Italy and Painting in the Middle Ages


Morgan Mucha , Staff Reporter

Art in the Middle Ages was an extremely unique era of creativity. It differentiated in many techniques and materials used in previous and future artistic movements of that time. Specifically, the painting was used the majority of the time, either in a manuscript or traditionalistic style thought of when a painting is discussed. In the early medieval period, many aspects of painting were not considered, including perspective and naturalistic qualities. As the Middle Ages progressed, the development of art also took place. Around 1290, Europe’s art was beginning to transform into something unique. Specifically, Italy’s artistic style started to change, making way for the Proto-Renaissance. The Christian art pieces from the Byzantine Empire lacked the needed realism and dimension. The Italian artists from this period painted identical religious subjects as the empire had done, but their paintings became more life-like. These artists gravitated away from the dark tones present in painting during the early medieval period. The Gothic paintings created after this realization featured brighter color tones. As religion was still a consistent focus, many paintings featured these well-known figures. Realistic proportions were one of the major aspects of art transformation into the Pre-Renaissance. It is unknown who the first was, but it is believed that the Florentine artist Cimabue may have been the earliest figure to steer away from the Byzantine styles of art. His work focused on Christian scenes and figures that were extremely similar to these past painters, but he incorporated more accurate shadings and proportions. One of the individuals influenced by Cimabue was Florence-born Giotto di Bondone. He painted naturalistic and realistic artworks through the usage of dark and light tones of color and by overlapping the figures in his works. He also added emotion to his paintings, especially in the form of facial expressions and tone. Colors and harmony were now being acknowledged as well. Duccio di Buoninsegna, an artist from Siena, especially admired the color variations in art. He oversaw a substantial workshop, which created delicate and emotional paintings. The sharp lines of Byzantine art were a common aspect of art from that time. Buoninsegna painted soft tones in warm colors to emphasize movement. During this period, Italy was separated into city-states, in which artists would compete with each other artistically. During this time, there were prominent variations of the paint used. One, a colored dry and powdered pigment mixed with egg, was known as tempera. It was easily colored, but it dried extremely fast. This forced the artist to work at a faster pace. Some artists painted on wet plastered walls, utilizing the fresco technique. The ancient Minoans had begun using this around 2000 B.C.E. The art of painting continued to develop into the Renaissance around the 15th century, which brought about additional detail and numerous groundbreaking ideas artistically.