I visited the Ufizzi gallery in Florence yesterday with the aim to look at Renaissance art from it’s beginnings, through to the 1500s. I began my study in the first room, and visited all of the galleries. In room 2 I stood infant of Madonna and Child Enthroned, by the three artists who each have a valuable place in the movement from Byzantium to the Renaissance, namely Duccio, Cimabue, and finally Giotto. I’d like to look at Duccio and Cimabue today, and then in a separate post, look at the painting by Giotto, as his work is not in the same school as that of the first two artists.
Duccio and Cimabue were seen by some art historians as the fathers the Renaissance, and by others as the last Byzantine painters. During the years that they were active, the church was keeping a strong hold on it’s principles, and the rules by which it’s followers had to live. The portrayal of people and biblical events in a realistic manner was against the church principles, as idolatry was always a concern. The second commandment reads, “Thou shalt not make for yourself graven images.” Although the church used art to educate people on its doctrines, believing in the divinity of graven images was especially possible in the minds of the less educated masses. So, during the Byzantine period, artists expressed themselves through the emotions of the figure, rather than the expression of realism through true perspective, classical proportions, form being created by the use of light and shadow, and finally the study of color. All of this was mastered by the that the ancient greeks and romans. Here we see flattened, geometrically stylized figures that do not take up the kind of physical space that the figures of the High Renaissance take on the picture plane. They are characterized with flowing line rather than solid three dimensional structure. Linear perspective, and the representation of light and shadow were also at a beginning stage during this period of art history.
During this religious/political climate, many of the literati were delving ever more deeply into the ideas of Humanism, which was an avenue of exploration and experimentation. the teachings of the pagan philosophers, and the scientists of the day, began to replace religion as a direction for studying truth.
Duccio di Buoninsegna
Let us begin with Duccio’s Rucellai Madonna from this point of view. The artist delved deeply than any other Christian artist before him in the exploration of human emotions. I feel the spiritual voice of the madonna through the look of surrender in her eyes.This is not only a divine relationship between two people and their roles in Christian doctrines, but it is also the expression of the bond that a mother has with her child. She presents her child to us, knowing his ultimate fate. “Here he is.” Like visual poetry, we see the eyes of Duccio’s madonna almost sliding down her face in sadness, as she tells the viewer. “Take him, and do what must be done.” Maria is sad, but firm. She knows she has been chosen to make this payment. She knows that her son has been chosen as well. The two must find the strength necessary to play their roles with grace.
Cimabue’s Santa Trinita Madonna is similar to Duccio’s painting in that he is experimenting with the thoughts of the newer generation of intellectuals. We see more true architecture, that begins to place the figure inside of a real space. We also begin to see the beginnings of three dimensional forms that turn around in space, and fill clothing with a physical body. Also, as we saw in Duccio’s painting, individual human emotions are expressed in addition to the emotions of the divine realm that these figures belong to. Each person is his or her own person, with an individual psychology expressing itself in this particular moment of their lives.