental importance, there are other innovations which are no less significant to the development of Western painting. Among these must be included the use of eloquent gesture, the communication of strong emotions through attitude and facial expression, In the Renunciation of Worldly Goods, St Francis' father expresses his anger in his grimace, in his gesture of lifting the hem of his gown (as if he were about to dash at his son), and in his clenched fist; the effect is heightened by the gesture of his friend, who holds him back by the arm. Within the limits of the dignity and self-restraint that Giotto impresses on all his characters, the father's anger is expressed clearly and vividly."

    http://gallery.euroweb.hu/html/g/giotto/assisi/upper/legend/
    scenes_1/franc05.html
Francis Drives Out the Demons from Arezzo
Form:
The building in this image and the others like it are rendered with the illusion of space called intuitive perspective and isometric perspective.  (This kind of perspective is not as illusionistic as the linear perspective that is invented during the Renaissance around 1400 CE.)

 

According to the Brittanica:
 
Perspective is a method of graphically depicting three-dimensional objects and spatial relationships on a two-dimensional plane or on a plane that is shallower than the original (for example, in flat relief). In Western art, illusions of perceptual volume and space are generally created by use of the linear perspectival system, based on the observations that objects appear to the eye to shrink and parallel lines and planes to converge to infinitely distant vanishing points as they recede in space from the viewer. Parallel lines in spatial recession will appear to converge on a single vanishing point, called one-point perspective. Perceptual space and volume may be simulated on the picture plane by variations on this basic principle, differing according to the number and location of the vanishing points. Instead of one-point (or central) perspective, the artist may use, for instance, angular (or oblique) perspective, which employs two vanishing points.
Another kind of system--parallel perspective combined with a viewpoint from above--is traditional in Chinese painting. When buildings rather than natural contours are painted and it is necessary to show the parallel horizontal lines of the construction, parallel lines are drawn parallel instead of converging, as in linear perspective. Often foliage is used to crop these lines before they extend far enough to cause a building to appear warped.
The early European artist used a perspective that was an individual interpretation of what he saw rather than a fixed mechanical method. At the beginning of the Italian Renaissance, early in the 15th century, the mathematical laws of perspective were discovered by the architect Filippo Brunelleschi, who worked out some of the basic principles, including the concept of the vanishing point, which had been known to the Greeks and Romans but had been lost. These principles were applied in painting by Masaccio (as in his "Trinity" fresco in Santa Maria Novella, Florence; c. 1427), who within a short period brought about an entirely new approach in painting. A style was soon developed using configurations of architectural exteriors and interiors as the background for religious paintings, which thereby acquired the illusion of great spatial depth. In his seminal Della pittura (1436; On Painting), Leon Battista Alberti codified, especially for painters, much of the practical work on the subject that had been carried out by earlier artists; he formulated, for example, the idea that "vision makes a triangle, and from this it is clear that a very distant quantity seems no larger than a point."
Linear perspective dominated Western painting until the end of the 19th century, when Paul Cézanne flattened the conventional Renaissance picture space. The Cubists and other 20th-century painters abandoned the depiction of three-dimensional space altogether and hence had no need for linear perspective.
Linear perspective plays an important part in presentations of ideas for works by architects, engineers, landscape architects, and industrial designers, furnishing an opportunity to view the finished product before it is begun. Differing in principle from linear perspective and used by both Chinese and European painters, aerial perspective is a method of creating the illusion of depth by a modulation of colour and tone. 
Linear Perspective
Demonstration of 1 point and 2 point perspectives
 
 
Linear perspective is a mathematical system for creating the illusion of space and distance on a flat surface. The system originated in Florence, Italy in the early 1400s. The artist and architect Brunelleschi demonstrated its principles, but another architect and writer, Leon Battista Alberti was first to write down rules of linear perspective for artists to follow. Leonardo da Vinci probably learned Alberti's system while serving as an apprentice to the artist Verrocchio in Florence. To use linear perspective an artist must first imagine the picture surface as an "open window" through which to see the painted world. Straight lines are then drawn on the canvas to represent the horizon and "visual rays" connecting the viewer's eye to a point in the distance.
The horizon line runs across the canvas at the eye level of the viewer. The horizon line is where the sky appears to meet the ground.
The vanishing point should be located near the center of the horizon line. The vanishing point is where all parallel lines (orthogonals) that run towards the horizon line appear to come together like train tracks in the distance.
Orthogonal lines are "visual rays" helping the viewer's eye to connect points around the edges of the canvas to the vanishing point. An artist uses them to align the edges of walls and paving stones.
Please visit this site for more of an explanantion.
http://psych.hanover.edu/Krantz/art/linear.html
Two Point Perspective
 

1) To draw a simple shape in two point perspective you start with a single line across the picture plane called the horizon line.
 
3) Next, add converging lines from the top and bottom of the vertical line and draw two vertical lines which will become the back corners of the box.

2 Then add two vanishing points.  Place one at each end of the horizon line. Then draw a vertical line as big as you want the first box.
4) After erasing some of the horizon line (the part behind the box) it looks like a three dimensional form.
A page with a great example of two point perspective.
http://www.proviso.k12.il.us/EAST/GeometryWorld/2PER.HTM
 
 

Gustave Caillebotte, Paris a Rainy Day, 1877
Here's an example of two point perspective in a painting.  This painting actually has multiple points on the horizon line but I've traced most of the orthagonals to the two most dominant ones in the black and white illustration. Here's how Giotto kind of had it right.

 
Here's where the lines should have gone.

 
While at mass one day, Francis listened to the reading of Matthew 10:7-10 where Jesus tells his apostles to go and preach God’s word. He felt this was a personal calling.  Though he lived a simple life, as he started preaching, he began to attract a following of men who also wished to denounce their wealth and preach God’s word. These men traveled to Rome to speak with the Pope.  Pope Innocent III gave permission for them to live the life they chose.  This event marked the beginning of the Franciscan order. This fresco is the seventh of twenty-eight scenes of Saint Francis.  It shows St Francis and the friars bending on their knees before Pope Innocent III.  With the introduction of soft pinks and blues, we can witness Giotto abandoning the former Byzantine style whose gold images were rigid and almost cartoon-like (scroll up and compare to Berlinghieri’s altarpiece).  The arches at the top of the painting provide an illusion of depth while delivering the image of Francis and the Pope closer to the viewer.  Lines above the eye level tend to incline and move down while below the eye level, they move up.  This allows the viewer to feel as if he were personally in the picture rather than being a spectator of the event. 
This is the fifteenth of the twenty-eight paintings of St Francis.  While walking with a companion, Francis saw some birds at the side of the road and stopped to preach to them.  It is said that more birds joined them from nearby trees and stood at his feet to listen. This is the sermon he delivered to them in 1220:
 
My little sisters, the birds, much bounden are ye unto God, your creator, and always in every place ought ye to praise him, for that he hath given you liberty to fly about everywhere, and hath also given you double and triple rainment; moreover he preserved your seed in the ark of Noah, that your race might not perish out of the world; still more are ye beholden to him for the element of the air which he hath appointed for you; beyond all this, ye sow not, neither do you reap; and God feedeth you, and giveth you the streams and fountains for your drink; the mountains and valleys for your refuge and the high trees whereon to make your nests; and because ye know not how to spin or sow, God clotheth you, you and your children; wherefore your creator loveth you much, seeing that he hath bestowed on you so many benefits; and therefore, my little sisters, beware of the sin of ingratitude, and study always to give praises unto God.
The simplicity of this painting reveals much about Giotto as a narrative artist. He reduces imagery to its barest elements without losing any part of the story.  There are no architectural or decorative elements  - only two men, two trees, and a handful of birds.  We also see him breaking away from the old style by making the painting asymmetrical.  Until now, all paintings of Jesus, Mary or a saint featured them in the center of the picture facing its viewer.  His standing in profile and to the side once again allows us to feel like we are more than viewing an image – we are witnessing an event. 

 

Francis Receives the Stigmata
STIGMATA In 1224 Saint Francis climbed a mountain to begin a 40 day fast.  During this fast, he saw a vision and experienced wounds in his hands and the side of his body – duplicating those that appeared on Christ when he was crucified. Such wounds are referred to as stigmata.
This fresco is painted as if it were a low relief sculpture.  Here, Giotto uses light and shadow on the landscape to add depth.  Such use of light and shade is a distinguishing aspect of Renaissance art. 
from Brittanica: Giotto di Bondone
The Assisi Problem The central problem in Giotto studies, the attribution of the Assisi frescoes, may be summed up as the question whether Giotto ever painted at Assisi and, if so, what? There can be no reasonable doubt that he did work at Assisi, for a long literary tradition goes back to the Compilatio chronologica of Riccobaldo Ferrarese, who wrote in or before 1319, when Giotto was alive and famous. Later writers down to Vasari expanded this and made it clear that Giotto's works were in the great double church of San Francesco (St. Francis). By Vasari's time, several frescoes in both upper and lower churches were attributed to Giotto, the most important being the cycle of 28 scenes from the life of St. Francis of Assisi in the nave of the upper church and the "Franciscan Virtues" and some other frescoes in the lower church. (Some of the frescoes in the St. Francis cycle were damaged by earthquakes that struck Assisi on Sept. 26, 1997.)
The majority of these scenes, mostly narrative, are revolutionary in their expression of reality and humanity. In these frescoes, the emphasis is on the dramatic moment of each situation, and, with details of dress and background at a minimum, the inner reality of human emotion is intensified through crucial gestures and glances. In the 19th century, however, it was observed that all these frescoes, though similar in style, could not be by the same hand, and the new trend toward skepticism of Vasari's statements led to the position that rejected all the Assisi frescoes and dated the St. Francis cycle to a period after Giotto's death. This extreme view has been generally abandoned, and, indeed, a dated picture of 1307 can be shown to derive from the St. Francis cycle. Nevertheless, many scholars prefer to accept the idea of an otherwise totally unknown Master of the St. Francis legend, on the grounds that the style of the cycle is irreconcilable with that of the later Arena Chapel frescoes in Padua, which are universally accepted as Giotto's. This involves the idea that the works referred to (in Giotto's lifetime) by Riccobaldo cannot be identified with anything now extant and must have perished centuries ago, so that the early 15th-century sculptor Lorenzo Ghiberti, Vasari, and others mistakenly transferred the existing St. Francis cycle to Giotto. Five hundred years of tradition are thus written off.
Still more difficult, if Giotto did not paint the St. Francis frescoes, major works of art, then they must be attributed to a painter who cannot be shown to have created anything else, whose name has disappeared without trace, although he was of the first rank, and, odder still, was formed by the combined influences of Cimabue, the Florentine sculptor Arnolfo di Cambio, and the Roman painter Pietro Cavallini--influences which coalesce at Assisi and may be taken as the influences that formed Giotto himself.
Arising out of the fusion of Roman and Florentine influences in the Assisi frescoes, there was later a tendency to see the hand of Giotto, as a very young man, in the works of the Isaac Master, the painter of two scenes of "Isaac and Esau" and "Jacob and Isaac" in the nave above the St. Francis cycle. If this theory is accepted, it is easy to understand that Giotto, as a young man, made such a success of this commission that he was entrusted with the most important one, the official painted biography of St. Francis based on the new official biography written around 1266 by St. Bonaventura. In fact, the whole of today's mental picture of St. Francis stems largely from these frescoes. Clearly, a man born in 1276 was less likely to have received such a commission than one 10 years older, if, as was always thought, the commission was given in 1296 or soon after by Fra Giovanni di Muro, general of the Franciscans. The works in the Lower Church are generally regarded as productions of Giotto's followers (there are, indeed, resemblances to his works at Padua), and there is real disagreement only over the "Legend of St. Francis." The main strength of the non-Giotto school lies in the admittedly sharp stylistic contrasts between the St. Francis cycle and the frescoes in the Arena Chapel at Padua, especially if the Assisi frescoes were painted 1296-c. 1300 and those of the Arena c. 1303-05; for the interval between the two cycles is too small to allow for major stylistic developments. This argument becomes less compelling when the validity of the dates proposed and the Roman period c. 1300 are taken into account. As already mentioned, the Assisi frescoes may have been painted before 1296 and not necessarily afterward, and the Arena frescoes are datable with certainty only in or before 1309, although probably painted c. 1305-06; clearly, a greater time lag between the two cycles can help to explain stylistic differences, as can the experiences that Giotto underwent in what was probably his second Roman period.
"The Assisi Problem."   Britannica 2001 Standard Edition CD-ROM.   Copyright © 1994-2001 Britannica.com Inc.   November 26, 2002.
 
 
  Some of the images you will encounter in this section you have already looked at.  The purpose of this next section is to teach you how the iconography that began in earlier periods is used but also transformed over time.  At the end of this essay you will be presnted with a work of art that you will have to interpret according to the rules that you have learned.
 

 
For this reason, the sections concerning each works formal aspects will be deemphasized.
There are two terms you will need to understand in depth for this next section, nativity and annunciation.
According to the Brittanica,
a nativity is a theme in Christian art depicting the newborn Jesus with the Virgin Mary and other figures, following descriptions of Christ's birth in the Gospels and Apocrypha. An old and popular subject with a complicated iconography, the Nativity was first represented in the 4th century, carved on Early Christian Roman sarcophagi, and was later included with other scenes from Christ's life in monumental decoration of Early Christian basilicas. It was a very important subject for Early Christian art from the 5th century because it emphasized the reality of the incarnation of Christ and the validity of the Virgin's newly established (431) title of Theotokos (Mother of God). The Early Christian version of the Nativity shows the Virgin seated, to emphasize that the birth was painless, and the Child, in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. The two, along with an ox and an ass, are under the roof of a barnlike stable. Usually one or two shepherds, who symbolize the revelation of Christ to the Jews, and often also the Magi--Wise Men from the East who symbolize his revelation to the Gentiles--appear in the scene. By the 6th century another version of the Nativity appeared in Syria, becoming universal in the East throughout the Middle Ages, and in Italy until the late 14th century. It differs from the earlier version, which was retained with some modifications in northwestern Europe, mainly in that it shows the Virgin lying on a mattress, thus ignoring the concept of the painless birth. The Child is again in swaddling clothes in a manger, and the ox and ass are retained, but the stable is located not in a barn but in a cave, as was the custom in Palestine. Angels usually hover above the cave, and Joseph sits outside it. The Magi and the shepherds are often present. The announcement of the miraculous birth to the shepherds by an angel and the journey of the Magi may be depicted simultaneously in the background. Another simultaneous representation--the bathing of the Child by two midwives in the foreground--became standard in Eastern Nativities. It probably derives from classical scenes of the birth of the god Dionysus and is a prefiguration of Christ's Baptism. As the emblem of a major feast day, this version of the Nativity figured prominently, usually in its most complicated form, in the liturgical iconography of Byzantine church decoration.
In the late 14th century an abrupt transformation of the iconography of the Nativity occurred throughout western Europe, including Italy, and a second major version came into being. This was essentially an adoration; the most important change is that the Virgin is depicted no longer in the aftermath of childbirth but kneeling before the Child, who is now nude and luminous and lies not in a manger but on the ground on a pile of straw or a fold of the Virgin's mantle. Often Joseph, too, kneels in adoration. Most of the other details, except the ox and ass, are omitted, especially in earlier works. This version, which seems to have spread from Italy, follows in detail--and in fact almost certainly originates with--an account of a vision by St. Bridget of Sweden, an influential 14th-century mystic. Universally adopted in western Europe by the 15th century, this version is widely depicted in altarpieces and other devotional works.
In the Renaissance, angels reappeared, and the scene was often combined with the adoration of the shepherds, which had recently developed as a separate theme. The midwives were still included occasionally. In the 16th century the Council of Trent outlawed the midwives, the ox and ass, and the bathing of Christ as ignoble, apocryphal, and theologically unsound (the bathing of the Child is inconsistent with the doctrine of a pure and supernatural birth).
In the 17th century a more prosaic representation reappeared, with the Virgin again reclining and holding the Child. After the 17th century, despite the decline of Christian religious art in general, the Nativity remained an important theme in the popular arts.
"Nativity."   Britannica 2001 Standard Edition CD-ROM.   Copyright © 1994-2001 Britannica.com Inc.   November 17, 2002.
According to the Brittanica,
the Annunciation in Christianity, the announcement by the angel Gabriel to the Virgin Mary that she would conceive a Son of the Holy Spirit to be called Jesus (Luke 1:26-38). The Feast of the Annunciation, one of the principal feasts of the Christian church, is celebrated on March 25 (Lady Day). The first authentic allusions to the feast (apart from the Gelasian and Gregorian sacramentaries, in both of which it is mentioned) are in acts of the Council of Toledo (656) and of the Trullan Council (692).
Because its significance is much more than narrative, the Annunciation had a particularly important place in the arts and church decoration of the early Christian and medieval periods and in the devotional art of the Renaissance and Baroque. Moreover, because, in Christian doctrine, the event coincides with the Incarnation of Christ, it also represents a prelude to the redemption of the world.
 "Annunciation."   Britannica 2001 Standard Edition CD-ROM.   Copyright © 1994-2001 Britannica.com Inc.   November 17, 2002.

 


Nicola Pisano. Nativity, 
detail of Baptistery Pulpit panel: Annunciation, 
Nativity and Annunciation to Shepherds 1259-60
Italian Gothic,
Form:  This is a relief carving.  The relief varies greatly in the height and or depth of each of the figures and objects.  In general the composition is fairly symmetrical yet it is very crowded and almost seems disorganized.  Most of the figures are placed in the foreground of the picture plane and the space created is not very illusionistic.  Space is created by placing the figures in the foreground lower in the picture plane.  In order to show the recession of space, the figures are layered and the placed in a vertical perspective.  The rendering of each of the figures is fairly naturalistic and the clothing, drapery and poses are somewhat reminiscent of carvings such as the this one from the Parthenon's pediment.  Several of the figures, such as the main one which depicts Mary and the child (Jesus) are repeated because several scenes are simultaneously being represented.  This kind of continuous narrative is common in Byzantine, Romanesque, Gothic and Renaissance art. 
Iconography:  This is a nativity scene that at first appears to take place in a manger but it also contains the baptism of Christ as well as the annunciation by the angel Gabriel.  The scenes are as follows, far left the angel Gabriel confronts Mary with his annunciation of the birth of Jesus. Mary pulls away towards the center of the scene.  In the upper right hand corner is a manger scene in which Jesus lies in his crib, at the far right are two of the wise men who are missing their heads.  The center of the scene Mary reclines in a pose very reminiscent of the Goddesses from Parthenon.  In the lower left foreground of the image is the baptism of Christ (note he's missing his head too.)

Duccio di Buoninsegna, The Nativity with the Prophets Isaiah and Ezekiel, 1308/1311
This panel in the National Gallery, Washington DC
Form: The rendering of each of the figures is fairly naturalistic and the clothing, drapery and poses are somewhat reminiscent of Nicola Pisano's Nativity, from the Baptistery Pulpit panel and carvings such from the Parthenon's pediment.  Several of the figures, such as the main one which depicts Mary and the child (Jesus) are repeated because several scenes are simultaneously being represented.  This kind of continuous narrative is common in Byzantine, Romanesque, Gothic and Renaissance art.  Iconography:  This is a nativity scene that at first appears to take place in a manger but it also contains the baptism of Christ as well.  The center of the scene Mary reclines in a pose very reminiscent of the Goddesses from Parthenon.  In the lower left foreground of the image is the baptism of Christ.
 
 
The figures that flank the main scene serve as a kind of framing device that also update the image and provide transitional figures that bridge the gap between Mary, Jesus and us.  The image of the saint in Catholic art and religious practice is one that symbolizes our possibilities.  The saints were normal people, who in their emulation of Christlike qualities show us what every person is capable of attaining.  When Catholics pray to them they are asking for the saint to intercede with God.  Basically ask God for a favor for us. Context:  It is easy to guess that Duccio probably used, almost directly Nicola Pisano's Nativity, from the Baptistery Pulpit panel as his schema.  This was not considered plagiarism by the Gothic artists but rather a compliment and a continuation of a time honored Byzantine tradition.  Her pose and drapery almost exactly mimic Nicola Pisano's Nativity, from the Baptistery Pulpit panel but the drapery is somewhat less lifelike.  This also demonstrates the desire to continue older visual traditions and to not always have a revolutionary and innovative stylistic break with earlier traditions.
 

Duccio di Buoninsegna, Annunciation 1308-11
Tempera on wood, 43 x 44 cm 
National Gallery, London
predella Maesta Altar
Form: Duccio's Annunciation scene shares some of the same formal devices that the other works we've looked at.  There is no deep space but there is an attempt to relate the figures to the architectural environment they reside in.  There is a consistent sense of chiaroscuro that unifies the picture plane.  The drapery of the figures is beginning to demonstrate a shift of light and shadow (chiaroscuro) that we see in Giotto's work and the drapery begins to actually feel as if the anatomy beneath is revealed in how the drapery hangs on the figures.  The composition is still symmetrical but there is an out door in door feeling to the image.  Mary is framed within an arch like structure. Iconography:  The increased illusionism of the image is symbolic of some of the growing humanistic trends in the Catholic faith that is further evidenced by the philosophies of St. Francis.
Both Mary and Gabriel are dressed in a cross between Byzantine clothing and Roman style togas indicating a  historicism about them.  The colors used for the clothing are expensive and so is the gold leaf in  the background.  Both the figures heads are adorned with halos that are ornamneted with punchwork.
Mary is holding either a book of hours or a Bible.  Brittanica describes a book of hours as a,
devotional book widely popular in the later Middle Ages. The book of hours began to appear in the 13th century, containing prayers to be said at the canonical hours in honour of the Virgin Mary. The growing demand for smaller such books for family and individual use created a prayerbook style enormously popular among the wealthy. The demand for the books was crucial to the development of Gothic illumination. These lavishly decorated texts, of small dimensions, varied in content according to their patrons' desires.
She pulls away slightly from Gabriel as he announces that she will be having the son of god demonstrating a very human response and therefore humanistic perspective.  Above her head flying in through the combination Gothic/Triumphal arch is the holy spirit which is represented as a dove.  This is also a reference to the story of Noah as a typology.  The architectural structure is designed to look like both a Church and a triumphal arch.  This is representative of Mary's house as the house of God and a place of worship.  The scepter Gabriel holds represents triumph. Between the two figures is a vessel filled with lilies.  The vessel refers to Mary's role as the "vessel of God" and the white flowers refer to her purity.  In fact there is a whole iconographic system devoted to flowers and Mary.


Simone Martini, Annunciation, 1333 10'x8' 
(central panel)  Lippo Memmi, (Wings)
Frame 19th C Anonymous
Florence Uffizi
Italian Late Gothic/Early Renaissance
Form: Martini's Annunciation scene shares some of the same formal devices that the other works we've looked at too.  There is no deep space whatsoever in this image because of the use of gold leaf for the background.  The drapery of the figures is beginning to demonstrate chiaroscuro and anatomical structure but in some ways less so then some of the other images.  The composition is perfectly symmetrical and the figures are placed beneath each of the three pointed Gothic style arches. Iconography:  As in the other works the  increased illusionism of the image is symbolic of some of the growing humanistic trends in the Catholic faith that is further evidenced by the philosophies of St. Francis.
Both Mary and Gabriel are dressed in a cross between Byzantine clothing and Roman style togas indicating a  historicism about them.  The colors used for the clothing are expensive and so is the gold leaf in  the background.  Both the figures heads are adorned with halos that are ornamneted with punchwork.  However, there is a bit more in terms of their ornamnetation.  The checked pattern on Gabriel's gown may actually be a reference to either a popular style of fabric design or a type of fabric produced by the patron.  In this way it is a form of "product placement."  Mary is holding a book of hours and like Duccio's painting she pulls away slightly from Gabriel as he makes his announcement. 
A possible reference to the literacy of the wealthy may be the words inscribed in the gold leaf which emenate from Gabriel's mouth, "Hail favored one!  The Lord is with you."
Plant forms figure powerfully into this kind of image.  Between the two figures is a vessel filled with lilies.  The vessel refers to Mary's role as the "vessel of God" and the white flowers refer to her purity.  In fact there is a whole iconographic system devoted to flowers and Mary.  The olive branch is a reference to the story of Noah in which the dove brings an olive branch back to the ark and this is a symbol of God's renewed covenant with Noah.  The wreath of olives around Gabriel's head is a similar refernce both also refers to the Greek and Roman traditions of honoring heroes and athletes with the laurel wreaths on there head as an impromptu crown.  It may also be a reference to Christ's crwon of thorns. The central panel of the altar is in a tripartite division (three part).  This is possibly a reference to the holy trinity which is "in Christian doctrine, the unity of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as three persons in one Godhead," according to the Brittanica.  It also designed to look like the arches in a Gothic church.  In the central bay of the image is an image of the holy spirit surrounded by a series of cherubim in the form of sparrows.  The sparrow comes up quite a bit as a symbol of the word of God and as cherubim.

 

 
Pietro Lorenzetti, The Birth of the Virgin, from Siena Cathedral, 1342.
Tempera and gold on wood, frame partially replaced
6'x5' Museo dell'Opera del Duomo, Siena
Synthesis:  This image represents the birth of Mary.  On the next worksheet you will be asked to pull together all the main ideas that you have learned in the section above and explain how the iconography and form are descended from the images above. Make sure you read Stokstad's analysis of this image!

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Gothic and Late Gothic Paintings
The transition from the Byzantine or "Greek Manner" to the Late Gothic and Renaissance Styles.
 
 

Duccio di Buoninsegna, Virgin and Child in Majesty (Maestà)
main panel from the Maestà Altarpiece, from Siena Cathedral
1308-11 Tempera and gold on wood, 7'x13'  (214 x 412 cm) 
Museo dell'Opera del Duomo, Siena
Duccio di Buoninsegna, Virgin and Child in Majesty (Maestà)
Stories of the Passion (Maestà, reverse of the top panel called "verso")
1308-11Tempera on wood, 212 x 425 cm
Museo dell'Opera del Duomo, Siena
 





  • Links to more about this altar

  • Form:  Before you read this section, read in Stokstad the section called, Technique, Cennini on Panel Painting. Form:  The overall composition of this work is symmetrical.  The largest figures of Mary and Jesus are at the center of the composition and they are flanked by two rows of angels and Saints overlapped as if they are standing on bleachers.  In order to create space, Duccio uses the same convention of vertical perspective we saw in Pisano's pulpit.  The figures that are highest up in the picture plane are furthest back.
    This painting was rendered with tempera paint and gold leaf.  Tempera is a medium which is made from egg (sometimes just the yolk sometimes the whites) glue and ground up minerals that serve as pigment or colorant.  The egg actually glues or binds the pigments to the surface.  The paint is applied in small distinct brush strokes that show the brushwork when looked at closely. 
    The background is gold leaf on a wooden panel that has been painted with a a combination of glue and marble dust or chalk referred to as gesso.  The gold leaf is then incised and punctured with designs (Stokstad calls this punchwork.)  Gold leaf has also been added to the drapery as a means to highlight the folds. 
    The rendering of color and value in this painting is fairly limited.  There is no distinct source of light and very little tonal variation on the faces or drapery of the individual figures and there are no real differences of character or appearance from one face to the next.
    Duccio's rendition of the Virgin is very similar to the one from Auvergne and Cimabue's.  This painting, like the sculpture, is both naturalistic and stylized.  Again the rendering of the face and hands was an attempt by the sculptor to represent convincing human forms however, the faces show no real expression and the bodies are completely covered with an almost Byzantine style of drapery that almost completely conceals both figures' bodies.  The child Jesus is not rendered as a child buy rather a stiff looking miniature adult.  The poses of both figures are stiff and fairly wooden but in the case of Mary, this is appropriate if you look at her role in  terms of the work's iconography.
    Iconography:  As in the French Gothic sculpture Mary is depicted as the "Throne of Wisdom."   The arrangement of the composition places Mary at the center of the image and in the most important location.  So the use of symmetry and the placement of figures can indicate their status.  Notice that Mary is framed and as such "backed up" by the angels.  The less important figures of the prophets are literally beneath her and Jesus. Color and the gold leaf used also serve as iconographic reminders of Mary and Jesus' status.  Gold leaf and red and blue pigments were made from precious stones and materials and are symbols of there status.
    Context: According to the Brittanica,
    Maestà (Italian: "Majesty"), double-sided altarpieces executed for the cathedral of Siena by the Italian painter Duccio. The first version (1302), originally in the Palazzo Pubblico in Siena, is now lost. The second version (Oct. 9, 1308-June 9, 1311), painted for the cathedral of Siena and one of the largest altarpieces of its time, consisted of a wide frontal panel with the Virgin and Child adored by the patrons of Siena and surrounded by saints and angels. Beneath was a predella with seven scenes from the childhood of Christ; above were pinnacles with scenes from the life of the Virgin; and on the back were scenes from the life of Christ. The main panel and the bulk of the narrative scenes are now in the Museo dell'Opera Metropolitana, Piazza del Duomo, Siena, but isolated panels from the altarpiece have found their way to the National Gallery, London; the Frick Collection, New York City; and the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.
    The work in which the genius of Duccio unfolds in all its brilliant fullness and the one to which the painter owes his greatest fame, however, is the "Maestà," the altarpiece for the main altar of the cathedral of Siena. He was commissioned to do this work on Oct. 9, 1308, for a payment of 3,000 gold florins, the highest figure paid to an artist up to that time. On June 9, 1311, the whole populace of Siena, headed by the clergy and civil administration of the city, gathered at the artist's workshop to receive the finished masterpiece. They carried it in solemn procession to the accompaniment of drums and trumpets to the cathedral. For three days alms were distributed to the poor, and great feasts were held. Never before had the birth of a work of art been greeted with such public jubilation and never before had there been such immediate awareness that a work was truly a masterpiece and not just a reflection of the religious fervor of the people. Duccio himself was aware of the work's significance; he signed the throne of the Virgin with an invocation that was devout yet proud for the time: "Holy Mother of God, grant peace to Siena, and life to Duccio because he has painted you thus." The "Maestà" is in the form of a large horizontal rectangle, surmounted by pinnacles, and with a narrow horizontal panel, or predella, as its base. It is painted on both sides. The entire central rectangle of the front side is a single scene showing the Madonna and Child enthroned in the middle of a heavenly court of saints and angels with the four patron saints of Siena kneeling at their feet. The back is subdivided into 26 compartments that illustrate the Passion of Christ. The front and back of the predella contain scenes of the infancy and the ministry of Jesus, and the pinnacles, crowning the entire work, represent events after the Resurrection. In all, there are 59 narrative scenes.
    The rigorous symmetry with which the groups of adoring figures at the sides of the Virgin are arranged in the imposing scene of the central panel is inspired by compositions of the Byzantine tradition and gives evidence of Duccio's keen architectural sensibility by its power to draw attention to the "Maestà" as the true focal point of the cathedral's spatial and structural organization. Like elements of a living architecture, the 30 figures, through the slightest of gestures and turnings of the head, are intimately related, their positions repeated to give a feeling of intense lyrical contemplation. The consonance of feeling that arises from this contemplation gives the facial features of each a distinct, spiritual beauty, reminiscent, especially the faces of the angels, of the more idealistic creations of Hellenistic art. The Madonna, slightly larger than the other figures, seated on a magnificent and massive throne of polychrome marbles, inclines her head gently as if trying to hear the prayer of the faithful. Duccio thus succeeds in reconciling perfectly the Byzantine ideal of power and dignity with the underlying tenderness and mysticism of the Sienese spirit. The scenes in the predella, pinnacles, and back are filled with the Byzantine iconographic schemes from which Duccio finds it difficult to detach himself, and they are developed with a deeper concern for their narrative significance. The scenes are not, however, merely descriptions or chronicles. They include many touches from daily life, which provide a lyrical synthesis that harmonizes the character and gestures of the figures with their landscape and architectural surroundings.
    Briitanica Encyclopedia
    At this time the altarpiece for the high altar was finished and the picture which was called the "Madonna with the large eyes" or Our Lady of Grace, that now hangs over the altar of St. Boniface, was taken down. Now this Our Lady was she who had hearkened to the people of Siena when the Florentines were routed at Monte Aperto, and her place was changed because the new one was made, which is far more beautiful and devout and larger, and is painted on the back with the stories of the Old and New Testaments. And on the day that it was carried to the Duomo the shops were shut, and the bishop conducted a great and devout company of priests and friars in solemn procession, accompanied by the nine signiors, and all the officers of the commune, and all the people, and one after another the worthiest with lighted candles in their hands took places near the picture, and behind came the women and children with great devotion. And they accompanied the said picture up to the Duomo, making the procession around the Campo, as is the custom, all the bells ringing joyously, out of reverence for so noble a picture as this. And this picture Duccio di Niccolò the painter made, and it was made in the house of the Muciatti outside the gate a Stalloreggi . And all that day persons, praying God and His Mother, who is our advocate, to defend us by their infinite mercy from every adversity and all evil, and keep us from the hands of traitors and of the enemies of Siena. This account reminds us how we should remember the integral role of a major work like this in the civic life of the city. Notice also how the adoration devoted to this new image is comparable to that shown the relics of a patron saint of a community. It is important to remember that the Virgin was the patron saint of Siena, and as such she was the center of the civic and religious life of the city. Kneeling beside the throne of the Virgin are the other patron saints of Siena: Ansanus, Sabinus, Crescentius, and Victor. The order of the altarpiece and the privileged position given to the Sienese saints, especially the Virgin, would have been clearly understood to reflect the ideal order of the city of Siena which would stand before it in the Duomo. The civic implications are further brought out by the original inscription: HOLY MOTHER OF GOD BESTOW PEACE ON SIENA AND SALVATION ON DUCCIO WHO PAINTED THEE.
    The reference in the account above to the Madonna with the Large Eyes , or in Italian --Madonna degli Occhi Grossi-- relates to a painting done about 1200:
    This work was seen to be a miracle working image. The Sienese appeals to this image of their patron saint were believed to have lead to the salvation of the city from the Florentines in the Battle of Montaperti in 1260. Why do you think the Sienese would have wanted to have replaced such a revered image with the Duccio altarpiece?
    Quoted directly from:
    http://employees.oneonta.edu/farberas/arth/Arth213/Duccio.html

    Duccio di Buoninsegna
    The Nativity with the Prophets Isaiah and Ezekiel, 1308/1311
    This panel in the National Gallery, Washington DC
    Form: In general the composition is fairly symmetrical yet it is very crowded and almost seems disorganized.  Most of the figures are placed in the foreground of the picture plane and the space created is not very illusionistic.  Space is created by placing the figures in the foreground lower in the picture plane.  In order to show the recession of space, the figures are layered and the placed in a vertical perspective.  The rendering of each of the figures is fairly naturalistic and the clothing, drapery and poses are somewhat reminiscent of Nicola Pisano's Nativity, from the Baptistery Pulpit panel and carvings such from the Parthenon's pediment.  Several of the figures, such as the main one which depicts Mary and the child (Jesus) are repeated because several scenes are simultaneously being represented.  This kind of continuous narrative is common in Byzantine, Romanesque, Gothic and Renaissance art. 
    Iconography:  This is a nativity scene that at first appears to take place in a manger but it also contains the baptism of Christ as well.  The center of the scene Mary reclines in a pose very reminiscent of the Goddesses from Parthenon.  In the lower left foreground of the image is the baptism of Christ. The next major difference is in the style and amount of artwork. In general, the Gothic style is extremely organized, diagrammatic, and stylized. It tends to take cues from Byzantine and Romanesque art, in which the figures' relative size to another figure is based upon its' importance in the spiritual hierarchy. For example, when Jesus or an Angel is shown, they are relatively larger than all the other figures whom are depicted in a particular scene. This shows how important they are, they loom above the mere mortals, faithful and sinners alike.
    Context:  It is easy to guess that Duccio probably used, almost directly Nicola Pisano's Nativity, from the Baptistery Pulpit panel as his schema.  This was not considered plagiarism by the Gothic artists but rather a compliment and a continuation of a time honored Byzantine tradition.  Her pose and drapery almost exactly mimic Nicola Pisano's Nativity, from the Baptistery Pulpit panel but the drapery is somewhat less lifelike.  This also demonstrates the desire to continue older visual traditions and to not always have a revolutionary and innovative stylistic break with earlier traditions.

    Duccio di Buoninsegna, (Maestà)
    detail Christ Entering Jerusalem
    (Maestà, reverse of the top panel called "verso")
    1308-11Tempera on wood
    Museo dell'Opera del Duomo, Siena
    Form:  Probably the most significant stylistic and formal element of note is the awkward construction of space.  Here, Duccio attempts to create some sort of space but is a bit confused as to how to do it.  He uses vertical perspective to create space initially.  He places the figures that are closest to the viewer the lowest in the picture plane and those further back higher up.  The use of vertical perspective seems to tip the ground plane up and places the viewer in a helicopter or tower in which they are about 15 feet off the ground looking down on the scene. He also uses overlapping and a size scale difference between foreground and background.  Some of the figures in the crowd overlap and hide the figure's behind them but this really doesn't happen with the figures of the apostles, probably because he wanted to make sure the viewer was able to see all their faces.  The figures in the background are significantly smaller but the scale of the building and the way in which the apostles who follow Jesus are bunched up is a bit illogical.  There is not enough space on the ground for all the apostles nor the crowds to be standing together. 
    Context:  In order to understand the iconography of this scene one needs to go to the Bible passage on which it is modeled first:
    Matthew Chapter 21
    1
    When they drew near Jerusalem and came to Bethphage on the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples,
    2
    saying to them, "Go into the village opposite you, and immediately you will find an ass tethered, and a colt with her. Untie them and bring them here to me.
    3
    And if anyone should say anything to you, reply, 'The master has need of them.' Then he will send them at once."
    4
    This happened so that what had been spoken through the prophet might be fulfilled:
    5
    "Say to daughter Zion, 'Behold, your king comes to you, meek and riding on an ass, and on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden.'"
    6
    The disciples went and did as Jesus had ordered them.
    7
    They brought the ass and the colt and laid their cloaks over them, and he sat upon them.
    8
    The very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, while others cut branches from the trees and strewed them on the road.
    9
    The crowds preceding him and those following kept crying out and saying: "Hosanna to the Son of David; blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord; hosanna in the highest."
    10
    And when he entered Jerusalem the whole city was shaken and asked, "Who is this?"

    11     And the crowds replied, "This is Jesus the prophet, from Nazareth in Galilee."
    Iconography:  Most of the iconography is fairly standard in this image.  Jesus is depicted in he usual manner, he has a beard and is depicted, as his apostles with a beautiful nimbus of gold around his head.  His halo is literally the light of divine knowledge which radiates from him.  The royal red and blue colors he wears and the gold leaf are all meant to emphasize his status, however, he is also humble.  He rides a common beast of burden to show his connection to all men. Links to more about this altar
    Duccio paints with tempera paint.  According to the Brittanica.
     
    Tempera
    A tempera medium is dry pigment tempered with an emulsion and thinned with water. It is a very ancient medium, having been in constant use in most world cultures, until in Europe it was gradually superseded, during the Renaissance, by oil paints. Tempera was the original mural medium in the ancient dynasties of Egypt, Babylonia, Mycenean Greece, and China and was used to decorate the early Christian catacombs. It was employed on a variety of supports, from the stone stelae (or commemorative pillars), mummy cases, and papyrus rolls of ancient Egypt to the wood panels of Byzantine icons and altarpieces and the vellum leaves of medieval illuminated manuscripts. True tempera is made by mixture with the yolk of fresh eggs, although manuscript illuminators often used egg white and some easel painters added the whole egg. Other emulsions have been used, such as casein glue with linseed oil, egg yolk with gum and linseed oil, and egg white with linseed or poppy oil. Individual painters have experimented with other recipes, but few of these have proved successful; all but William Blake's later tempera paintings on copper sheets, for instance, have darkened and decayed, and it is thought that he mixed his pigment with carpenter's glue.
    Distemper is a crude form of tempera made by mixing dry pigment into a paste with water, which is thinned with heated glue in working or by adding pigment to whiting, a mixture of fine-ground chalk and size. It is used for stage scenery and full-size preparatory cartoons for murals and tapestries. When dry, its colours have the pale, mat, powdery quality of pastels, with a similar tendency to smudge. Indeed, damaged cartoons have been retouched with pastel chalks.
    Egg tempera is the most durable form of the medium, being generally unaffected by humidity and temperature. It dries quickly to form a tough film that acts as a protective skin to the support. In handling, in its diversity of transparent and opaque effects, and in the satin sheen of its finish, it resembles the modern acrylic resin emulsion paints.
    Traditional tempera painting is a lengthy process. Its supports are smooth surfaces, such as planed wood, fine set plaster, stone, paper, vellum, canvas, and modern composition boards of compressed wood or paper. Linen is generally glued to the surface of panel supports, additional strips masking the seams between braced wood planks. Gesso, a mixture of plaster of paris (or gypsum) with size, is the traditional ground. The first layer is of gesso grosso, a mixture of coarse, unslaked plaster and size. This provides a rough, absorbent surface for ten or more thin coats of gesso sotile, a smooth mixture of size and fine plaster previously slaked in water to retard drying. This laborious preparation results, however, in an opaque, brilliant white, light-reflecting surface, similar in texture to hard, flat icing sugar.
    The design for a large tempera painting traditionally was executed in distemper on a thick paper cartoon. The outlines were pricked with a perforating wheel so that when the cartoon was laid on the surface of the support, the linear pattern was transferred by dabbing, or "pouncing," the perforations with a muslin bag of powdered charcoal. The dotted contours traced through were then fixed in paint. Medieval tempera painters of panels and manuscripts made lavish use of gold leaf on backgrounds and for symbolic features, such as haloes and beams of heavenly light. Areas of the pounced design intended for gilding were first built up into low relief with gesso duro, the harder, less absorbent gesso compound used also for elaborate frame moldings. Background fields were often textured by impressing the gesso duro, before it set, with small, carved, intaglio wood blocks to create raised, pimpled, and quilted repeat patterns that glittered when gilded. Leaves of finely beaten gold were pressed onto a tacky mordant (adhesive compound) or over wet bole (reddish-brown earth pigment) that gave greater warmth and depth when the gilded areas were burnished.
    Colours were applied with sable brushes in successive broad sweeps or washes of semitransparent tempera. These dried quickly, preventing the subtle tonal gradations possible with watercolour washes or oil paint; effects of shaded modelling had therefore to be obtained by a crosshatching technique of fine brush strokes. According to the Italian painter Cennino Cennini, the early Renaissance tempera painters laid the colour washes across a fully modelled monochrome underpainting in terre vert (olive-green pigment), a method developed later into the mixed mediums technique of tempera underpainting followed by transparent oil glazes.
    The luminous gesso base of a tempera painting, combined with the accumulative effect of overlaid colour washes, produces a unique depth and intensity of colour. Tempera paints dry lighter in value, but their original tonality can be restored by subsequent waxing or varnishing. Other characteristic qualities of a tempera painting, resulting from its fast drying property and disciplined technique, are its steely lines and crisp edges, its meticulous detail and rich linear textures, and its overall emphasis upon a decorative flat pattern of bold colour masses.
    The great Byzantine tradition of tempera painting was developed in Italy in the 13th and 14th centuries by Duccio di Buoninsegna and Giotto. Their flattened picture space, generously enriched by fields and textures of gold leaf, was extended by the Renaissance depth perspectives in the paintings of Giovanni Bellini, Piero della Francesca, Carlo Crivelli, Sandro Botticelli, and Vittore Carpaccio. By that time, oil painting was already challenging the primacy of tempera, Botticelli and some of his contemporaries apparently adding oil to the tempera emulsion or overglazing it in oil colour.
    Following the supremacy of the oil medium during succeeding periods of Western painting, the 20th century saw a revival of tempera techniques by such U.S. artists as Ben Shahn, Andrew Wyeth, and George McNeil and by the British painter Edward Wadsworth. It would probably have been the medium also of the later hard-edge abstract painters had the new acrylic resin paints not proved more easily and quickly.