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Late Medieval Tendencies in the works

Italy has always been in the limelight of attention during the medieval and modern ages, it being the center and epicenter of various artistic and scholastic tendencies. When the medieval age was drawing to its close, the prosperity of Europe seemed to be at stake due to famines and plagues. Yet, it was also a time of magnificent architectural and artistic expression. A transition was visible in the artistic style and thought during this period.

During this particular instance when the medieval age was about to merge with the golden age of renaissance, Italy contributed to the world three great artists, namely Cenni di Pepo (Giovanni) Cimabue, Giotto di Bondone and Duccio di Buoninsegna. The presence of Byzantine scholars in Italy had an influence on the Italian artists of the middle ages. Among them Cimabue is regarded as the last great painter working in the Byzantium tradition and the founder of the movement towards greater realism.

The craze for new learning that later lead to the Renaissance had an influence on the artists to move towards naturalist tendencies. The true to life depictions and shading of figures in Cimabue’s works indicates that he is one of the pioneers to drift towards naturalism. The humanist tendency of extolling the human worth and dignity can be discerned in the works of this late medieval artist. His works mirrored the flat but stylized forms and scenes which was the approach of the day. The two large frescoes of the Basilica of St.

Francis of Assisi, Madonna of Santa Trinita, The Madonna of St. Francis etc are some of his well known works. Just like the Renaissance artists, these late medieval artists showed the tendency to portray biblical themes by giving a human touch to it. It was evident that the pollen of Humanism and Renaissance had been present in the air of Italy during late medieval period itself. The works of Giotto, who was a student of Cimabue, is a good example of this. No wonder, Giotto is considered as the first great artist of the Italian Renaissance.

He almost eclipsed the fame of his teacher by his new techniques in panel painting and fresco. He was free from the Byzantium traditions followed by Cimabue and Duccio. The Renaissance interest for the anatomy of human figures to find the mechanism underlying the gestures and expression is seen in the Giotto’s works. His works, like that of Cimabue moved towards naturalism. One of his important works is Adoration of Magi, through which he broke many traditions of the Middle Ages by portraying an emotional sequence from the Bible.

His portrayal of Virgin Mary, Joseph and Christ was an example of humanizing them as loving father, mother and child. That was what Michelangelo achieved with Pieta. Giotto’s ability to depict human emotion also exemplifies the late medieval artistic tendency to embrace the new change in art and thought. Duccio was a contemporary and rival of Cimabue who worked to perfect the medieval Italian art in the Byzantium tradition. Founder of Sienese school of painting, his works were characterized by sensitive portrayal and dexterous composition with a strong emotional element in them.

His most famous work is Maesta which he did for the Siena’s cathedral. It depicts Madonna and the child surrounded by naturalistic angels and apostles. Just like Cimabue and Giotto, he too liked to portray biblical themes in the humanist tradition. In this way, Duccio was also a precursor of Renaissance art. The works of Cimabue, Giotto and Duccio show that the art and thought of the late medieval age was undergoing a transition from the Middle Ages to the Modern.

The Renaissance was near, and the fragrance of the new changes was already in the atmosphere of Italy. These artists were infact predecessors of the great Italian Renaissance artists like Leonardo Da Vinci and Michelangelo. Since works of art reflect the time in which they are produced, the works of these artists mirror late medieval tendencies in art and thought.


Spore, Dennis J. (2005). Creative Impulse: An Introduction to the Arts. 7th Ed. New York: Prentice Hall.

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