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Entries in Proto-Renaissance (15)


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.


Pietro Lorenzetti: Sienese Master  

Pietro Lorenzetti - Entry of Christ into Jerusalem - c. 1320 - Fresco - Lower Church - San Francesco, Assisi, Italy (click photo for larger image)Pietro Lorenzetti (c. 1280-1348), along with his brother Ambrogio, were part of the Sienese School, dominated by the stylized Byzantine tradition developed by masters Duccio di Buoninsegna and Simone Martini. The Lorenzetti brothers were the first Sienese artists to adopt the dramatic quality of the Tuscan sculptor Giovanni Pisano, and the naturalistic approach of the great Florentine painter Giotto. In their experiments with three-dimensional, spatial arrangements, the brothers were among those few artists who foreshadowed the art of the Renaissance.

Pietro was the more traditional of the two brothers, showing harmony, refinement, and detail but also dramatic emotion. Ambrogio—more realistic, inventive, and influential than Pietro, is best known for the “Good Government” and “Bad Government” fresco cycles, discussed elsewhere on What About Art?.

The scene featured here depicts one of the scenes from the life of Christ featured on the vault of the south arm of the western transept of the Lower Church. The scene is set against a colorful architectural background.

Sadly, both brothers were lost far too soon to the Black Death.


"Jacopo della Fonte”

Jacopo della Quercia - Acca Larentia - 1414-19 - Marble, height 162 cm - Palazzo Pubblico, Siena (click photo for larger image)Jacopo della Quercia (1374-1448) was one of the most original Italian sculptors of the early 15th century. His best works give a sense of depth and also bear the marks of Hellenistic sculpture. Jacopo was a mysterious and ambivalent artist, but he carried Sienese sculpture to its height and influenced subsequent Sienese painters, as well as the young Michelangelo. 

The figure of Acca Larentia derives from a Roman Venus and has Jacopo's characteristic fleshiness and heavy drapery. The group is psychologically integrated, for as she holds one of the chubby boys who pushes at her breast, the other jumps up to attract her attention. She looks at him with almond-shaped eyes and a smile that suggests life. So successful was the fountain that the sculptor earned the nickname "Jacopo della Fonte".


Giovanni Pisano: a Rebirth of Monumentality

Giovanni Pisano - Plato - c. 1280 - Stone - Duomo, Siena (click photo for larger image)Sometimes called the only true Gothic sculptor in Italy - Giovanni Pisano (c. 1250 – after 1314) ultimately is viewed as a proto-Renaissance artist. He began his career under the classicist influence of his father, Nicola, and carried on this tradition after his father's death, continuously reintegrating the antique style into more northerly and contemporary Gothic forms. He would be a great inspiration for later sculptors such as Donatello and Michelangelo. The image here shows the figure of Plato from the west façade of Siena Cathedral. Giovanni did not share his father's taste for decorative grace. In fact, Giovanni appears to have reacted against this, and Tuscan sculpture entered a stylistic phase which was anything but graceful, finished and delicate. It was truly monumental.


Ambrogio Lorenzetti: A Genius Lost Too Soon

Ambrogio Lorenzetti - Annunciation - 1344 - Tempera on wood, 127 x 120 cm - Pinacoteca Nazionale, Siena (click photo for larger image)Ambrogio Lorenzetti (c. 1290-c. 1348) was one of great Sienese painters of his era and part of a family of painters. In this late and highly finished work Lorenzetti abandons his usual earthy depiction of realistic and human detail in favor of emphasizing the almost Gothic elegance of the two characters. They face each other across a floor that is, however, painted in rigorous perspective. The signed and dated painting was executed in 1344 for the City Council of Siena.