Giovanni Cimabue (1240-1302)

Giovanni Cimabue - was born in Florence in 1240 and died in Florence in 1302. Considered to be the first great artist of the Early Renaissance, and the mentor of floretine painter Giotto.

Cimabue was trained in the art of painting by several Byzantine masters working on the decoration of the Gondi chapel, situated next to the principal chapel of Santa Maria Novella. Young Cimabue is said to have started imitating the "fine antique style of Greece" in the arts, but vastly improving that art and lifting it far above its level.

Vasari cites, among the works for which Cimabue was famed, the "altar dossal at St. Cecilia, a panel of the Madonna in Santa Croce." His success advanced through panel and fresco projects in Florence, in the convent of Santa Croce and especially in Assissi, where he painted frescos in the Lower and Upper Churches of San Francesco, in the vaults above the choir, where he placed the Four Evangelists, and on the north wall, where he depicted scenes from the lives of Our Lord Jesus Christ and of St. Francis, as well as of the Madonna (Death, Assumption, Enthroning).

He pushed forth the technique of the fresco through personal innovations in color and composition, as well as through using models (Vasari says "painting from nature") for his portraiture of St. Francis, for instance, which was unusual in his time. Much of the frescoes Cimabue authored have been worned out by dust and chipping, but the remnants, especially the slightly better protected vaults) are edifying for his superior skills and diligence.

Cimabue's project at San Francesco was completed by his student Giotto. Later, in his work on a giant Madonna on a panel for Santa Maria Novell in Florence, Cimabue started drafting the accompanying angels in forms that were new, modern, although the composition was still Byzantine. He received, Vasari notes, high praise for that accomplishment, the Madonna panel being visited later by King Charles of Anjou himself in his passing through Florence.

e.g. Tintoretto, Pieta, etc.
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