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Early Renaissance Italian Painting*

The art of the third quarter of the fourteenth century tended to be reactionary and authoritarian
in character, qualities thought to have been precipitated by the devastation caused by the Black
Death in Florence and Siena. Giotto's creation of a believable space tended to be abandoned
during this period, and the Sienese and Florentine emphasis on the humanity of holy figures that had been evident during the first half of the century was, for the most part, replaced by a
preference for treating God, Christ and the Virgin Mary as forbidding and remote figures of
authority (Meiss 1976).

In the late fourteenth century, however, this authoritarianism began to wane. The works of
Agnola Gaddi (c. 1369-1396), the son of Taddeo Gaddi and the best-known artist from this period,
show a renewed interest in the qualities characteristic of Florentine art in the first half of the
century. For instance, his paintings dealing with the Story of the True Cross in Santa Croce in Florence demonstrate an interest in suggesting space or mass through an emphasis on the folds of
drapery and a preference for overlap rather than a piling up of forms. Furthermore, like Giotto,
Agnola creates a sense of communication between his various protagonists, encouraging the
spectator to involve himself in the narrative by empathising with the represented figures. This
renewed interest in naturalism and reduced interest in the painting as a dogmatic or authoritarian
text links Agnola's works to those of Masaccio in the early Quattrocento.

The International Gothic style

Agnola's work can be seen as the precursor of Masaccio's paintings, but his was not the only style
of significance in the late Trecento. The International Gothic style, displaying characteristics quite antithetical to the optical naturalism evident in the works of Giotto and his followers, was popular during the last decade of the fourteenth century and in the early fifteenth century. Two of its most
successful practitioners in Italy were Lorenzo Monaco (c. 1371-c. 1425) and Gentile da Fabriano
(died in 1423).

International Gothic art is characterised by a sense of decorative linearity and a reduced
interest in creating the illusion of space. These qualities are evident, for instance, in Lorenzo
Monaco's Coronation of the Virgin (1414) in the Uffizi Gallery in Florence. The figures are set
against a rich gold background which precludes any sense of spatial recession. Drapery is not
used to create a sense of mass, but sets up a decorative rhythm across the surface of the format. The colours of the depicted garments are essentially sweet, a quality obtained through the
saturation of local colours with white pigment.

International Gothic art is essentially the art of a materialistic world, an art favoured by nobles or middle-class patrons with aristocratic pretensions or aspirations, who favoured subjects which allowed for a rendition of exotic costumes or displays of material wealth. It is not suprising that "The Adoration of the Magi" proved a popular theme. In Gentile da Fabriano's Adoration of the Magi (1423) in the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, the three princes, clad in richly decorated costumes with an abundance of gold, are accompanied by a large procession of attendants. The work demonstrates an interest in lavish detail, rather than creation of a moving persuasive narrative, which is characteristic of most International Gothic works.


* Drawn from notes compiled by E.A. Maré for the University of South Africa | Contact Us | List Your Art | List Your Art Gallery | Site Map

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