Category Archives: Renaissance Realist

Giotto di Bondone – Father of European Painting (www.segmation.com)


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Giotto di Bondone (c. 1267 – 1337), known simply as Giotto, was a Florentine painter and architect. He is now considered the first great master of the Italian Renaissance and the founder of modern European painting. Giotto’s natural and realistic style broke away from the symbolism of Byzantine art and was the catalyst that marked the start of the Renaissance.

Giotto was born in a small hamlet north of Florence. His father was a farmer and Giotto probably spent much of his youth as a shepherd. According to art historian Giorgio Vasari, the renowned Florentine artist, Cimabue, who was the last great painter in the Byzantine style, discovered the young Giotto drawing pictures of sheep on a rock. Cimabue was so impressed by the young boy’s talent that he immediately took him on as an apprentice. That story may be apocryphal but by around 1280 Giotto was working in Florence and by 1312 he was a member of the Florentine Guild of doctors and apothecaries, a guild that also included painters. He traveled to Rome with Cimabue and may well have worked on some of the master’s commissions.

Giotto signed his name to just three paintings. All other attributions to him are speculative and the unresolved controversy has raged through the art world for over a hundred years. Nevertheless, his work stands at the brink of a new age in art. He concentrated on representing human emotions, people in everyday situations, and capturing the human experience through his art.

Although he lacked the technical knowledge of perspective, he created a convincing three-dimensional pictorial space. His genius was immediately recognized by his contemporaries; he was lauded by great philosophers, writers and thinkers of his day, among them Dante and Boccaccio. Under Giotto’s leadership the old, stylized Byzantine art forms slowly disappeared from Florence, and later from other Italian cities. His freedom of expression influenced artists of the early and high Renaissance, and changed the course of European painting.

One of Giotto’s finest works is the series of frescoes painted 1304-1305 for the Scrovegni chapel in Padua, usually known as the Arena Chapel. The 37 scenes depict the lives of Christ and the Virgin Mary and are considered to be one of the masterpieces of the Early Renaissance. The figures in his paintings interact, gossip, and look at each other.

From 1306 to 1311 Giotto was in Assisi where some art historians believe he painted the fresco cycle of the Life of St. Francis. Although the style of the frescoes is realistic and breaks away from the Byzantine stylization, the controversy is caused by the stylistic differences between the St. Francis and Arena Chapel frescoes. Documents that could have proved the origin of the commissions were destroyed by Napoleon’s troops when they occupied the town in the early 19th century.

Giotto received commissions from princes and high officials of the church in Florence, Naples and Rome. Most scholars agree that he painted the frescoes in the Church of the Santa Croce in Florence and although he never signed the Ognissanti Madonna altarpiece, the Florentine work is universally recognized as being by him. It is known that Giotto was in Florence from 1314-1327 and the large panel painting depicting the Virgin was painted around 1310. The face of the Virgin is so expressive that it may well have been painted using a live model.

Towards the end of his life, Giotto was assigned to build the Campanile of the Florence Cathedral. In 1334 he was named chief architect and, although the Campanile is known as “Giotto’s Tower,” it was probably not built to his design specifications.

Giotto died in January, 1337. Even his burial place is surrounded by mystery. Vasari believed he was buried in the Cathedral of Florence, while other scholars claimed he was buried in the Church of Santa Reparata. But Giotto left an artistic legacy that could not be ignored. His disciples, Bernardo Daddi and Taddeo Gaddi continued in the master’s tradition and, a century later, the artistic torch lit by Giotto was passed on to Michelangelo and Raphael, the great masters of the High Renaissance.

Giotto made a radical break from the Byzantine (abstract – anti-naturalistic) style and brought more life to art. Giotto primarily painted Christian themes depicted in cycles and is best known for his frescos in various Chapels (Arene Chapel, Florence Cathedral, Assisi, Scrovegni).

Our pattern set collection features many of his more familiar works including the Ognissanti Madonna, The Mourning of Christ, The Marriage at Cana, The Mourning of St. Francis, Crucifixion and Madonna and Child.

Giotto di Bondone

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Jan van Eyck – Renaissance Realist (www.segmation.com)

 Jan van Eyck - Renaissance Realist by Segmation

 Jan van Eyck - Renaissance Realist by Segmation

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Jan van Eyck (c.1395-1441) was a Flemish painter who is now considered one of the leading Northern European artists of the 15th century.

Van Eyck’s precise date of birth is unknown, and little is known too about his childhood. The earliest surviving record dates to 1422 and describes him as a court painter to John of Bavaria where he held the rank of valet de chambre. It is believed however that he was born in Maaseik in Belgium and learned to paint in the studio of his older brother, Hubert.

Van Eyck probably joined John of Bavaria’s court in 1421. He left in 1424 for the court of Duke Philip the Good of Burgundy where he seemed to have found favor. While other painters of his time relied on commissions for their income, Philip paid van Eyck a generous salary which he doubled twice in the first few years and to which he added large bonuses.

Van Eyck’s work at the court involved more than painting, and he was sent on a number of secret missions on the Duke’s behalf. These included being part of a delegation sent in 1428 to arrange the Duke’s marriage to Isabella of Portugal. It’s possible that van Eyck’s portrait of Isabella helped to win the Duke’s agreement to the match.

In 1432, after his return from Lisbon, van Eyck settled in Bruges. He married and had a daughter who would later enter the convent at Maeseyck under the Duke’s sponsorship.

In addition to the work he produced at the court, van Eyck also took private commissions. One of the most famous was the Ghent Altarpiece, a series of panels painted with Hubert van Eyck between 1426 and 1432 for Jodocus Vijdts and his wife, Elisabeth Borluut. While Early Renaissance paintings of the time attempted re-create an ideal form of classical art, van Eyck’s paintings emphasized detail and realism. The van Eyck brothers’ unique use of glazes, “wet-on-wet” and other techniques led later critics to dub Jan van Eyck the “father of oil painting.”

Another famous painting, the Arnolfini Portrait is believed to show Italian merchant Giovanni Arnolfini and his apparently pregnant wife at their home in Bruges. Unusually for his time, van Eyck signed and dated his paintings, and this painting, now in London’s National Gallery, was dated 1434.

The painting is one of the most studied works in Western art. Commentators have drawn attention to the level of detail in the reflection in the mirror on the far wall, the realism of the room, as well as the pose of the woman. While she appears to be heavily pregnant, some critics have noted that virgin saints have been depicted in similar stances, including in two of Jan van Eyck’s own works, the Dresden Triptych and the Frick Madonna. Most intriguing is a recent discovery that Giovanni Arnolfini and his wife Giovanna Cenami weren’t married until 1447, thirteen years after the painting was dated and six years after van Eyck’s death. One theory now identifies the couple as Giovanni’s cousin Giovanni di Nicolao Arnolfinia and his late first wife Costanza Trenta.

Jan van Eyck died in Bruges in 1441. As early as 1454 Genoese humanist Bartolomeo Facio named him “the leading painter” of his day.

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