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Entries in Byzantine Art (8)

Friday
Jan252019

Master of Saint Cecilia: A Mystery

Saint Cecilia Master - Legend of St Francis: 26. The Healing of a Devotee of the Saint - c. 1300 - Fresco, 270 x 230 cm - Upper Church, San Francesco, Assisi (click photo for larger image)There do exist remarkable works of art created by artists whose names we do not know, and whose lives will always remain a mystery.

The Master of Saint Cecilia (active 1300-1320 in Florence) refers to an Italian painter named after the Saint Cecilia Altarpiece housed in the Uffizi. It was originally in the church of Saint Cecilia, destroyed by fire in 1304. Presumably, the artist was a Florentine, but nothing is known about him. Other works have been attributed to him because of their resemblance to the Uffizi work, the most important being the three concluding scenes of the great fresco cycle of the Life of Saint Francis in the Upper Church of San Francesco at Assisi. The painter of these scenes resembles Giotto (discussed elsewhere on What About Art?) in lucidity of presentation and in the solid drawing of his figures. But he is more genial in feeling than Giotto. His figures are more vivacious, and his colors are warmer and sweeter. The completion of the great cycle in the Upper Church would have been entrusted only to an established master. Some critics have attempted to identify the painter of these scenes and the Saint Cecilia Altarpiece with the famous but tantalizingly elusive Buffalmacco (1262-1340), however, there has been no universal agreement among scholars on that suggestion.

The detail featured here is the twenty-sixth of the twenty-eight scenes (twenty-five of which were painted by Giotto) of the Legend of Saint Francis from the Saint Cecilia Altarpiece. The fresco cycle in the Upper Church of the San Francesco at Assisi depicting the Legend of Saint Francis consists of 28 scenes. Although it is debated, the cycle is generally attributed to Giotto and his collaborators. However, Giotto's authorship of the closing scenes in the last bay of the nave are denied and these scenes are generally attributed to the Saint Cecilia Master.

Monday
Sep242018

The Harrowing of Hell

Anastasis (Harrowing of Hell) - c. 1310-20 - Fresco - Church of the Holy Savior of Chora/Kariye Museum, Istanbul, Turkey (click photo for larger image)The “Anastasis” (or “Harrowing of Hell”) was a subject frequently depicted in the Late Byzantine era. It drew upon the Christian tradition contending that on Holy Saturday, between his Crucifixion and his Resurrection, Christ rescued Adam and Eve from hell. Here, Christ, dressed in white and surrounded by a luminous full body halo, grasps Adam's and Eve's wrists as he pulls them from their tombs on either side of him.

About the work, art historians H.W. Janson and Anthony F. Janson described it as, “…a magnificently expressive image of divine triumph. Such dynamism had been unknown in the earlier Byzantine tradition. This style, which was related to slightly earlier developments in manuscript painting, was indeed revolutionary.” It was also an outcome of humanism's influence that had begun in the Middle Byzantine period.

Poet and scholar Theodore Metochites (also Emperor Andronicus II's prime minster), restored the church and commissioned the paintings to reflect religious narrative and "the growing Byzantine fascination with storytelling."

Friday
Dec082017

Scenes from the Life of St. Nicholas 

Ambrogio Lorenzetti - Scenes of the Life of St. Nicholas - c. 1332 - Tempera on wood, 92 x 49 cm - Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence (click photo for larger image)Ambrogio Lorenzetti (c. 1290-c. 1348) was an Italian artist who ranks in importance with the greatest of the Italian Sienese painters. Only six documented works of Ambrogio, apparently covering a period of merely 13 years, have survived. They include four scenes from the Legend of St. Nicholas of Bari, the Good and Bad Government wall decorations of 1337–39 (discussed elsewhere on this site), and the signed and dated panels of the Presentation of Christ in the Temple (1342) and of the Annunciation (1344). The Sienese school was dominated by the stylized Byzantine tradition, which also embodied the dramatic quality of the Tuscan sculptor Giovanni Pisano and the naturalistic approach of the Florentine painter Giotto. Ambrogio’s work foreshadowed the art of the Renaissance.

The panel featured here came from the church of St. Procolo in Florence, where it was recorded by Giorgio Vasari. It was probably painted as side wing of a triptych which had a figure of St Nicholas in the central panel (now disappeared). Lorenzetti likely painted it during a second visit he made to Florence between 1327 and 1332. It’s also possible that the panels made up a tabernacle door.

As the story goes, St. Nicholas gave a dowry to three virgins. An impoverished nobleman was ready to prostitute his three daughters, because no one would accept them in marriage without dowries. To save them from such a dishonorable fate, St Nicholas threw each of them a bag full of gold through their window, on three consecutive nights.

St. Nicholas is also said to have performed miracles. In the top scene of the first panel (featured here), the Saint brings a dead boy back to life.

Monday
Oct022017

The Beauty of Byzantine Art - 5th Century A.D. to 1453

Byzantine Painter - The Presentation in the Temple - Fifteenth century - Tempera on wood, gold ground - 17 1/2 x 16 5/8 in. (44.5 x 42.2 cm) - Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY (click photo for larger image)Byzantine Art is the art of the Byzantine Empire, centered in Constantinople (now Istanbul). The period ran from the Fifth Century A.D. to 1453. 

Byzantine art was completely focused on the needs of the Orthodox church, in the painting of icons and the decoration of churches with frescoes and mosaics. The work is very registered and linear—and the figures represented are devoid of expression or emotion. From a design perspective, Byzantine works represent some of the most exquisite creations in the history of art. Paintings were often completed on a gold ground.

The Byzantine style basically ended with the fall of Constantinople to the Turks in 1453, during the European Renaissance. However, its influence continued for a considerable time in Russia and elsewhere where the Orthodox church held sway. Moreover, many of the Modernists who looked to the art of the Middle Ages for inspiration were heavily influence by Byzantine works.

The work featured here is based on the Gospel of Luke (2:22–38). According to that passage, when Joseph (far left) and the Virgin (center) presented Christ in the temple for the rite of purification—forty days after his birth—his divinity was immediately recognized by Simeon (right) and the prophetess Anna (left).

Although this work was created during the fifteenth century, it bears no resemblance to the works created in Italy, at the same time, by artists in other parts of Europe.

Friday
Apr242015

The Beautiful Byzantine

Margarito d’Arezzo - Madonna and Child Enthroned - c. 1270 - Tempera on panel, 97 x 50 cm - National Gallery of Art, WashingtonByzantine art flourished from about 300 A.D to the 1400s. It grew out of the early Christian world, and took its name from the capital city of the Roman Empire: Byzantium (later renamed Constantinople, then Istanbul when the Ottomans captured the city in 1453). Byzantine art was completely focused on the needs of the Orthodox church, in the painting of icons and the decoration of churches with frescoes and mosaics. The style basically ended with the fall of Constantinople to the Turks in 1453, during the European Renaissance. However, its influence continued for a considerable time in Russia and elsewhere where the Orthodox church held sway. Visually, it also has had its influence on modernism. Byzantine works are truly stunning.