Cimabue (born around 1240 – died around 1302) was a famous 13th century Italian painter, painter, frescoist and mosaicist. Cimabue is rightfully considered one of the greatest representatives of the art of the Proto-Renaissance era. Among the few medieval artists, he abandoned the Byzantine style prevailing in those days in painting and began to use more realistic proportions in his paintings.
Cimabue (real name – Giovanni Cenni di Pepo) during his lifetime was distinguished by stubbornness and intractability. It was for these character traits that the artist got his nickname (translated from Italian – “bull-headed”), with which he entered the history of art forever.
Cimabue was born in Florence around 1240 in a wealthy family. His maternal ancestors belonged to the noble family of Gualtieri. Unfortunately, no other reliable data on the origin and childhood of the artist has survived to this day.
It is also unknown from whom Cimabue studied the art of painting and fresco painting of walls. But already in 1272 the artist was invited to Rome to decorate the decoration of one of the churches of the Eternal City.
There is a beautiful legend that Cimabue, while traveling from Florence to Vespignano in 1277, accidentally saw a boy who was enthusiastically drawing sheep on a stone. The artist was able to discern great talent in the child’s drawing and took with the permission of the child’s parents to study. The boy’s name was Giotto di Bondone.
Giotto many years later became one of the best masters of painting of the Proto-Renaissance and eclipsed the teacher with his fame. And his works became a source of inspiration for the genius Leonardo da Vinci, Rafael and Michelangelo.
According to Giorgio Vasari, Cimabue was a very proud man and was sensitive to criticism.
He was ready to destroy any of his works, if someone from outsiders accidentally discovered an error and scoffed at the talent of the master.
All of Cimabue’s works belong to the religious genre. The artist often carried out orders of the Catholic clergy and was under the patronage of Pope Nicholas IV. The best works of the master adorned the decoration of temples in different regions of Italy.
The artist spent the last years of his life in Pisa, where he supervised the creation of mosaic panels in the local city cathedral. Cimabue died around 1302, but the exact date and cause of death for descendants is still unknown.
The most famous works of Cimabue
Among the most famous works of Cimabue are those whose authorship is beyond doubt among experts in the field of art. All of them deserve special mention:
- The crucifix for the Church of San Domenico in Arezzo (1271) is the first piece of decorative and applied art of the Proto-Renaissance era, in which the master’s departure from the Byzantine traditions of painting is clearly noticeable. Christ is depicted in an expressive manner and endowed with the features of not only a deity, but also a person.
- The painting “The Mockery of Christ” (1280) is the only painting by the master ever sold at auction, the record holder for a price (19.5 million euros) among the works of art of the Proto-Renaissance era. The miniature painting was accidentally discovered in the apartment of a 90-year-old French woman and aroused great interest among buyers at the Actéon Hôtel des Ventes auction.
- The frescoes of the Church of San Francesco in Assisi (1280) are a large-scale work of art, which today is in a deplorable state. The unique murals were darkened by dampness and oxidation, except in small areas.
- The painting “Maesta” (Madonna enthroned) (1285) is a work written in tempera for the Church of Santa Trinita. This work is currently in the famous Uffizi Gallery in Florence.
- Part of the mosaic of the Cathedral of Pisa (1302), namely the figure of St. John. The master continued the work of Francesco da Pisa, and completed the mosaic 20 years after the death of Cimabue by another artist – Vincino da Pistoia.