Guides to Fine Arts Like Painting, Designing, Architecture, Sculpture, Photography and More

THE FINAL, OR GOTHIC PERIOD.

The Gothic order of architecture, which was perfected during this period, had a decided influence upon the painting and sculpture of the time; but this influence was not felt until Gothic architecture had reached a high point in its development. France was now the leading country of the world, and Paris came to be the most important of all cities: it was the centre from which went forth edicts as to the customs of society, the laws of dress and conduct, and even of the art of love. From France came the codes of chivalry, and the crusades, which spread to other lands, originated there. Thus, for the time, Paris overshadowed Rome and the older centres of art, industry, and science, with a world-wide influence.

Figure of Henry I The Final or Gothic Period - Painting
Fig. 23.—Figure of Henry I. in West Window of Strasbourg Cathedral.

Although the painting of this period had largely the same characteristics as that of the Romanesque period, it had a different spirit, and it was no longer under the control of the clergy. Before this time, too, painters had frequently been skilled in other arts; now it became the custom for them to be painters only, and besides this they were divided into certain classes of painters, and were then associated with other craftsmen who were engaged in the trade which was connected with their art. That is, the glass-painters painted glass only, and were associated with the glass-blowers; those who decorated shields, with the shield or scutcheon makers, and so on; while the painters, pure and simple, worked at wall-painting, and a little later at panel-painting also. From this association of artists and tradesmen there grew up brotherhoods which supported their members in all difficulties, and stood by each other like friends. Each brotherhood had its altar in some church; they had their funerals and festivals in common, and from these brotherhoods grew up the more powerful societies which were called guilds. These guilds became powerful organizations; they had definite rights and duties, and even judicial authority as to such matters as belonged to their special trades.

All this led to much greater individuality among artists than had ever existed before: it came to be understood that a painter could, and had a right to, paint a picture as he wished, and was not governed by any priestly law. Religious subjects were still painted more frequently than others, and the decoration of religious edifices was the chief employment of the artists; but they worked with more independence of thought and spirit. The painters studied more from nature, and though the change was very slow, it is still true that a certain softness of effect, an easy flow of drapery, and a new grace of pose did appear, and about a.d. 1350 a new idea of the uses and aims of painting influenced artists everywhere.
Fig. 24.—Birth of the Virgin. From the Grandes Heures of the Duc de Berri.

About that time they attempted to represent distances, and to create different planes in their works; to reproduce such things as they represented far more exactly than they had done before, and to put them in just relations to surrounding places and objects; in a word, they seemed to awake to an appreciation of the true office of painting and to its infinite possibilities.

During this Gothic period some of the most exquisite manuscripts were made in France and Germany, and they are now the choicest treasures of their kind in various European collections.

Fig. 24, of the birth of the Virgin Mary, is from one of the most splendid books of the time which was painted for the Duke de Berry and called the Great Book of the Hours. The wealth of ornament in the border is a characteristic of the French miniatures of the time. The Germans used a simpler style, as you will see by Fig. 25, of the Annunciation.

The influence of the Gothic order of architecture upon glass-painting was very pronounced. Under this order the windows became much more important than they had been, and it was not unusual to see a series of windows painted in such pictures as illustrated the whole teaching of the doctrines of the church. It was at this time that the custom arose of donating memorial windows to religious edifices. Sometimes they were the gift of a person or a family, and the portraits of the donors were painted in the lower part of the window, and usually in a kneeling posture; at other times windows were given by guilds, and it is very odd to see craftsmen of various sorts at work in a cathedral window: such pictures exist at Chartres, Bourges, Amiens, and other places.
Fig. 25.—The Annunciation. From the Mariale of Archbishop Arnestus of Prague.

About a.d. 1300 it began to be the custom to represent architectural effects upon colored windows. Our cut is from a window at Konigsfelden, and will show exactly what I mean (Fig. 26).

This style of decoration was not as effective as the earlier ones had been, and, indeed, from about this time glass-painting became less satisfactory than before, from the fact that it had more resemblance to panel-painting, and so lost a part of the individuality which had belonged to it.
Fig. 26.—Painted Window at Konigsfelden.

Wall-paintings were rare in the Gothic period, for its architecture left no good spaces where the pictures could be placed, and so the interior painting of the churches was almost entirely confined to borders and decorative patterns scattered here and there and used with great effect. In Germany and England wall-painting was more used for the decoration of castles, halls, chambers, and chapels; but as a whole mural painting was of little importance at this time in comparison with its earlier days.

About a.d. 1350 panel pictures began to be more numerous, and from this time there are vague accounts of schools of painting at Prague and Cologne, and a few remnants exist which prove that such works were executed in France and Flanders; but I shall pass over what is often called the Transitional Period, by which we mean the time in which new influences were beginning to act, and hereafter I will tell our story by giving accounts of the lives of separate painters; for from about the middle of the thirteenth century it is possible to trace the history of painting through the study of individual artists.
Fig. 27.—Portrait of Cimabue.

Giovanni Cimabue, the first painter of whom I shall tell you, was born in Florence in 1240. He is sometimes called the “Father of Modern Painting,” because he was the first who restored that art to any degree of the beauty to which it had attained before the Dark Ages. The Cimabui were a noble family, and Giovanni was allowed to follow his own taste, and became a painter; he was also skilled in mosaic work, and during the last years of his life held the office of master of the mosaic workers in the Cathedral of Pisa, where some of his own mosaics still remain.

Of his wall-paintings I shall say nothing except to tell you that the finest are in the Upper Church at Assisi, where one sees the first step in the development of the art of Tuscany. But I wish to tell the story of one of his panel pictures, which is very interesting. It is now in the Rucellai Chapel of the Church of Santa Maria Novella, in Florence, and it is only just in me to say that if one of my readers walked through that church and did not know about this picture, it is doubtful if he would stop to look at it—certainly he would not admire it. The story is that when Cimabue was about thirty years old he was busy in painting this picture of the Madonna Enthroned, and he would not allow any one to see what he was doing.

It happened, however, that Charles of Anjou, being on his way to Naples, stopped in Florence, where the nobles did everything in their power for his entertainment. Among other places they took him to the studio of Cimabue, who uncovered his picture for the first time. Many persons then flocked to see it, and were so loud in their joyful expressions of admiration for it that the part of the city in which the studio was has since been called the Borgo Allegri, or the “joyous quarter.”

When the picture was completed the day was celebrated as a festival; a procession was formed; bands of music played joyful airs; the magistrates of Florence honored the occasion with their presence; and the picture was borne in triumph to the church. Cimabue must have been very happy at this great appreciation of his art, and from that time he was famous in all Italy.
Fig. 28.—The Madonna of the Church of Santa Maria Novella.

Another madonna by this master is in the Academy of Florence, and one attributed to him is in the Louvre, in Paris.

Cimabue died about 1302, and was buried in the Church of Santa Maria del Fiore, or the Cathedral of Florence. Above his tomb these words were inscribed: “Cimabue thought himself master of the field of painting. While living, he was so. Now he holds his place among the stars of heaven.”

Other artists who were important in this early time of the revival of painting were Andrea Tafi, a mosaist of Florence, Margaritone of Arezzo, Guido of Siena, and of the same city Duccio, the son of Buoninsegna. This last painter flourished from 1282 to 1320; his altar-piece for the Cathedral of Siena was also carried to its place in solemn procession, with the sound of trumpet, drum, and bell.

Giotto di Bondone was the next artist in whom we have an unusual interest. He was born at Del Colle, in the commune of Vespignano, probably about 1266, though the date is usually given ten years later. One of the best reasons for calling Cimabue the “Father of Painting” is that he acted the part of a father to Giotto, who proved to be so great an artist that from his time painting made a rapid advance. The story is that one day when Cimabue rode in the valley of Vespignano he saw a shepherd-boy who was drawing a portrait of one of his sheep on a flat rock, by means of a pointed bit of slate for a pencil. The sketch was so good that Cimabue offered to take the boy to Florence, and teach him to paint. The boy’s father consented, and henceforth the little Giotto lived with Cimabue, who instructed him in painting, and put him to study letters under Brunetto Latini, who was also the teacher of the great poet, Dante.
Fig. 29.—Portrait of Dante,
painted by Giotto.

The picture which we give here is from the earliest work by Giotto of which we have any knowledge. In it were the portraits of Dante, Latini, and several others. This picture was painted on a wall of the Podestà at Florence, and when Dante was exiled from that city his portrait was covered with whitewash; in 1841 it was restored to the light, having been hidden for centuries. It is a precious memento of the friendship between the great artist and the divine poet, who expressed his admiration of Giotto in these lines:—

“In painting Cimabue fain had thought
To lord the field; now Giotto has the cry,
So that the other’s fame in shade is brought.”

Giotto did much work in Florence; he also, about 1300, executed frescoes in the Lower Church at Assisi; from 1303-1306 he painted his beautiful pictures in the Cappella dell’ Arena, at Padua, by which the genius of Giotto is now most fully shown. He worked at Rimini also, and about 1330 was employed by King Robert of Naples, who conferred many honors upon him, and made him a member of his own household. In 1334 Giotto was made the chief master of the cathedral works in Florence, as well as of the city fortifications and all architectural undertakings by the city authorities. He held this high position but three years, as he died on January 8, 1337.

Giotto was also a great architect, as is well known from his tower in Florence, for which he made all the designs and a part of the working models, while some of the sculptures and reliefs upon it prove that he was skilled in modelling and carving. He worked in mosaics also, and the famous “Navicella,” in the vestibule of St. Peter’s at Rome, was originally made by him, but has now been so much restored that it is doubtful if any part of what remains was done by Giotto’s hands.
Fig. 30.—Giotto’s Campanile and the Duomo. Florence.

The works of Giotto are too numerous to be mentioned here, and his merits as an artist too important to be discussed in our limits; but his advance in painting was so great that he deserved the great compliment of Cennino, who said that Giotto “had done or translated the art of painting from Greek into Latin.”

I shall, however, tell you of one excellent thing that he did, which was to make the representation of the crucifix far more refined and Christ-like than it had ever been. Before his time every effort had been made to picture physical agony alone. Giotto gave a gentle face, full of suffering, it is true, but also expressive of tenderness and resignation, and it would not be easy to paint a better crucifix than those of this master.

In person Giotto was so ugly that his admirers made jokes about it; but he was witty and attractive in conversation, and so modest that his friends were always glad to praise him while he lived, and since his death his fame has been cherished by all who have written of him. There are many anecdotes told of Giotto. One is that on a very hot day in Naples, King Robert said to the painter, “Giotto, if I were you, I would leave work, and rest.” Giotto quickly replied, “So would I, sire, if I were you.”

When the same king asked him to paint a picture which would represent his kingdom, Giotto drew an ass bearing a saddle on which were a crown and sceptre, while at the feet of the ass there was a new saddle with a shining new crown and sceptre, at which the ass was eagerly smelling. By this he intended to show that the Neapolitans were so fickle that they were always looking for a new king.

There is a story which has been often repeated which says, that in order to paint his crucifixes so well, he persuaded a man to be bound to a cross for an hour as a model; and when he had him there he stabbed him, in order to see such agony as he wished to paint. When the Pope saw the picture he was so pleased with it that he wished to have it for his own chapel; then Giotto confessed what he had done, and showed the body of the dead man. The Pope was so angry that he threatened the painter with the same death, upon which Giotto brushed the picture over so that it seemed to be destroyed. Then the Pope so regretted the loss of the crucifix that he promised to pardon Giotto if he would paint him another as good. Giotto exacted the promise in writing, and then, with a wet sponge, removed the wash he had used, and the picture was as good as before. According to tradition all famous crucifixes were drawn from this picture ever after.

When Boniface VIII. sent a messenger to invite Giotto to Rome, the messenger asked Giotto to show him something of the art which had made him so famous. Giotto, with a pencil, by a single motion drew so perfect a circle that it was thought to be a miracle, and this gave rise to a proverb still much used in Italy:—Piu tondo che l’O di Giotto, or, “Rounder than the O of Giotto.”

Giotto had a wife and eight children, of whom nothing is known but that his son Francesco became a painter. Giotto died in 1337, and was buried with great honors in the Church of Santa Maria del Fiore. Lorenzo de Medici erected a monument to his memory. The pupils and followers of Giotto were very numerous, and were called Giotteschi; among these Taddeo Gaddi, and his son Agnolo, are most famous: others were Maso and Bernardo di Daddo; but I shall not speak in detail of these artists.

While Giotto was making the art of Florence famous, there was an artist in Siena who raised the school of that city to a place of great honor. This was Simone Martini, who lived from 1283 to 1344, and is often called Simone Memmi because he married a sister of another painter, Lippo Memmi. The most important works of Simone which remain are at Siena in the Palazzo Pubblico and in the Lower Church at Assisi. There is one beautiful work of his in the Royal Institution, at Liverpool, which illustrates the text, “Behold, thy father and I have sought Thee, sorrowing.”

While the Papal court was at Avignon, in 1338, Simone removed to that city. Here he became the friend of Petrarch and of Laura, and has been praised by this poet as Giotto was by Dante.

Another eminent Florentine artist was Andrea Orcagna, as he is called, though his real name was Andrea Arcagnuolo di Cione. He was born about 1329, and died about 1368. It has long been the custom to attribute to Orcagna some of the most important frescoes in the Campo Santo at Pisa; but it is so doubtful whether he worked there that I shall not speak of them. His father was a goldsmith, and Orcagna first studied his father’s craft; he was also an architect, sculptor, mosaist, and poet, as well as a painter. He made an advance in color and in the painting of atmosphere that gives him high rank as a painter; as a sculptor, his tabernacle in the Church of Or San Michele speaks his praise. Mr. C. C. Perkins thus describes it: “Built of white marble in the Gothic style, enriched with every kind of ornament, and storied with bas-reliefs illustrative of the Madonna’s history from her birth to her death, it rises in stately beauty toward the roof of the church, and, whether considered from an architectural, sculptural, or symbolic point of view, must excite the warmest admiration in all who can appreciate the perfect unity of conception through which its bas-reliefs, statuettes, busts, intaglios, mosaics, and incrustations of pietre dure, gilded glass, and enamels are welded into a unique whole.”

But perhaps it is as an architect that Orcagna is most interesting to us, for he it was who made the designs for the Loggia de Lanzi in Florence. This was built as a place for public assembly, and the discussion of the topics of the day in rainy weather; it received its name on account of its nearness to the German guard-house which was called that of the Landsknechts (in German), or Lanzi, as it was given in Italian. Orcagna probably died before the Loggia was completed, and his brother Bernardo succeeded him as architect of the commune. This Loggia is one of the most interesting places in Florence, fully in sight of the Palazzo Signoria, near the gallery of the Uffizi, and itself the storehouse of precious works of sculpture.

There were also in these early days of the fourteenth century schools of art at Bologna and Modena; but we know so little of them in detail that I shall not attempt to give any account of them here, but will pass to the early artists who may be said to belong to the true Renaissance in Italy.

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