Cimabue - Giotto's teacher - Florence, Italy answers questions


painting of woman and baby
Madonna and Jesus, in Louvre Museum, Paris

Cimabue (really Cenno di Pepe, but people call him Cimabue) was born in Florence, Italy, around 1240 AD, in the Middle Ages. Cimabue (chee-MA-boo-ay) worked in and around Florence his whole life. He worked on the mosaics decorating the inside of the baptistry and the cathedral in Florence.

pastel-colored painting of a man
Fresco of Jesus, from the church
of St. Francis in Assisi.

Around 1278 AD, Cimabue also did some fresco painting on the walls of the church of Saint Francis at Assisi, south of Florence. When Cimabue was learning to paint in the 1260s AD, Italian painters were still copying the style of Byzantine art, which always had gold backgrounds and showed saints and angels and Jesus and Mary in very formal, stiff positions, to show how important these figures were, and that they were not like real people. They were flat, with very little effort to show their muscles or the shadows that would make them look real.

Cimabue always painted more or less in this Byzantine style. His paintings have gold backgrounds, and the people are very formal and stiff. But he did these paintings in a new, Italian style, where the people look more like real people. Cimabue did use shadows, and he did show muscles. This experimenting helped the younger Italian painter Giotto (who worked with Cimabue at Assisi) see how to develop an even more naturalistic, realistic style.

Cimabue died in Florence around 1302 AD, when he was about sixty years old.

Learn by doing: painting icons
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Bibliography and further reading about medieval art

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Professor Carr

Karen Eva Carr, PhD.
Assoc. Professor Emerita, History
Portland State University

Professor Carr holds a B.A. with high honors from Cornell University in classics and archaeology, and her M.A. and PhD. from the University of Michigan in Classical Art and Archaeology. She has excavated in Scotland, Cyprus, Greece, Israel, and Tunisia, and she has been teaching history to university students for a very long time.

Professor Carr's PSU page

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