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Entries in Gothic Art (6)


Konrad Witz: Immediate and Convincing Scenes

Conrad Witz - Miraculous Draught of Fishes - 1443-44 - Tempera on wood, 132 x 151 cm - Musée d'Art et d'Histoire, Geneva (click photo for larger image)Konrad Witz (c. 1410-1446) was a German-born painter from Rottweil in Swabia. He was active in Switzerland and is generally considered a member of the Swiss school. He entered the painters' guild in Basle in 1434 and apparently spent the rest of his career there and in Geneva. Little else is known of him and few paintings by him survive. These few, however, show that he was remarkably advanced in his naturalism, suggesting a knowledge of the work of his contemporaries Jan van Eyck and the Master of Flémalle (both discussed elsewhere on What About Art?) Instead of the soft lines and lyrical qualities that characterize International Gothic Style works, we find in Witz's paintings more monumental figures, whose ample draperies further emphasize their solidity.

Witz's most famous works are the four surviving panels (forming two wings) from the altarpiece of St Peter, which he painted for the cathedral in Geneva. His Miraculous Draught of Fishes, featured here, is Witz's masterpiece and his only signed and dated work. The landscape setting depicts part of Lake Geneva (one of the earliest recognizable landscapes in art). Witz’s naturalism is even more remarkable in his observation of reflection and refraction in the water.


Jean Pucelle: French + Italian + Flemish = Pucelle

Workshop of Jean Pucelle - Belleville Breviary - 1323-26 - Manuscript (Ms. lat. 10484, 2 volumes), 240 x 170 mm - Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris (click photo for larger image)Jean (Jehan) Pucelle (ca.1300-1355 and active c. 1319-1334 in Paris) was a French Gothic era manuscript illuminator—master of a celebrated workshop in Paris during the 1320s. Little is known of his career, but his large workshop dominated Parisian painting in the first half of the 14th century. He enjoyed court patronage and his work commanded high prices. Certain features of his art—particularly his mastery of space—indicate that he probably travelled in Italy early in his career. He was also familiar with Flemish developments. It was the synthesis of these two influences—allowing for an increasing penetration of naturalistic representation into traditional iconography—which formed the basis for Pucelle's individual style.

The Belleville Breviary comes from the workshop of Pucelle, and in it a great many new features appear. The page featured here reveals a wide range of decorative inventions embracing naturalistic flowers, insects, birds and animals—and grotesque little men playing musical instruments. But the whole effect is tightly controlled, associated as it is with a firm regular framework of narrow bars.

The influence of Italian painting is marked in Pucelle's work, demonstrated by his interest in pictorial space. This is possibly the most revolutionary feature of his work. The exploitation of various rudimentary forms of perspective was a completely new feature of late thirteenth-century Italian painting, and Pucelle incorporated something of these experiments into his manuscript illuminations.

Folio 24v (below) shows David and Saul enclosed within a small doll's-house-like construction, painted erratically but clearly in three dimensions. Below (on the bas-de-page) the scene of Cain murdering his brother is depicted.


Adoration of the Magi by Altichiero da Zevio

Altichiero da Zevio - Adoration of the Magi - 1378-84 - Fresco - Oratorio di San Giorgio, Padua (click photo for larger image)Italian painter Altichiero da Zevio (ca. 1330-ca. 1390) probably came from Zevio near Verona and is sometimes considered to be the founder of the Veronese School. However, most of his surviving work is in Padua, where he had a hand in fresco cycles, intermittently, between 1377 and 1384.

Altichiero's gravity and the solidity and voluminousness of his figures clearly reveal his debt to Giotto’s frescos in the Arena of Padua. But his pageant-like scenes with their elaborate architectural views express the late fourteenth century taste for Gothic intricacy.

The work featured here is located middle right on the entry wall of the chapel.

Altichiero always gave his figures  room to move, as well as a characteristic serenity and deliberate quality. This is strongly reminiscent of Giotto's figural ideal. In this Adoration one can clearly see how Altichiero has combined the Giottesque character of the figures with the penchant for narrative detail that is more in tune with the taste of his own time. He directs the attention of the viewer to the retinue of people from the Orient, to the humble appearance of the stable, and to the clothing, with its often contemporary characteristics. In order to denote the specific locality, the painter allows the walls and towers of Bethlehem to rise beyond the mountains.


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.


Modigliani and Simone Martini

Simone Martini - Annunciation with Two Saints (detail) - 1333 - Tempera on wood - Uffizi Gallery, Florence, Italy (click photo for larger image)Simone Martini (c. 1285-1344) was among the early Italian artists who particularly moved Amedeo Modigliani(1884-1920). Discussions of both artists are featured elsewhere on this site.

The beautiful detail featured here (from Annunication with Two Saints) was painted around 1333 by Martini for the altar of Sant’Ansano in the Cathedral of Siena. Martini’s work reveals his great love of harmonious, pure colors. To these he added a gracefulness of line and delicacy of interpretation that were inspired by French Gothic works that the young artist studied in Italy. He carried to perfection the decorative line of the Gothic style and subordinated volume to the rhythm of this line.

Amedeo Modigliani - Jeanne Hebuterne, Left Arm Behind her Head - 1919 - Oil on canvas - Barnes Foundation, Philadelphia, PA (click photo for larger image)Modigliani had a passion for the same type of beauty. Heavily influenced by the Italian painting tradition, Simone Martini was among the early Italian artists who particularly moved him. A relationship between his and Martini’s work is definitely evident.