Cimabue, Giovanni

, another renowned painter, was born at Florence in 1240, and was the first who revived the art of painting in Italy. Being descended of a noble family, and of sprightly parts, he was sent to school to study the belles lettres, but he generally betrayed his natural bias by drawing figures upon paper, or on his books. The fine arts having been extinct in Italy, ever since the irruption of the barbarians, the senate of Florence had sent at that time for painters out of Greece. Cimabue was their first disciple, and used to elope from school and pass whole days in viewing their work. His father, therefore, agreed with these Greeks to take him under their care, and he soon surpassed them both in design and colouring. Though he wanted the art of managing his lights and shadows, was but little acquainted with the rules of perspective, and in other particulars but indifferently accomplished, yet the foundation which he laid for future improvement, entitled him to the name of the “father of the first age, or infancy of modern painting.

Cirnabue painted, according to the custom of those times, in fresco and in distemper; the art of painting in oii being not then discovered. He painted a great many pieces at Florence, some of which are yet remaining: but, as his fame began to spread, he was sent for to many remote places, and among the rest to Asceci, a city of Umbria, and the birth-place of St. Francis. There in the lower church, in company with those Greek painters, he painted some of the cieling and the sides of the church, with the stories of the lives of our Saviour and St. Francis; in all which he so far outdid his coadjutors that he resolved to paint by himself, and undertook the upper church in fresco. Being returned to Florence, he painted for the church of Sancta Maria Novella, where he first went to school, a jpiece of our Lady, which was the largest picture that had been seen in those days, and is still to be seen in good preservation. It then excited so much wonder, that it was carried from Ciinabue’s house to the church with trumpets | before it, and in solemn processibn and he was highly rewarded and honoured by the city for it. There is a tradition, that while Cimabue was employed on this piece in a garden he had near the gate of St. Peter, Charles of Anjou, king of Naples, came through Florence, where, being received with all possible demonstrations of respect, the magistrates, among other entertainments, carried him to see this piece. And because nobody had yet seen it, all the gentry of Florence waited upon him thither, and with such extraordinary rejoicings, that the name of the place was changed to Borgo Allegri, that is, the Merry Suburb which name it long retained.

Cimabue was also a great architect as well as painter, and concerned in the fabric of Sancta Maria del Fior in Florence during which employment he died in 1300. He left many disciples, and among the rest Giotto, who proved an excellent master, and was his first rival. Dante mentions him in the eleventh canto of his purgatory as without a rival till Giotto appeared. Cimabue’s portrait, by Simon Sanese, was in the chapel-house of Sancta Maria Novella. It is a figure which has a lean face, a little red beard, in point; with a capuche, or monk’s hood upon his head, after the fashion of those times. 1


Vasari. Aglionby’s Painting Illustrated, 1685, 4to. Pilkiugton.