Madonna with Child-Cimabue

Madonna and Child, c. 1285

Brief IdentificationEdit

Madonna and Child and was painted by Cimabue around 1285. Madonna and Child was displayed at the Santa Trinita church in Florence, Uffizi, Italy. It is 4.27 meters tall and 2.8 meters wide. Cimabue used egg tempera as a basis of paint on a wood panel. Madonna and Child was used as an altarpiece panel that promoted the icon of the Virgin Mary and the Holy Child [Nagel 2010]. The painting is currently on display at the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, Italy. 

Technical EvaluationEdit

Egg tempera is simply a pigment mixed with egg using the white of the egg or the yolk. This results in different effects, depending on the pigment. This mixture is fast drying and permanent. This method of painting has been discovered on decorations as early as the ancient Egyptians, but had a revival through the Byzantine period [Finnan 2008]. Typically for wood panels, like Madonna and Child, the surface is covered with layers of gesso. Gesso is a thick paste made from mixing gypsum with animal glue. Typically after this, artists would outline the composition of the drawing onto the gesso and then paint the tempera on over that [Finnan 2008]. Edit

Local Historical ContextEdit

Italy in the late Medieval Ages was a collection of economically thriving city-states. City-states likes Florence became major economic centers of the world, especially for western Europe. City-state culture in italy allowed for more artisans, tradesmen and merchants to work within society. Through the use of major political events and wars such as the Crusades, Italians expanded their trade routes all across the Mediterranean and Europe. After the sack of Constantinople in 1204, during the Fourth Crusade, merchants gained access to Constantinople and learned of Byzantine culture. Byzantine-style art made its way into Italy in the centuries leading up to the Renaissance and focused mostly on iconography in churches. This painting, serving as a panel above an altarpiece, was heavily influenced by the Byzantine church’s ideology of iconography, or the worshiping of images. The Byzantine church had been doing this for centuries and its influence over the rest of the church had finally reached Italy in the 13th century. In the city-state culture Italy was fostering during this time, many different mendicant orders of the Christian church began emerging, such as Franciscan, Augustinian and Carmelite, each requiring a new church to be built. With each new church to be built, the altarpiece panels were needed to give the church legitimacy in the eyes of the other churches [ 1996; Nagel 2010].Edit

World-Historical SignificanceEdit

Cimabue was apprenticed to a Greek Byzantine painter in Piza for the first part of his career. Painting in between two major time periods—Byzantine and early Italian Renaissance—Cimabue shows influences of both in his works. Madonna and Child emphasizes the holiness of the saints along with the Virgin Mary and the Holy Child. The lack of physicality and emotion in the face is very similar to Byzantine art. The gold halo surrounding each head adds the aspect of holiness, focusing more on the heavenly realm rather than reality. One thing that is rare about this painting is the Madonna’s triangular face. Robert Gibbs’ biography of Cimabue in the Oxford University Press states that this is “unusual for Cimabue…suggesting the influence of his Roman associates” [Gibbs 2012]. Cimabue is regarded as one of the last great Italian painters with a Byzantine influence. After his death, the Byzantine influence on Italian art seems to fade away “partly because it had been superseded by a new style, but also because he had exhausted all the possibilities inherent in the tradition” [Britannica 2013]. Madonna and Child seems to draw influences mainly from Byzantine art but there is influence from other Italian artists at the time who were also painting altarpieces.

Suggested BibliographyEdit

Borsook, Eve. The Mural Painters of Tuscany, from Cimabue to Andrea del Sarto. London: Phaidon Press, 1960.

Robert Gibbs. "Cimabue." Grove Art OnlineOxford Art Online. Oxford University Press, accessed April 16, 2013,

Alexander Nagel. "Altarpiece." Grove Art OnlineOxford Art Online. Oxford University Press, accessed April 16, 2013,

Encyclopedia Britannica Online, s.v. “Cimabue,” accessed April 15, 2013, "The Thirteenth Century." Florence,Italy:Hotels Accommodation,Tourist Attractions,Things to Do. (accessed April 15, 2013).

Finnan, Vincent. "Egg Tempera." Italian Renaissance Art. (accessed April 18, 2013).

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