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 Cenni di Pepe  (c.1240 - 1302)

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Lived/Active: Italy      Known for: painting

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This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Please note: Artists not classified as American in our database may have limited biographical data compared to the extensive information about American artists.

Cimabue (c.1240-1302)

Cimabue, the nickname (Ox-head) given to Cenni di Peppi), was the major artist working in Florence at the end of the 13th-century.  Associated with Gothic art*, he was an important forerunner of the later International Gothic style.  A contemporary of Dante (who describes him in The Divine Comedy, as the leading painter of the time), he is supposed to have taught the great Giotto di Bondone (1267-1337) and initiated the move from the static "unreal" style of Byzantine* art to the more realistic modern idiom of Proto-Renaissance art, employing three-dimensional space, more natural-looking human forms and greater emotion.

Giorgio Vasari (1511-74), the Italian, writer, painter and architect - writing 300 years later - places an account of Cimabue at the very beginning of his Lives of the Artists (1550), stating that he gave "the first light to the art of painting".  But little if any solid evidence remains to support this assertion.

The Assisi Upper Church frescos feature the Four Evangelists (in the vaults of the crossing), Life of the Virgin (walls of the apse), Apocalyptic Scenes and Crucifixion (left transept), Lives of St Peter and St Paul (right transept).  In general, their preservation is poor, but enough remains visible to show that the Crucifixion is a work of enormous drama and power.  And Cimabue masterfully unifies the picture plane with the architectural space it occupies.
The S.Trinita Madonna, Cimabue's major surviving example of altarpiece art, is - like the Rucellai Madonna, by Duccio di Buoninsegna (c.1260-1319) - one of the most majestic of the series of huge gabled panel-paintings of the Madonna and Child which culminates in Ognissanti Madonna (1307) by Giotto.  It employs convincing linear perspective with a tentative central vanishing point, and marks a significant step in the Florentine depiction of realistic pictorial space.

Cimabue's talent is also clearly visible in the S.Croce Crucifixion.  The flesh is painted in a new softness, and Christ's body is portrayed using an extremely emotive Gothic-style "S" curve, after the Tuscan artist Giunta Pisano (active c.1230-55).

If these (plausible) attributions are accurate, then Cimabue was indeed the foremost figure in fine art painting of the pre-Giotto era.

Some art historians also credit Cimabue with the design of the huge round stained glass window of the choir of Siena Cathedral (c.1287), although this attribution remains contentious.  Other works associated with Cimabue include: Madonna and Child (1290-5, Louvre, Paris); and Christ Enthroned between the Virgin and St John the Evangelist (1301-2, Pisa Cathedral).

In any event, by the beginning of the 14th-century, Cimabue, his pupils and followers, represented an important group of medieval artists in the historical development of Italian painting, and were an important precursor of the Early Renaissance in Florence.

Online Encyclopedia of Irish and World Art

* For more in-depth information about these terms and others, see Glossary

This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Please note: Artists not classified as American in our database may have limited biographical data compared to the extensive information about American artists.

Cimabue, whose real name was Cenni di Pepe, was born between 1240 and 1250 in Florence and died possibly in 1302 in Pisa.  His only certain documented work is the Mosaic in the apse of Pisa Cathedral, particularly the figure of St. John, for which there are documents of 1301 and 1302. Practically every deduction made about Cimabue is based on the attribution to him of the very large Maesta now in the Uffizi.  He derived elements of his style from earlier Florentine painters such as Coppo di Marcovaldo.  Cimabue's passionate intensity of feeling, expressed by means of outline and facial expression, determined one of the leading characteristics of Florentine art and must be seen as an indispensable preliminary stage in the dramatic and realistic art of Giotto.

Sources include:
Phaidon Encyclopedia of Art and Artists
From the internet, Biography

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