We are in thirteenth century Florence – the birthplace of the ‘Renaissance’ meaning ‘rebirth’. It refers to a period in European art history, from the fourteenth to the seventeenth century, characterized by a rediscovery of Classical Medieval art and philosophy. But who were the forebearers of this realistic rendition? Art historians would answer in unison – Cimabue and Giotto. 

In today’s painting we shall consider the first pioneer and study his work of art. Cimabue, also known as Cenni di Pepo, was born in Florence in c 1240. Although majorly influenced by the Byzantine style of art, Cimabue chose to be flexible, shading flat figures so as to naturally endow them with life. Cimabue was also the teacher of Giotto, the first great proto-Renaissance painter.

The art of Cimabue is best exemplified in today’s painting. Titled ‘Santa Trinita Maestà’, the picture originally stood on the high altar of the Church of Santa Trinita in Florence. The date and the patron of the composition is disputed. Executed in tempera on wood, the painting is currently displayed in the Uffizi Gallery of Florence.

Let’s now take a closer look at the canvas. We are greeted by a glistening gold panel indicating that this scene transcends space and time. It is heavenly and glorious. Before us lies a larger-than-life enthroned Virgin and Child surrounded by angels. An adaptation of the traditional Byzantine icons, this popular theme was called a Maestà, meaning, ‘Majesty’.

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