Eumenis Megalopoulos | Jan 16, 2023

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Cenni di Pepo, known as Cimabue, was a major painter of the Italian pre-Renaissance period, born around 1240 in Florence and died around 1302 in Pisa.

Cimabue ensured the renewal of Byzantine painting by breaking with its formalism and introducing elements of Gothic art, such as the realism of expressions and a certain degree of naturalism in the representation of the body of characters. From this point of view, he can be considered the initiator of a more naturalistic treatment of traditional subjects, making him the precursor of the naturalism of the Florentine Renaissance.

"He triumphed over the Greek cultural habits which seemed to pass from one to the other: one imitated without ever adding anything to the practice of the masters. He consulted nature, corrected in part the stiffness of the drawing, animated the faces, folded the fabrics, placed the characters with much more art than the Greeks had done. His talent did not include grace; his Madonnas are not beautiful, his angels in the same painting are all identical. Proud as the century in which he lived, he succeeded perfectly in portraying the heads of men of character and especially those of the elderly, imprinting them with a strong and sublime je ne sais quoi that moderns have not been able to surpass. Wide and complex in the ideas, he gave the example of the great stories and expressed them in great proportions.

- Luigi Lanzi

His influence was immense throughout central Italy between about 1270 and 1285. Two-thirds of Marques's book on the duecento is about Cimabuism, the influence of Cimabue.  :

"With his surprising capacity for innovation and with the imaginative power that allowed him the great effects of Assisi, Cimabue was by far the most influential painter in all of central Italy before Giotto; better: he was its point of reference."

- Luciano Bellosi

Developed and eclipsed by his two disciples Duccio and Giotto, his realist impulse thus permeates the heart of Italian and more generally Western painting.

Our perception of Cimabue has, however, been distorted for centuries by the portrait given by Giorgio Vasari in his first Life, a biography that is part of a campanileist vision of the glory of Florence (de facto discarding Giunta Pisano) and whose main purpose is to serve as an introduction to, and a foil for, Giotto's. The mere fact that he is in the Vite has long made his Pisan training unacceptable, as biographies continue to systematically link him to Coppo di Marcovaldo - the most illustrious Florentine before him. And the removal of the Rucellai Madonna from Cimabue's catalog in 1889 - a key work in the Vasarean scheme - even called into question the veracity of his existence for a time.

The re-evaluation of Cimabue has also come up against a persistent curse from which the meager corpus of works that have come down to us suffer: the ceruse (lead white) used in the frescoes of the Upper Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi has, through oxidation, turned black, transforming the works into a confusing, even illegible photographic negative; the sublime Crucifix of Santa Croce suffered irreversible damage in the 1966 Florence flood, and finally the 1997 earthquake severely damaged the vault of the four evangelists - the previously best-preserved part of the frescoes in the Upper Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi, pulverizing the St. Matthew in particular.

Knowledge of Cimabue's work has, however, benefited from the discovery in 2019 of The Derision of Christ, belonging to the devotional diptych and complementing the only other two known panels, the Virgin and Child enthroned and surrounded by two angels (National Gallery, London) and the Flagellation of Christ (The Frick Collection, New York). The Derision of Christ is classified as a national treasure by the Ministry of Culture on December 20, 2019.

Most of the artistic productions are, in the Italy of the XIIIth century, at the service of the Catholic religion. They were commissions from the Church, and the artists had to respect the contract to which they were committed. The nature of the object, its dimensions, the nature and weight of the materials used, as well as the themes it develops are precisely defined. Their innovations are therefore strictly framed against a background of Catholic dogma.

The ancient pictorial tradition had always remained alive in Italy because of its relations with Byzantium; but the Byzantine painting had evolved towards schemes and a stylization which departed from the spirit of the ancient origins. The prince who ruled the south of Italy, Frederick II (1194-1250), living in a very heterogeneous court and appreciated by the Arabs because he was the strongest opponent of the pope, had erected, around 1230-1260, in Capua, a monumental door on an ancient model, decorated with busts of his advisers, of ancient inspiration. The pope imposed himself at that time, not only in the north of Italy, but also in the south, against the power of Frederick II. On the other hand he attached the same importance to the ancient tradition. He ordered the restoration, in Rome, of the great sanctuaries of late antiquity of the 4th and 5th centuries, which he entrusted to Pietro Cavallini, who was imbued with compositions of ancient inspiration. Now, in 1272, at the beginning of Cimabue's career, he probably met Cavallini during a trip to Rome. We shall see that the naturalism that had lasted throughout antiquity was to be reborn with Cimabue.

At the death of Frederick II, in 1250, the Pope, successor of Saint Peter, heir of Constantine, claimed universal power. The almost imperial, ancient vision he had of his place in the world was the opposite of the exemplary life of St. Francis. Their opposition has remained famous. In this period of great tension between religion and politics, there were powerful movements to return to a militant spirituality. The mendicant orders, which emerged at this time, Dominicans and Franciscans, went before the people of the laity. The mendicant order of the Franciscans was founded in 1223 shortly after that of the Dominicans in 1216, with very different motivations and methods.

But, beyond the oppositions, certain ideas are in the air and more or less shared by all. The disciples of Francis, even more than the Dominicans, recognized from the outset the evocative power of the image: it was, in fact, while Francis was praying before the crucifix that he heard the injunction of the divine voice. At the same time, ritual practices were changing.

On the one hand, devotion became more intimate. Devotees were encouraged to absorb themselves in the reading of the Life of Christ at a time when new images derived from the icons of the lives of the saints were spreading. The Franciscans, in contact with the Byzantines, adopted the formula with a large image of the saint, in this case Saint Francis, accompanied by the most edifying scenes. The format could still be monumental. But as for the panels presenting the life of Christ, these could be much more modest. They could have been intended for small religious communities, or even for a cell or a private chapel. It would seem that Cimabue introduced this type of panel, of which there are two fragments, a Flagellation (Frick Collection) and a Madonna and Child (National Gallery, London). Both would have been painted in the 1280s.

On the other hand, the celebration of the mass valued the image, much more than before. The old antependium, placed in front of the altar, was replaced by the picture behind it. The rite of the elevation of the host is celebrated facing it. This rite of the elevation of the host, which was imposed in the second half of the 13th century, also participated in the valorization of the image "insofar as the consecrated species was thus exalted in front of an image that extrapolated its highly symbolic character. The essential scope of this altarpiece, possibly a Maesta, will be carefully fixed in a program, defined by the competent religious authorities; in the case of Cimabue it will be Franciscans, essentially, who will define the program of his paintings, their location and even the pictorial materials.

Cimabue's early years are very poorly documented. A first crucifix was probably made in the 1260s, for the Dominicans in Arezzo. But they were rather reticent about the image. This is the only commission by Cimabue for the Dominicans that we know of. We know that the painter was in Rome in 1272, but the reason for this move is obscure. The bulk of his work, which follows this initial period, is preserved between the Basilica of Assisi and the Basilica of Santa Croce in Florence. The Basilica of St. Francis in Assisi was one of the largest building projects of his time, if not the largest.

The decision to cover the work of St. Francis with a dazzling monument of obvious luxury was made by the papacy. It was, in a way, a denial of Francis' vow of poverty. On the other hand, the choice of color, in a Gothic architecture in its structure, in the manner of France, one of the first milestones of the penetration of the Gothic in Italy, on Angevin and Burgundian models and with large windows with stained glass windows made by Germanic glass artists showed that, if the funds came from Rome, the decisions on the iconographic and decorative choices belonged to the Franciscans in Assisi. Thus, as far as these paintings are concerned, the details of the commissions given to Cimabue are indeed the initiative of the friars and of them alone.

In general, the churches of the mendicant orders were divided between the space reserved for the friars, near the high altar, and the space reserved for the laity. A partition with openings, or at least a beam, served as a separation. Most often, an image of Mary decorated the space for the laity. Monumental paintings of the Virgin and Child, or Maesta, were particularly popular. The friars encouraged the creation of "confraternities" that gathered to sing hymns praying to the Virgin before these large images. A Maesta could also be the object of prayers and songs by the friars (St. Francis composed some).

In this context the Maesta became a leitmotif of the churches of Italy at the end of the 13th century. Cimabue painted four of them, two of which were for the Franciscans: the fresco in the lower church of Assisi, and the large panel originally for the church of St. Francis, in Pisa, now in the Louvre. One can detect the emergence of an "optical" realism (the oblique viewpoint on the throne, the first attempt at perspective in the theology of Pre-Renaissance naturalism) as well as a new function for the images of the Madonna. Moreover, such commissions, on the part of the Franciscans, show Francis' particular affinity for Mary. This relationship was linked to the church of Santa Maria degli Angeli, in Porziuncola, the place attached to the foundation of the Order and the place of the most significant miracles in the life of Saint Francis.

In the lower church of Assisi, the frescoed Maesta is located on the tomb of the first five companions of Francis, in Santa Maria degli Angeli, where he received the stigmata. The figure of St. Francis is to the right of the Madonna for the devotee, it is also the closest figure to the high altar which is also the tomb of the saint. This Maesta, together with the image of Francis, made it an important center of devotion. According to a legend, many pilgrims hoped for the remission of their sins by making the pilgrimage. They would pass in front of the Maesta, leaving their offerings in the lower church, after having participated in the mass and received communion in the upper church, and on their way to Porziuncola. This painting, of great importance to the Franciscans, has been repainted many times and Cimabue's work has been largely erased.

The painter was commissioned to create a Franciscan version of the Madonna on the Throne for Assisi to commemorate the early days of the Order. Such innovations helped the Franciscans stand out from other mendicant orders. The churches of the time contained many images, memorials, tombs of saints, clergymen and laymen, old and very recent tombs, which invited the present to be a constant work of remembrance turned to the past, the mass being the central act, in memory of the "Last Supper. Rituals thus served to generate the memories of a society, what Maurice Halbwachs called a "collective memory". Here, the initial links between St. Francis, the Virgin Mary and the Child were renewed.

The Franciscan patrons were motivated by their faith and the mystical representations that affected, in particular, the field of the image, whose metaphysical value they perceived. And it is for reasons related to a mysticism of light and with the conviction that the preparation of lead white was a matter of alchemy that Cimabue used lead white for the frescoes of the apse (which later led to the inversion of values, this white mixed with the colors becoming black with time). Since the stained glass windows were in place when the frescoes were painted, Cimabue was able to realize the effect of this moving colored light, as the day progressed. The theology of light in space had been the founding element of Gothic architecture, with Suger's thought when he designed the very first stained glass windows in history, in the abbey of Saint Denis, near Paris. Thus the dominant of his palette based on this lead white was going to shine all the more as this white was supposed to be more "luminous" than the others. The actual result is quite surprising.

The painter and his Franciscan patrons thus engaged in ideas, purely intellectual and theological, that dealt with pictorial materials and subject matter, memory, beauty, and experience, creating with all of this innovative works that celebrated the Order and made possible new types of Christian devotion.

This can also be seen if one is surprised by the "transparent" appearance of the perizonium, the veil that envelops the lower body of the crucified Christ, as painted by Cimabue in the Basilica of Santa Croce in Florence. This church was probably rebuilt by the Franciscans when the cross was commissioned in the 1280s, after the Dominicans had built the impressive Santa Maria Novella in 1279. After another renovation, completed in 1295, the cross was probably in place. For the Franciscans, the near-nudity of Christ is an emblem of his poverty. But this nudity is also intimately linked to the holiness of Francis, in his closeness to Christ. In a gesture that has remained famous, Francis, the son of a clothier, stripped himself of his clothing for a beggar, as a sign of renunciation of worldly life. St. Bonaventure, a direct heir to the thought of Francis, recalls that "in every circumstance he wanted without hesitation to be conformed to the crucified Christ, hanging on his cross, suffering and naked. Naked, he had dragged himself before the bishop at the beginning of his conversion, and for this reason, at the end of his life, he wanted to leave this world naked". The Franciscans attached great importance to this symbolic act. An act, therefore, highly significant that this painting of transparent perizonium.

Still studying the Christ on the Cross of Santa Croce, if we compare it with paintings executed before or at the same time, all scholars have noted the same obvious innovations. Thus, the limbs of the body, at the joints, are no longer indicated by separating lines - which was the practice in Byzantine painting - but by tense muscles, clearly identifiable although represented in their volume with softness. It is with the same concern for naturalism that the volume of the abdomen is rendered by the visible muscles of a slimmed down body. The flesh of the abdomen itself is treated with very subtle passages in the modeling, when tradition was content with a few clear breaks. The Christ of Florence is therefore much more natural than all those that preceded it, and even more so than the Christ of Arezzo, which he painted at the beginning of his career for the Dominicans. Here, in this Franciscan church, the naturalism with which the body of Christ is depicted emphasizes that it is as a man that he is crucified. The emphasis on this sign is in perfect accord with the theology of the Incarnation. The Franciscans attached the utmost importance to this in order to understand and experience God.

The documents

Although he is one of the most important painters of Western painting, Cimabue does not escape the fate of many artists of the duecento (13th century) for whom we have very little documented information. Moreover, we have only one document concerning the young Cimabue (dated 1272), all the other documents precede his death by only a few months (from September 1301 to February 1302).

Cimabue appears in Rome as a witness to a notarized deed, relating the adoption of the Augustinian rule by the nuns of the order of St. Peter Damian (Franciscan) who had fled the Byzantine Empire ("de Romanie exilio venientes"). Among the many witnesses ("aliis pluribus testibus"), only seven are named: five religious (Pietro, canon of Santa Maria Maggiore, a member of the great Roman family of the Paparoni; fra Gualtiero da Augusta, another Dominican; Gentile and Paolo, canons of the church of San Martino ai Monti; and Armano, a priest of San Pietro in Clavaro) and only two lay people: Jacopo di Giovanni, of the famous Roman del Sasso family and finally Cimabue ("Cimabove, pictore de Florencia"). But above all two prestigious personalities are present, as protectors of the nuns: the Dominican fra Tommaso Agni (it), just appointed Latin patriarch of Jerusalem (1272-1277), personal envoy of Pope Gregory X (1272-1276) and Cardinal Ottobuono Fieschi, nephew of Pope Innocent IV (1243-1254) and future pope under the name of Adrian V (1276).

This document shows Cimabue - probably in his thirties to be able to testify - considered as a person of quality, in the midst of high religious personalities, in particular Dominicans, an order for which he had already made the great Crucifix of Arezzo.

This is the commission of a polyptych with a predella by the Hospital Santa Chiara of Pisa to Cimabue ("Cenni di Pepo") and "Nuchulus": "a painting with columns, tabernacles, predella, representing the stories of the divine and blessed Virgin Mary, the apostles, angels and other figures also painted.

evokes the remuneration of the days of Cimabue ("Cimabue pictor Magiestatis") working on the absidal mosaic of the dome of Pisa.

The last document - that of February 19, 1302 - indicates that Cimabue made the Saint John ("habere debebat de figura Sancti Johannis"), which is thus the only documented work by Cimabue.

In a document cited by Davidsohn in 1927 but not found, mention is made of Cimabue's heirs ("heredes Cienni pictoris").

The Compagnia dei Piovuti receives a tablecloth formerly owned by Cimabue. Cimabue, not being a Pisan, seems unlikely to have been a member of the Compagnia dei Piovuti, reserved for Pisan citizens (perhaps the owner of his home).

In summary, we have very little documented information about Cimabue's life: he was born in Florence, was present in Rome on June 8, 1272; he worked in Pisa in 1301 and 1302, executing the Saint John and died in 1302.

All other biographical elements are derived either from old texts - all posthumous - or from the study of his work.

Date of birth

The majority of art historians place it around 1240 for the following reasons among others:


His real name Cenni di Pepo (an old form of "Benvenuti di Giuseppe") is known to us only from the document of November 5, 1301 (the commission for the polyptych Santa Chiara in Pisa).

The first name Giovanni does not appear on any historical document: it would thus seem that it is a late error (XV century) of Filippo Villani, unfortunately quickly propagated by the Anonymous Magliabechiano and especially the Vite of Vasari. It will be used until 1878!

Everywhere else it is his nickname "Cimabue" that is used and that will become a household name. Two interpretations of this nickname prevail, depending on whether one considers "cima" as a noun or a verb. As a noun ('top' or 'head'), Cimabue could then be understood as 'bullheaded', a nickname generally qualifying a stubborn person. Another example would be the nickname of Volterrano: Cima de buoi. As a verb (figuratively: 'to flay, to mock'), Cimabue would mean a proud, contemptuous man. This second meaning seems to be confirmed by etymological studies, by Dante's quotation in Canto XI of the Purgatorio, a song dedicated to the proud, and above all by the commentary of the Ottimo Commento, a work dated 1330, a commentary written some time after the artist's death and which could well relate a popular tradition still alive:

"Cimabue was a painter of Florence, of the time of our author (but he was so arrogant and proud with it, that if anyone discovered a defect in his work, or if he perceived one himself (as often happens to the artist who fails because of his material, or the defects of the instruments he uses), he immediately abandoned that work, however costly."

This text was taken up by Giorgio Vasari, among others, who ensured its wide distribution. It shows a proud, proud man, with a strong character, but above all extremely demanding of himself and his art, notably disdainful of material considerations. This attitude, which seems extremely modern to us, is astonishing for an artist of the 13th century, where the painter is above all a humble craftsman, working in a workshop, often still in an anonymous way. Also Cimabue prefigures the revolution in the status of the artist, generally located in the Renaissance. This, and the fact that Cimabue was Florentine, explains why Cimabue's biography opens the famous Vite de Vasari, a collection of biographies in praise of Florence that leads to that of Michelangelo, the figure of the creative artist par excellence.

Works attributed almost unanimously today

Devotional diptych composed of eight panels representing scenes from the Passion of Christ, of which only four panels on the left side are known:

Works whose attribution remains controversial

A panel by Cimabue, "The Derision of Christ," was auctioned at 24.18 million euros on October 27, 2019 in Senlis, a world record for a panel by this artist. This painting had resurfaced in a private collection near Compiègne, narrowly escaping from the garbage dump. It also becomes the most expensive primitive painting sold at auction.

In December 2019, the government announced that the painting had been declared a "national treasure", and thus banned from leaving the country.

The influence of Cimabue was major during the last third of the 13th century, especially in Tuscany.

In Florence, first of all, his influence is visible on the active painters: Meliore (even before his altar frontal of 1271, now in the Uffizi), the young Master of the Magdalene and his pupils Corso di Buono and the remarkable Grifo di Tancredi; but also Coppo di Marcovaldo (cf. Madonna of the church of Santa Maria Maggiore in Florence) and his son Salerno di Coppo. Among the anonymous continuators, very close to the master, we can mention: the Master of the Madonna San Remigio, the Master of Varlungo (it), the Master of the Velutti chapel, the Master of the Corsi crucifix, the Master of the Cross of San Miniato al Monte... Finally there is of course Giotto.

In Siena, he influenced all the great Sienese painters Dietisalvi di Speme, Guido da Siena, Guido di Graziano, but also Vigoroso da Siena and Rinaldo da Siena, and of course Duccio.

In Pisa, the influence of Cimabue is more limited due to the influence of the Master of Saint Martin

In Umbria, Cimabue's frescoes had no real influence on local painting - even if on the site of Assisi it is notable on the Master of the capture of Christ and the Master of the ascent to Calvary. This observation can be explained by the fact that important local masters (such as the Master of St. Francis and the Master of St. Clare

In Rome, the frescoes of the Master of Sancta Sanctorum, the main author of the decoration of the oratory of Sancta Sanctorum (circa 1278 and 1280) show numerous and very strong similarities with the frescoes of Assisi by Cimabue. Cimabue's influence is also visible on Jacopo Torriti but to a much lesser extent. We can also mention the author of the large painted Crucifix (circa 1275-80) in the Walters Art Gallery (Baltimore). Finally, the degraded frescoes of the so-called Temple of Romulus in the church of Santi Cosma e Damiano - perhaps by the Master of Sancta Sanctorum - are clearly Cimabuesque.

Finally through Manfredino di Alberto the lesson of Cimabue extends to Genoa and Pistoia.

Our knowledge of Cimabue cannot ignore two texts, almost systematically cited at the slightest mention of Cimabue: the verses of Dante's Purgatory and Vasari's biography of the Vite.

Dante (1315)

Dante (1265-1321), an eyewitness of Cimabue, evokes it in a famous passage (XI, 79-102) of the Purgatory, the second part of the Divine Comedy, during the passage of Dante and Virgil on the first ledge or first circle, the one where the proud suffer. One of them recognizes Dante and calls him, Dante answers:

It is necessary to explain here the deep symbolism of the place: that of the purgatory and more precisely that of the ledge of the proud.

Purgatory was officially recognized by the Christian Church in 1274, at the Second Council of Lyon. Until then, the realms of the afterlife were officially two: Hell and Paradise. This intermediate "third place" where one purges one's venial sins, thus shifts the dogma from a binary schema (good

With the Divine Comedy, written just a few decades later, this new idea of Purgatory acquires for the first time a majestic representation, a total space, "a mountain in the middle of the sea, in the light of the sun, inhabited by angels, punctuated by the manifestations of art - sculptures, songs, meetings of poets" (J. Risset). This mountain is made up of seven circles or ledges whose circumference decreases towards the summit, corresponding to the seven deadly sins, in order: pride, envy, anger, sloth, avarice, gluttony and lust. Dante and his guide Virgil will go through these seven ledges, purifying themselves, rising in a double sense: physical and spiritual. Purgatory is thus "the place where one changes - place of the interior metamorphosis" (J. Risset), intermediate place "in connection with the problematic of the Incarnation, and, by way of consequence, with all the fields where the man manifests himself like incarnated creature, double, in way towards God and the revealed truth, depositary of a precisely intermediate and veiled knowledge: it is the field of the art." (J. Risset).

Thus the first ledge - that of the proud - is almost by default that of the artists, and Dante himself, the traveler Dante "knows that he will come, after his death, to Purgatory; he already knows in which ledge: that of the proud. It is thus appropriate to relativize somewhat the assertion according to which only Cimabue's pride would explain his evocation on the ledge of the proud.

Finally a word on Douglas' hypothesis - that Dante would place Cimabue in such a prestigious position to exalt a fellow Florentine, it is contradicted by the other artists mentioned, Dante opposing to an Umbrian miniaturist (Oderisi da Gubbio) a Bolognese (Franco (it)), and to an Emilian poet (Guido Guinizelli) a Florentine (Guido Cavalcanti).

Commentary on the Divine Comedy (1323-1379)

Among the literary sources of the Trecento are the commentaries on The Divine Comedy that comment on the above verses, including those of :

One of the most important commentaries on Dante Alighieri's Divine Comedy from the Trecento period, of which there are up to 34 manuscripts, is known by this conventional name:

"He was Cimabue in the city of Florence a painter in the time of the Author, and very noble, of more than man knew; and with this he was so arrogant, and so disdainful, that if for any one was to him put to his work any defect, or he by himself had seen it (that, as happens sometimes, the artificer sins by defect of the matter in which he adopts, or by lack that is in the instrument, with which he works) immantenente that thing deserted, be dear as one would wish.  "

"Cimabue was a painter of Florence, of our author's time (but he was so arrogant and proud with it, that if anyone discovered a flaw in his work, or if he perceived one himself (as often happens to the artist who fails because of his material, or the flaws in the instruments he uses), he would immediately abandon that work, no matter how expensive."

Ottimo Commento della Divina Commedia - (ed. Torri 1838, p. 188), reprinted in .

This text was almost entirely taken up by Vasari in his life of Cimabue.

Alamanno Rinuccini (1473)

In a letter (XXXII) of 1473 to Bellosi, dedicating his Latin translation of Philostratus' Life of Apollonius of Tyana to the Duke of Urbino Frederick of Montefeltre (federicum feretranum urbini), Alamanno Rinuccini (1426-1499) cites Cimabue, along with Giotto and Taddeo Gaddi, among the geniuses who illustrated the arts before the painters of the Quattrocento (and among them Masaccio, Domenico Veneziano, Filippo Lippi and Fra Angelico):

" Cogitanti mihi saepe numero, generosissime princeps Federice, Atque, ut ab inferioribus profecti ad maiorem tandem veniamus, sculturae picturaeque artes, iam antea Cimaboi, Iocti, Taddeique Gaddi ingeniis illustratas, qui aetate nostra claruerunt pictores, eo magnitudinis bonitatisque perduxere, ut cum veteribus conferri merito possint "

- Letters and Orations (éd. Giustiniani 1953), p. 106 cité in , p. 94

Cristoforo Landino (1481)

Cristoforo Landino (1425-1498), in the preface to his 1481 edition of the Divine Comedy, presenting the Florentines who were outstanding in painting and sculpture, begins precisely with Ioanni Cimabue:

"He was, therefore, the first Florentine Joanni known as Cimabue who found and natural liniamenti et la vera proportìone, which the Greeks call Symetria; et le figure ne' superiori pictori morte fece vive et di varie gesti, ci gran fama lasciò di sé: but much greater would he leave it, if I had not had so noble successor, which was Giotto Fiorentino coetaneo di Dante.  "

- Landino, text established according to , p. 94-95

"The first was Giovanni, a Florentine named Cimabue, who rediscovered both the natural lines of the physiognomies and the true proportion that the Greeks call symetria; and he gave life and ease of gesture to characters who would have been said to be dead by the old painters; he left a great reputation after him."

- translation in , p. 13

In this passage, Landino, responsible for the first revised edition of Pliny the Elder's Natural History in 1469 and its Italian translation in 1470, seems to pastiche the biography of the famous Greek painter Parrhasios:

"Parrhesius of Ephesus also contributed much to the progress of painting. He was the first to observe proportion, to put finesse in the airs of the head, elegance in the hair, grace in the mouth, and, according to the artists, he won the prize for the contours [confessione artificum in liniis extremis palmam adeptus].

- Pliny the Elder, Natural History, book XXXV, 36, §7, translation E. Littré (1848-50)

Giorgio Vasari (1550

The biography of Cimabue is the first of the Vites by Giorgio Vasari (1511-1574).

There is no known portrait of Cimabue. Vasari seems to have been inspired by a figure in the fresco entitled Triumph of the Church Militant, painted around 1365 by Andrea di Bonaiuto in the Chapel of the Spaniards, Santa Maria Novella, Florence.

If we refer to both editions of the Vite (1550 and 1568), Vasari attributes a total of fifteen works to Cimabue.

Five of them no longer exist:

Among the works mentioned and that have come down to us, only four are considered to be by Cimabue:

The last six works mentioned are no longer attributed to Cimabue:

As for the collaboration with Arnolfo di Cambio in the construction of the dome of Florence, no text or study has confirmed Vasari's assertion. More generally, Cimabue's activity as an architect is not documented. There may be a rhetorical desire on Vasari's part to announce the activity of Giotto as an architect.

Essential bibliography

The best known monographs on Cimabue are those by :

To which we must add the studies on the duecento of

Detailed bibliography

(in chronological order of publication)

The bibliography below (not exhaustive) is based primarily on those provided by and .



1540 approx.


















































  1. Cimabue
  2. Cimabue
  3. ‘’Lux’’, lumière directe, lumière divine, par opposition à la lumière réfléchie, ou ambiante, ‘’lumen’’.
  4. ^ Miklós Boskovits, Cimabue, in Dizionario biografico degli italiani, Treccani, 1979.
  5. Honour, Hugh; Fleming, John (1982). A World History of Art (en inglés). Papermac. p. 303. ISBN 0333 37185 2.
  6. Vasari, Giorgio (2006). «Giovanni Cimabue». Las vidas de los más excelentes arquitectos, pintores y escultores italianos desde Cimabue a nuestros tiempos (Antología). Madrid: Tecnos/Alianza. ISBN 84-309-4118-5.
  7. ^ "Cimabue". Merriam-Webster Dictionary. Retrieved 12 May 2019.
  8. ^ a b Giorgio Vasari. Lives of the Artists. Translated with an introduction and notes by J.C. and P Bondanella. Oxford: Oxford University Press (Oxford World’s Classics), 1991, pp. 7–14. ISBN 978-0-19-953719-8.
  9. ^ Joseph F. Clarke (1977). Pseudonyms. BCA. p. 38.

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