Cimabue vs. Giotto Di Bondone

Madonna and Child with Angels and Prophets, an alter piece standing some 12 feet and 7 inches tall, was created around 1280-1290 A. D. for the Church of Santa Trinità in Florence, Italy and is now in the Galleria delgi Uffizi Florence. This iconographical piece was constructed through tempera and gold leaf on wood by Cimabue, an Italian painter who brought classical tradition back into art during the 13th century, when Italo-Byzantine style was dominant, paving the way for art in the Renaissance period.

Madonna Enthroned, standing 10 feet and 6 inches tall, nearly the same grand scale (only 2 feet shorter then Cimabue’s similar piece), is a panel created by Giotto di Bondone. Produced in 1310 A. D. for the Church of Ognissanti in Florence, Italy, this piece reproduces many of the elements incorporated in the aforementioned piece by Cimabue but in a much more naturalistic manner cohesive with the art created in this period deemed the Renaissance. Madonna Enthroned is also an iconographical piece created through tempera and gold leaf on wood and is now located in the Galleria delgi Uffizi in Florence.

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Figures in the period of Byzantine art are characterized by their stylistic nature. Adhering to strict medieval values, art was meant to evoke reflection and interpretation regarding symbolism, especially within religious pieces, which could only be transpire through stylistic methods. They were, in majority, flat, one-dimensional forms with elongated faces, unnaturally large, vacuous eyes, and generally unexpressive. The lack of light and shadowing in pieces from this period also add to its idealistic nature. Cimabue challenges this through his use of depth and foreshortening.

Madonna’s throne seems to recede into the background, shown through both foreshortening and through the realistic elevated formation of the stairs beneath her feet. The cocked heads of the two outside prophets in the bottom register also denote a unique sense of depth to this time, appearing as if they are craning their necks outwards from their separated room to see up and around the ceiling to Madonna and Christ. The overlapping of the angels on either side of Madonna and her Child also indicate this motion towards realism, straying away from the common linear, separated representation of figures.

The 14th century brought with it humanism in art due to a shift in cultural focus from medieval values to Greco-Roman morality, highlighting education, making the glory of God clearer through more concise imagery, scientific methods of thinking, and overall, realism. It was during this period that Giotto di Bondone created his Madonna Enthroned. Giotto is considered a transitory artist, uniting the Gothic styles of previous centuries and the art of the early Renaissance. The focus was now upon humanistic values, veering away from the common ethereal values present in 13th century Byzantine art.

We see the realism in Giotto’s piece, similarly, through the creation of depth and foreshortening but also through shadows and lighting. Like Cimabue’s piece, Madonna’s throne recedes into space and the surrounding figures overlap one another. What differentiates the realism in Giotto’s piece is the use of chiaroscuro, the treatment of light and shade in a painting. As the figures surrounding Madonna’s throne get deeper into the picture, they are seen in darker shades, suggesting the presence of a shadow. This is also seen within the depths of Madonna’s throne as it darkens the further back it recedes.

This creates a much more substantial sense of depth then in Cimabue’s piece. The front of the throne, where the two angels kneel, is the lightest, indicating the most exposed area- the forefront- of the image. We also see a lot more modeling lines in the face within Giotto’s work, showing us different tonalities within the figures and defining them in a more realistic manner. The structurally realistic nature of the stairs in Giotto’s as compared to Cimabue’s also shows the progression of realism in art, using a more linear approach rather than a stylized concave approach.

Although the stairs are more naturalistic, the disagreeing side faces show an element in the other direction, used to continue the symmetry shown throughout the piece, also present in its counterpart. Cimabue’s piece shows a linear formation of the surrounding figures, with both the angels and prophets placed in straight lines. This opposes the realistically situated figures in Giotto’s. Though Cimabue’s formation is linear, the postures and gestures of the figures in his piece are much more fluid and graceful then those in Giotto’s who are much more ertical. This absence of verticality in figures shows the influence Gothic sculpture had on Cimabue’s work. The figures in both show isometric perspective, staying the same size regardless of depth into the imagery. The figures in Giotto’s also seem more grounded and have none of the floating qualities Cimabue’s embodies in his angels. This differentiates the stylistic and realistic natures of the pieces. The subject in each representation is pretty clear to see through artistic elements used by their artists.

Emotion in these pieces is much more recognizable in the latter. Giotto shows angels fawning at Madonna and her child, with all eyes on them and all arms in view reaching out to them. Cimabue takes a more idealistic approach with this, showing the connection with the angels and prophets with Madonna and Christ through symbolic hand gestures. The angels are forming a connection with Madonna and her child by touching her throne, even though the majority is looking away from them.

The prophets are holding their hands up in supplication and adoration, and are also holding scriptures, giving their relationship to Madonna and her child and their status, being prophets that told the fore coming of Christ. The emotion between Madonna and Christ in Giotto’s is much more vividly recognizable, looking more like a protective mother then a woman simply showcasing Christ as in Cimabue’s, relayed through Madonna’s gesture to Christ. Hierarchical scale is present in both of the pieces, showing Madonna as the largest, and thus most powerful figure in this piece of art.

Christ is also very large in comparison to the figures surrounding the throne in both depictions. The depictions of Christ, however, are very different in both pieces and relate to the styles of their time. Cimabue’s Christ looks more like a small man rather than the baby he is described as being. This is a stylistic trait, meant to show the wisdom of Christ, even in his infant years. Giotto simply depicts baby Christ as a just that. Even though Christ is still recognized in this time period as very wise, he is depicted in a realistic way.

In both depictions, however, Christ is holding what seem to be either scriptures or prophecies while raising his right hand in benediction. The clothing in the pictures also relays a lot of information about the styles used and the time periods they were created in. The himations worn by Christ and the angels in Cimabue’s piece show us the Greco-Roman influence of art in this time, where Giotto’s figures are placed in more religious garments. The gold accents in the folds of Madonna’s robe ascribed by Cimabue enhance the realism of the robe although its repetitive nature makes it more unrealistic.

Giotto uses shading in Madonna’s robe to achieve fluidity and depth and the subtle nature of the shadows indicate three-dimensionality. The front two angels and Madonna in Cimabue’s piece show their feet facing towards the viewer, giving off a sense that they are walking towards us, especially noticed in the case of Madonna, where it looks like she is getting up out of the throne to walk out of the artwork. This shows a sense of immediacy in the painting. There are no feet present in Giotto’s, showing us the stagnant nature of the figures.

This piece is what it is- there is no symbolic interpretation necessary in Giotto’s as there is in Cimabue’s. It is also noticeable that the garments hanging off of Madonna in Giotto’s piece cling to her body in a way that you can distinguish her physical form underneath it. Cimabue does not incorporate any such feature in his artwork, adding to its stylistic nature. The model gold background is present in both pieces analyzed, creating an almost three-dimensional effect, making the imagery seem as though it is hanging somewhere in between the wall and the viewer.

This is common in Byzantine art and is transferred into Giotto’s renaissance piece. The architecture used in both pieces is very different. Cimabue uses a dome-like concave archway in his structure, emphasizing the hierarchical scale of the painting. Giotto uses a more Gothic architectural style, making use of a Gothic throne, characterized by its pointy triangular tip. The throne in Cimabue’s opens up to space where Giotto’s encloses in a peak above Madonna’s head. The unique curvatures of the throne show the extensive detail and power directed to Madonna.

The actual shape of the pieces themselves is almost identical and indicates which part of the church they were originally created for. Although the subject matter is relatively cohesive, the styles are completely different. In Cimabue’s, one must realize the object recreated first and give it its meaning based on representation and symbolism. On the contrary, Giotto’s invites the viewers to realize the representation of the figures he’s created- to see them simply for what they are and how they are acting in a humanistic manner.

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Cimabue vs. Giotto Di Bondone. (2016, Oct 17). Retrieved from