Italy in the Gothic Period

Italian Painting: 1200–1400

In the early Renaissance, painters began to embrace naturalistic styles, creating images with attention to form and space.

Learning Objectives

Identify the prominent artists and styles in Italy during the Early Renaissance

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • The Florentine School of Painting is characterized by the naturalism in painting in Florence that started to emerge in the 13th century.
  • The period between 1200 and 1400 in Italy provides an important bridge in Art History between the Medieval period and Byzantine and Gothic styles , and the Early Modern period and Renaissance styles.
  • Painters began to embrace the more naturalistic styles. Harkening back to classical figures, they created images portraying strong emotion and that paid attention to relationships between figures. Their painting expressed a type of realism not present in Byzantine styles.

Key Terms

  • tempera: A method of painting where the artist mixes pigment with water and a binder, usually egg.
  • Renaissance: The 14th century revival of classical art, architecture, literature, and learning that originated in Italy and spread throughout Europe over the following two centuries.

The Florentine School of Painting is characterized by the naturalism in art that started to emerge in Florence in the 13th century. This set the stage for what would become the great period of Florentine art in later centuries that would include the work of great artists such as Michelangelo, Fra Angelico, Botticelli, Donatello, and Lippi.

However, art in Florence and northern Italy during the period between 1200 and 1400 was still in transition; it was a bridge in Art History between the Medieval period and Byzantine and Gothic styles, and the Early Modern period and Renaissance styles. Sometimes referred to as the proto-Renaissance period, art and architecture in northern Italy provided important hints at the trends that would take hold over the next centuries in the rest of Europe.

City states and duchies such as Pisa, Milan, Lucca, and Florence were the main homes of these developments. In spite of the many challenges during the period, such as the ongoing ravages of the Black Plague, these city states experienced periods of politically stability and economic growth, which provided a good foundation for new experimentation in art.

In Florence, leading families prospered under the economic growth promoted through trade. Each of these leading families vied for power, but also for cultural prominence, and became great patrons of the arts (the Medici family being the prime example).

At the same time, there were great changes occurring in art both in terms of styles and philosophies. One important change was a focus on the individual in religious practices, which also translated into a greater naturalistic and humanist focus in art.

Florence

Painters in this city wholeheartedly embraced naturalist styles. Harkening back to classical figures, they created images with attention to portraying strong emotions and relationships between figures—painting that expressed a type of realism not present in Byzantine styles.

One painter who demonstrated the shift that was occurring in Florentine painting during this time is Cimabue (c.1240-1302). In his Maesta the viewer may observe elements of both the earlier Byzantine style of painting, as well as the emerging Renaissance style. The work retains the gold background that was familiar in Byzantine icons , and his figures are rendered in a Byzantine style. However, Cimabue made efforts to create space in this work, which would become an important aspect in Renaissance art. His angels surrounding the Virgin and Child overlap one another to indicate space and Cimabue paid great attention to the Virgin’s throne to create a realistic depiction of space as well.

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Cimabue, Maesta, c.12801285. : Cimabue’s artwork reflects the changes that were occurring in Florentine painting during this period, by demonstrating both the older Byzantine style as well as the emerging Renaissance style.

Artists were able to work in Florence at least in part due to the influential art guilds , including the painters’ guild Arte dei Medici e Spezeiali. These guilds also became important patrons of the arts, and took over the maintenance and improvements of religious buildings.

Siena

The Sienese School of painting was more conservative than painting in Florence, but nonetheless important, flourishing between the 1200s and 1400s. Some of the important painters from this period included Duccio and his pupils Ambrogio Lorenzetti, Simone Martini, and Matteo di Giovanni.

Duccio di Buoninsegna is one of the best known Siena painters of the time. His work was often ornate with the use of gold leaf and jewels, demonstrating how Siena was focused on the physical materiality of work. His work in egg tempera also used brighter colors, rounded out features in faces and hands, and played with light and dark colors to highlight the figures under the drapery creating natural form , which was very unlike Byzantine figures but important to emerging Renaissance artists.

Duccio’s work was considered quite emotional, with a renewed focus on storytelling through the interactions of figures in the images and the selection of strong interpretations of biblical stories. The altarpiece Maestà (1308–1310) is one of his great works. Composed of multiple paintings and commissioned by the city of Sienna, the piece depicts the life of the Virgin Mary and Christ. The Virgin’s knee juts out toward the viewer as Duccio has created a realistic sense of form–an essential element of the emerging Renaissance style. While his work retains the gold background and gold halos so important in Byzantine art (and to Sienese patrons), this art acts as a bridge between the late Medieval era and Early Renaissance.

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Duccio, Maestà, 1308–1311: Duccio’s work demonstrates the emerging Renaissance style, as seen in the developed form of the figures, as well as the older Byzantine styles and the Sienese preference for materiality with the use of gold.

Italian Painting: Giotto

Giotto was one of the most revered painters of his time and an important bridge between the medieval and renaissance periods.

Learning Objectives

Describe Giotto’s use of naturalism, storytelling, and perspective in his work

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • Giotto di Bondone was born during the late 1200s in the Florence region of Italy. He would go on to become one of the most revered painters of his time and an important bridge between the medieval and renaissance periods.
  • The Arena Chapel frescoes in Padua, which depict scenes from the life of the Virgin Mary and Jesus, are some of Giotto’s best known masterpieces.
  • Scholars debate which works should be attributed to Giotto and which works should be attributed to his assistants or other artists working in his style .
  • Giotto’s distinct contribution to the history of art was a return to a style that directly references the natural world; his paintings aimed to capture the realism of the human form .

Key Terms

  • fresco: The technique of applying pigment, mixed with water, to wet plaster. As the pigment and plaster dry they fuse together and the painting physically becomes a part of the wall.

Giotto di Bondone was born during the late 1200s in the Florence region of Italy. He would go on to become one of the most revered painters of his time, and an important bridge between the medieval and renaissance periods.

The Arena Chapel frescoes were commissioned by the patron Enrico Scrovegni and depict scenes from the life of the Virgin Mary and Jesus. They are Giotto’s best known masterpieces.

Judas is shown kissing Jesus in the center with many men around them in motion.

Kiss of Judas: One of the most dramatic scenes from Giotto’s Arena Chapel frescoes depicts the moment Judas betrays Christ by identifying him to Roman soldiers.

Scholars debate over which works should be attributed to Giotto and which works should be attributed to assistants or other artists. For example, Giotto appears to have apprenticed with the Florentine painter Cimabue in Rome and may have been responsible for portions of the Chapel at Assisi. However, there is no documentation to confirm his work in Assisi.

Giotto’s distinct contribution to the history of art was a return to a style that directly references the natural world, a style that had not been emphasized by Medieval or Byzantine painters. While Medieval and Byzantine styles favored flat, elongated figures and a lack of natural perspective Giotto returned painting to a style that aimed to capture the naturalism of the human form.

Another strength of Giotto’s work was his storytelling ability. He was skilled at selecting strong interpretations of Biblical stories and at drawing viewers to the most visually and spiritually rich aspects of the story. This focus on relationships between figures, as well as a renewed interest in perspective and life drawing, are some of the aspects that would become prominent in Renaissance painting.

Italian Architecture 1200-1400

The Gothic style was the leading architectural style in Italy during this time period. However, Italian architects interpreted Gothic architecture differently than they did in France, resulting in a few key regional differences.

Learning Objectives

Discuss the architecture of Florence, Italy, during the Middle Ages and the architecture of the Florence Cathedral

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • While the French Gothic style gained popularity in many parts of Europe, the Gothic style was interpreted differently in Italy.
  • Gothic buildings in cities such as Florence lack the stained glass that characterizes French Gothic structures and as a whole they lack the emphasized verticality of French Gothic Cathedrals .
  • The Florence Cathedral is an example of the Gothic style in Italy.

Key Terms

  • lancet: A tall, narrow archway with a pointed arch at its top.
  • flying buttress: A buttress that stands apart from the structure that it supports, and is connected to it by an arch (flyer).

Florence: Architecture and Metalwork

Gothic architecture was developed in France and was characterized by lancet , or pointed, archways used for both windows and doorways. These allowed for both thinner walls and larger windows. The stained glass windows that seemed to replace walls altogether are the hallmark of French Gothic architecture. Other characteristics of the Gothic style include the increased use of flying buttresses to support walls, and a shift towards more slender and ornate columns , and vaulted ceilings.

While the French Gothic style gained popularity in many parts of Europe, the Gothic style was interpreted differently in Italy. Gothic buildings in cities such as Florence lack the stained glass that characterizes French Gothic structures and as a whole they lack the emphasized verticality of French Gothic Cathedrals.

Florence Cathedral

The Florence Cathedral is a great example of the Gothic style in Italy. Begun in 1296, the Cathedral is built in the Gothic style as Renaissance architecture had yet to be developed.

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Florence Cathedral, begun 1296: The Cathedral is pictured lit up at night, showcasing its Gothic style and large dome.

As the exterior view of the Cathedral demonstrates, Italian Gothic structures did not incorporate the stained glass windows, which had become so essential to French Gothic structures. The interior of the Cathedral, including the groin vaults and pointed arches , demonstrates the Gothic elements of its architecture quite clearly.

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Florence Cathedral, Interior view, begun 1296: In the interior of the Cathedral, you can see the Gothic elements, such as the groin vaults and pointed arches.