Evolution of the Renaissance Style
Through the history, human perception of reality and subsequently depiction of it had evolved just human civilization itself. The divine world perception of Middle Ages was embodied in the Byzantine art and painting style, in which the main emphasis was placed on worshipping and divine nature of saints, making them as unreachable to a mortal being as the very comprehension of God Himself. Finally, human world perception was ready for the next step – self-realization and humanization of art in all of its perspectives, even such matters as saints and religious descriptions. Thus, the era of Renaissance and contemporary human-centric world perception followed. In the present paper, the transition from God-centric to human-centric perception of the world is analyzed through comparative analysis of paintings of two painters belonging to different stages of Renaissance style development. In this context, Duccio di Buoninsegna, as representative of the early Renaissance, still heavily influenced by Byzantine tradition and Giotto di Bondone as more revolutionary representative of Renaissance changes in the art. The comparison is conducted on the basis of their works.
Giotto’s Nativity vs. Duccio’s Nativity and Prophets.
The most famous works of Giotto are frescoes depicting life of Christ on the walls of Scrovegni Chapel in Padua, Italy. The Nativity is one of frescoes in Scrovegni Chapel finished in 1304-1306. It describes the birth of Jesus Christ and annunciation of the event to shepherds. This work is compared to The Nativity with the Prophets Isaiah and Ezekiel by Duccio, painted in1308-1311. Today, Duccio’s work is a private collection of Andrew W. Mellon (Goffen 211).
The first difference between two works is their nature – the first one is fresco, while the second is tempera on a single wood panel. The difference in material and the very nature of two works contributed to the difference in colors’ application and final outcome. On the wooden surface, Duccio managed to use brighter colors of golden, blue and violet and keep their vividness and shining effect. On the other hand, Giotto’s fresco was characterized by pastel and mild colors. From the emotional perspective of viewer, Duccio’s work was more grandiose and glorious in its mood, while Giotto’s work was lighter, more perceptive and human (Lubbock 76).
Byzantine influence of Duccio was already seen in the very composition of his painting. Just as Byzantine painters, Duccio centered the image of Virgin Mary viewing Her newborn son, surrounded by angels, saints and animals. He also described two other minor processes of child bathing and annunciation of the shepherds by angels. The central scene of childbirth was guarded on each side by prophets Isaiah and Ezekiel, who actually foresaw the coming of the Christ. Although Giotto was describing the same scene from Christ’s life, he showed fewer crowds and angels, and paid more attention to Mary taking care of the newborn, helped by the labor woman and her husband in waiting. The lack of numerous actors in the painting shows the importance if this very event for the family and the world in general, but mainly to the mother and only then to the whole world (Goffen 221). On the other hand, Duccio’s composition, especially presence of prophets on each side shows importance of the even for divine world, on the first place, and only then for Mary and humanity (Paoletti and Radke 271).
The gradualism of transformation of Byzantine tradition to the new Renaissance style can be also tracked through the change of emphasis in the setting of two works. While in Byzantine tradition, the background of the painting was supposed to be exquisitely gold in order to show divinity of the picture, Duccio also described the landscape of the event, meaning mountainous area as the background of event on the general remote golden background. Giotto went further, he rejected gold background and made it completely a landscape view of the mountains and the sky, from which angels were viewing the event. Thus, the images were becoming more realistic bringing divine stories of Christ into human dimension (Goffen 216).
The main distinctive difference between two works is the use of form and perspective. Duccio still follows medieval tradition of making the most important figures bigger, irrespective of the balance of proportion or general correspondence of figure to realistic representation (Lubbock 78). In this regard, Duccio described Mary as the central image bigger than other figures, but smaller than two prophets on each side, hinting on her minor role in comparison to divine wisdom (Goffen 212). The same corresponds to the minor scene of bathing the child in the central bottom of the painting, showing that it was less important than childbirth. On the other hand, Giotto completely rejected such approach and described all figures in proportion and respect to the distance.
Another aspect of describing figures was their identity and general movement. Duccio’s figures are very static and identical in their description; they are dehumanized in order to show their divine character and ideal meaning of worshipping. This is achieved through strictness of lines and harshness in contrasting colors (Paoletti and Radke 288). On the other hand, Giotto paid attention to details, motion and humanization of his characters. In this regard, he was giving identity to all of his figures, not only Mary gained specific human features and face expression, even angels had different faces. The smoothness of lines and transition of colors can be viewed as the initial attempts to achieve sfumato technique (Lubbock 112). Instead of one dimensional depicting of the images, as it was done by Duccio, Giotto applied foreshortening of lines in order to achieve the impression of depth and volume (Paoletti and Radke 282).
Overall, Giotto’s painting is much livelier and emotional than Duccio’s due to the attention of such human aspect of perception as position of figures in respect to one another. Duccio’s Mary is lying in her bed, hands crossed and observes her child from a certain distance. She expresses nothing but resignation before their fate. On the other hand, Giotto’s Mary is leaning towards her son and looks worriedly at him and what is yet to come. She is full of femininity and motherhood; in other words, she is full of humanity (Lubbock 132). From the Renaissance perspective, Giotto showed that birth of Christ was family and personal drama of human beings, the same human beings as target viewers of the fresco. This point of view contrasted with Medieval God-fearing perception of reality, where human being was nothing but a vessel of divine purpose. Thus, suffering and duty were the central themes of Duccio’s Nativity and not birth as celebration of life (Paoletti and Radke 277).
The Meeting At the Golden Gate vs. Christ’s Entry into Jerusalem
The painting of Giotto belongs to the same series of frescoes decorating the Chapel in Padua. The Meeting At the Golden Gate describes the reunion of Joachim and Anna after he left home due the news of the childbirth. The fresco shows the embrace of two in an intimate kiss on the entrance to the gate. Other figures on the entrance are five females, four of whom are greeting the reunion and one woman in black who looks isolated; Joachim is also followed by a random dweller. The background is the gate with two towers on each side.
Just as in the analysis of the previous two works, the main differences between painters were the same. Giotto continued to preserve realistic and naturalistic approach of description. In this context, he kept proportion of the figures toward general background and bridge. The main colors were pastel and mild, lines smooth and vague where needed, human faces full of life and emotions, which was achieved though volume of the round forms and pink color on female cheeks (Goffen 221). On the other hand, Duccio used bright and contrasting colors, he used the same difference in size of the important people of the city and saints in contrast to ordinary peasants violating the balance of distance (Lubbock 134).
On the other hand, in this work, Duccio showed progress towards Renaissance through addition of the new details. The most remarkable thing was that the very event and its description were placed into the contemporary society of Duccio and described Siena of his time (Paoletti and Radke 262). This can be seen in the structure of the city walls and towers, distinction between human faces at least when it referred to the variety of social groups showed by different size and face expressions. Another particular feature was that Duccio was more liberal in adding new elements into the scene in order to make it more contemporary to the audience. In this regard, “the spreading of the red carpet hinted on the famous carpentry industry of Siena and aimed not only at showing the worshipping of Christ in the city, but also at praising the city itself” (Lubbock 154). Thus, from the point of realism, it was a step forward to embracing the existence of human society, where human talents prevailed over sufferings (Goffen 225).
The same method of facilitating religious motives into the contemporary environment was applied by Giotto, who was even more courageous in his description of the reality, paying attention to the slightest details. He did not only make hair of each woman distinctive according to the contemporary Florence fashion, but also decorated their garments in the most sophisticated way of the time. According to Laura Jacobus: “Giotto has even shown a small slit in Saint Anne’s garment underneath the armhole that allows access to the mechanism of supretunicale” (Jacobus 99). The meaning of this detailing is in the fact that it showed painter’s recognition of importance of human existence in its every expression even in the garments and fashion trends.
The meaning of Giotto’s and Duccio’s positioning of the events of the religious and character into the framework of contemporary environment and increasing freedom of interpretation of the events were showing the advancement of Renaissance in painting art. Although Duccio was one step behind Giotto in his progress from Byzantine style, his change of views were essential because they had significant impact on development of Renaissance style in Siena, while Giotto influenced Florence. In general, both artists prepared the way for such prominent master of Renaissance epoch as Leonardo da Vinci, Raphael and Michelangelo.
Duccio’s Nativity and Prophets
Duccio’s Christ’s Entry into Jerusalem
Giotto’s The Meeting At the Golden Gate
Goffen, R. Picturing the Passion in Late Medieval Italy: Narrative painting, Franciscan
Ideology, and the Levant, Renaissance Quarterly, 52.1 (1999): 207-231. Print.
Jacobus, Laura. Giotto’s Annunciation in the Arena Chapel, Padua, The art Bulletin,
81.1(1999): 93-107. Print.
Lubbock, Jules. Storytelling in Christian Art from Giotto to Donatello. Yale: Yale University
Press. 2006. Print.
Paoletti, J.T. and Radke, G.M. Art in Renaissance Italy. London: Lawrence King. 2005. Print.