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RenaissanceThe Renaissance is marked by a new sense of the individual, what came to be known as “humanism.” Visually, it produced many radical breaks from medieval representations of the world and people. As focus shifted from God to humankind, interest grew in classical models, in which humans were seen as the measure of most things. Returning to classical rules of proportion, Renaissance artists followed rigorous systems of composing pictures to make them balanced, harmonious, timeless, and ideally beautiful. They also developed various tools, such as different types of perspective, as part of their parallel ambition to create more perfect representation of the physical world.


PISANO, Nicola

(active 1258-1278)

Pulpit, 1260. Marble,

height: 465 cmBaptistry, Pisa


The most extreme statement of Nicola's Classicism resides in Nicola’s "Fortitude", one of the cardinal virtues derived from Plato's Republic. This statuette is considered the first modern representation of a heroic nude in the Classical manner. It departs from earlier depictions of Hercules in the sculptor's attitude towards the beauty of the nude body.

Nicola Pissano,

Fortitude [刚毅], detail from the pulpit, 1260Marble, height: 56 cmBaptistry, Pisa


Nicola PISANO:Adoration of the Magi, detail from the pulpit, 1260. Marble, 85 x 113 cm, Baptistry, Pisa


Nicola Pisano: Annunciation, Birth of Jesus and Adoration of the Shepherds, 1260. Marble, Baptistry, Pisa


Giovanni Pisano (son), The Annunciation and Nativity. 1298-1301. Marble, 84 x 102 cm, Sant'Andrea, Pistoia


The five reliefs depict: the Annunciation, Nativity and Annunciation to the Shepherds; the Adoration, Dream of the Magi and Angel warning Joseph; the Massacre of the Innocents; the Crucifixion; and the Last Judgment. They demonstrate an increased interest in anecdotal detail and narrative enrichment.

At the angles of the archivolts between prophets are six sibyls with attendant genii whispering in their ears, a motif also used by Michelangelo on the Sistine Chapel ceiling. It is in the style of the relief and the figures with more expressive gestures, angular forms, diagonal rhythms, deep undercutting and emphasis on heavy shadows that one feels Giovanni has found his mature stride. The influence of French ivories is everywhere evident. The reliefs were carved quickly and surely with great freedom and abrupt plunges into darkness. For the first time Giovanni carved the reliefs tilting towards the viewer to achieve greater visibility.

Giovanni Pisano: Pulpit, 1301. Marble, height: 455 cm, Sant'Andrea, Pistoia


Bonaventura BERLINGHIERI, Italian painter, Lucchese school (active in mid-13th).

St Francis, 1235. Tempera on wood. Church of San Francesco, Pescia. The painting of St Francis is one of the earliest altarpieces dedicated to the saint who was canonized in 1228. The Berlinghieri family exerted considerable influence on Florentine painting before Cimabue.



The altarpiece first appeared in Italy in the thirteenth century as new attention was focused on the altar by changes in the liturgy, church architecture, and the display of relics. Painting on wooden panels had not been common until this time, when gilded and painted panels of elaborate altarpieces began to join -- and would eventually overshadow -- fresco and mosaic as the principal forms of decoration in Italian churches. Artists in Europe turned to the Christian East to learn how to paint on wooden panels, adapting the techniques, style, and subject matter of Byzantine icons.

For Byzantine Christians -- and Orthodox Christians today -- the icon was a true copy of its holy model. Theologians used the analogy of a wax impression and the seal used to create it to describe the relation between an icon and its subject. Because icons depict a holy and infinite presence, not the temporal physical world, they avoid direct reference to earthly reality, to specific time or place. Instead, backgrounds are dematerialized with shimmering gold, settings are schematized, and figures often appear timeless and static. Icons are devotional images -- windows through which viewer and holy subject make contact.

Church decoration was also meant to instruct the faithful. In the West, artists were called upon to tell stories. Church frescoes and mosaics -- and now panel painting -- illustrated the lives of Christ, the Virgin, and saints. New religious orders, especially the Franciscans, who renounced their possessions to preach in villages and towns as Christ had done, stimulated interest in the human life of holy figures. Artists sought to capture the world of everyday experience with greater verisimilitude, relying less on an "ideal image in the soul" and more on what could be seen by the human eye.

Among the first and most important artists to move in this direction was Giotto. Recognized as a father of "modern" painting, he was the first Western artist since antiquity to capture the weight and mass of bodies moving in space, making them three-dimensional with light and shadow. He abandoned the decorative pattern and complicated line of Byzantine art; his forms are heavy and his shapes simple. And as if to match their convincing visual form, Giotto animated his figures with human psychology. Renaissance critics contrasted Giotto's style, which they termed "Latin," with the work of his Sienese contemporary Duccio, whose inspiration was Greek.


Duccio: Madonna and Child Enthroned with Angels and Saints, principal panel of the Maestà Altarpiece, 1308-1311. Tempera on wood, size of the panel 7’x13’. Museo dell’ Opera de Duomo, Siena.


The huge altarpiece originally must have been over 5 meters (about 16.5 feet) high and 5 meters (about 16.5 feet) long. It was painted on both sides. The whole panel remained on the cathedral’s high altar until 1506, and was then displayed on a different altar. Finally, in 1711 the decision was made to dismantle the altarpiece in order to distribute them between the two altars. At first the whole frame, the predellas and the crowning sections were removed. Then the panel was sawn into seven parts. The two predellas were each painted on a horizontally laid piece of wood, and could therefore be taken apart easily. The main panel, however, posed a problem. On the front, it consists of eleven boards arranged vertically, to which five boards, laid horizontally, were nailed from the back. The wood, which had been glued and nailed together, was very difficult to saw in two, and in the process the picture-surface was severely damaged – especially the Madonna’s face and garment. We owe the panel’s present state of presentation to successful restoration in 1956.


Duccio, The Betrayal of Jesus, detail from the back of the Maestà Altarpiece, 1309-1311,

Tempera on wood, size of detail 57 x 102 cm. Museo dell’Opera Duomo, Siena.


Duccio di BuoninsegnaThe Nativity with the Prophets Isaiah and Ezekiel, 1308/1311, tempera on panel, middle section: 43.8 x 44.4 cm, left and right section: 43.8 x 16.5 cm. The Nativity, flanked by Old Testament prophets who foretold the birth of Jesus, was on the front of the Maestà, the altarpiece at Siena cathedral. It was one of the scenes from Christ's childhood painted above and below the central image of Mary enthroned in a crowd of saints and angels. With more than fifty individual scenes, the altarpiece was about fourteen feet wide and towered to gabled pinnacles some seventeen feet over the main altar. It was installed in June 1311 after a triumphant procession through the streets of Siena. Priests, city officials, and citizens were followed by women and children ringing bells for joy. Shops were closed all day and alms were given to the poor. Completed in less than three years, the Maestà was a huge undertaking for which Duccio received 3,000 gold florins -- more than any artist had ever commanded. Nevertheless, Duccio, like all artists of his time, was regarded as a craftsman and was often called on to paint ceiling coffers, parade shields, and the like. Not until the middle and later fourteenth century did the status of artists rise.


Duccio di BuoninsegnaThe Calling of the Apostles Peter and Andrew, 1308/1311 tempera on panel, 43.5 x 46 cm. NGA, Washington D.C. This was one of the rear panels of Duccio's magnificent Maestà.

Duccio signed the main section of the Maestà, or "Virgin in Majesty," which is still in Siena. His signature, one of the earliest, reads: "Holy Mother of God, be the cause of peace for Siena and life for Duccio because he painted you thus." This plea for eternal life -- and perhaps fame -- signals a new self-awareness among artists. Within a hundred years signatures become commonplace.

A blend of Byzantine and other influences characterizes Duccio's style. Many of his motifs seem to be based on Byzantine manuscript illuminations.


Pietro CAVALLINI, (1250-1330). The Last Judgement (detail of the Apostles) 1295-1300. FrescoSanta Cecilia in Trastevere, Rome.He was the first artist to make a significant break with the stylizations of Byzantine art, and his majestic figures have a real sense of weight and 3-dimensionality. His work undoubtedly influenced Giotto.


Enthroned Madonna and Child, 13th century, tempera on panel, 131.1 x 76.8 cm. NGA, Washington DC. The blend of Byzantine and Western elements indicates that the was Greek, working in Italy or, at least, for a Western patron. The delicate gold striations defining the folds of cloth are a Byzantine convention, and the composition itself is closely modeled on one of the most enduring icon types, the Hodegetria -- the Virgin who, by indicating the Child, "shows the way." Yet Jesus gives the Western, not Eastern, sign of blessing, and the halos are not the plain burnished disks found in Byzantium but are decorated with the floral patterns popular in Italy. The three-dimensional view of the Virgin's throne may also reflect Western influence. With her red shoes and the archangels' imperial regalia, the elaborate throne underscores Mary's role as queen of Heaven.


CIMABUE, Italian painter, (1240-1302), The Madonna in Majesty, 1285-86. Tempera on panel, 385 x 223 cm, Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence. This Madonna still shows the influence of the Byzantine tradition. There is, however, an unprecedented tension in the profiles and in the attempt to create spatial depth, which is rendered by superimposing the figures and in the concave structure at the base of the throne behind the figures of the prophets. The architectural structure of the throne becomes a sort of robust spatial scheme which creates a three-dimensional effect, while the edges of the painting seem to compress and hold in the bodies. There is an intense vitality in the figures.


CIMABUE, The Madonna in Majesty (detail), 1285-86. Tempera on panel, 91 x 75 cm (full painting: 385 x 223 cm), Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence.

In earlier times, the Virgin was placed on a throne and held her son with the gravity of a priest holding the chalice . . . . But at the end of the 13th century we come down to earth again...the Mother and Child gaze at each other, and a smile passes between them . . . . When we reach the 14th century, we see the Virgin and Child come even closer to humanity.... And finally, the Virgin who for so long had shown such respect and was seemingly unable to forget that her son was also her God, dared to embrace the Child and press her cheek against his.


GIOTTO di Bondone (b. 1267, Vespignano, d. 1337, Firenze) Ognissanti Madonna (Madonna in Maestà). c. 1310. Tempera on wood, 325 x 204 cm Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence.

This is the greatest of Giotto's panel paintings. The Child raising his hand in a gesture of benediction. The sad, remote, inscrutable Virgin of the 13th c. has been transformed into a very human woman, her lips parted in a hint of a smile that reveals the white of her teeth. The earthly weight of her body is set off by the delicacy of the Gothic throne. The groups of angels on each side of the throne occupy real space, and would seem to be the elegant retainers of a royal court.


Arena Chapel (or Scrovegni Chapel)begun 1303; consecrated 1305. Padua, Italy. This chapel may have been built initially with the thought of having fresco decoration. Giotto was brought to Padua to design and paint the interior of the chapel.


Interior of the Arena Chapel (Capella Scrovegni), Padua, 1305-1306.

The frescoes in the Arena Chapel in Padua are among the most celebrated works in the history of art. Giotto's work was a source of inspiration and instruction for generations of painters; it was studied and absorbed by Masaccio, Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, and Raphael, artists whose own work was to be of such fundamental importance for the history of European art.


Joachim was expelled from the temple because of his childlessness

The angel appearing to him in a dream with the announce-ment of the coming birth of Mary

Joachim made a sacrificial offering that was favourably received by God.


Joachim's return to Jerusalem, where he meets his wife Anne at the Golden Gate, and Mary is conceived in the kiss that Anne bestows on her elderly husband.

The angel appeared to Anne with the news that she would bear a child.


Arnolfo de Cambio (attributed), Franciscan Church of Santa Croce, Florence, 1294-1400. Giotto painted a Saint John cycle and frescoes of the life and death of Saint Francis. The interior is a masterpiece of Italian Gothic architecture. A high, unvaulted, open space, obstruction free, bright and serene, it is an eminently public hall.


Giotto: Scenes from the Life of Saint Francis: Renunciation of Wordly Goods. 1325.

Fresco, 280 x 450 cm. Bardi Chapel, Santa Croce, Florence


Giotto. Death of St. Francis and Inspection of Stigmata. c.1320s. Fresco. Santa Croce, Bardi Chapel, Florence.


GADDI, Taddeo: Italian painter, Florentine school (b. 1300, Firenze, d. 1366, Firenze)

Life of the Virgin (detail), 1328-30, Fresco, Cappella Baroncelli, Santa Croce, Florence


Simone Martini, The Annunciation and Two Saints, 1333. Tempera on wood, 184 x 210 cm. Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence


Ambrogio LORENZETTI, (1290-1348), Allegory of the Good Government, 1338-40. Fresco, Palazzo Pubblico, Siena.

The fresco is on the side walls of the Council Room (Sala dei Nove) of the City Hall (Palazzo Pubblico) of Siena. The size of the room is 2,96 x 7,70 x 14,40 m. The subject of the frescoes are the Good and Bad Government and their effects on the life of the cities and villages. The Allegory of the Good Goverment is situated on the smaller wall opposite to the windows. The composition is built up from three horizontal bands. In the foreground the figures of contemporary Siena are represented. Behind them, on a stage, there are allegoric figures in two groups, representing the Good Government. The two groups are connected by the procession of the councilors. The upper band indicates the heavenly sphere with the floating bodyless ghosts of the virtues.

The enthroned man on the right side of the middle band represents the city of Siena and embodies the Good Government. Around his head the four letters C S C V (Commune Saenorum Civitatis Virginis) explain his identity. At his feet the two plating children are the sons of Remus, Ascius snd Senius, the founders of Siena according to the Roman legends. On both sides of Siena the virtues of Good Government are represented by six crowned, stately female figures: Peace, Fortitude and Prudence on the left, Magnanimity, Temperance and Justice on the right. On the far left of the fresco the figure of Justice is repeated as she is balancing the scales held by Wisdom.

Below the fresco there is the signature of the painter: AMBROSIUS LAURENTII DE SENIS HIC PINXIT UTRINQUE.


Ambrogio Lorenzetti (1290-1348), Effects of Good Government on the City Life (detail) 1338-40. Fresco. Palazzo Pubblico, Siena

The Effect of the Good Goverment is situated on the longer wall of the room. This panoramic fresco represents several scenes indicating the life of Siena and its environment in the 14th century. This detail shows the centre of the city. In the middle the dancing young women probably represent the nine Muses. There are several genre like scenes in the picture (shops, chatting men, riders, working men on the roof etc.)


Ambrogio Lorenzetti, Effects of Good Government on the City Life (detail),

1338-40, Fresco, Palazzo Pubblico, Siena


Effects of Bad Government on the Countryside (detail),1338-40, Fresco, Palazzo Pubblico, Siena.

In the hilly countryside the only activities are ones of death and destruction, setting fire to isolated houses and whole villages. The countryside is bare and barren, the trees bear no fruit and no one is cultivating the land.


Effects of Bad Government on the City Life (detail), 1338-40. Fresco, Palazzo Pubblico, SienaInside the city surrounded by crenellated walls, houses are torn down and set ablaze, the streets are full of rubble, the palaces collapse, while all around hoards of soldiers commit acts of violence, killing and maiming. In this city, where loneliness reigns, no one is working; just one artisan, a blacksmith, is forging weapons.


Francesco TRAINI, (active 1321-1363), Triumph of Death (detail), c. 1350, Fresco, Campo Santo, Pisa. The fresco, with its naturalistic details, shows direct influences of the Sienese masters, Pietro and Ambrogio Lorenzetti.