Eastern Byzantine vs. Early Renaissance Italian art

GB: Currently exploring Italian icon painters – Veneziano and Duccio, Fra Angelico and Giotto. These artists were working at the same time, and often earlier than some of the more famous Russian icon painters, such as Rublev.


Duccio,1308-11. ‘Maesta: Front Pinnacle Annunciation’ Siena, Museo Opera del Duomo

“…there was a fascinating “hybrid” cross-over of styles. This is shown, for instance, in the so called “Crusaders icons”, in the “Veneto-Byzantine tradition” shown in the works of Venetian painters like Paolo Veneciano and, of course, in the work of Duccio. If we compare for example the style of the work of these two artists to a 14 th century Byzantine icon we will see the intriguing “softening” of the edges of the folds. They all worked in egg tempera of course, and in the case of Duccio he had a different way of building the skin colour base and lights in the face. He started with a flat terra verte (mixed with a bit of white) colour, and over this he build up to the lights with the local flesh colours in a series of highly controlled light and dark coloured graduations, painted by little directional strokes or hatching technique.” (Guillem Ramos-Poquí. Retrieved from http://www.ramos-poqui.com/chart/)

Guillem Ramos-Poquí © 2006

Guillem Ramos-Poquí © 2006

via Chart.


2 thoughts on “Eastern Byzantine vs. Early Renaissance Italian art

  1. I love this chart! But there are some notable omissions surely. Where is Gentile da Fabriano, a personal favourite of mine – check out ‘Madonna of Humility’ and the ‘Madonna in Adoration of the Magi’ especially.

    Also, I am interested that you note that these early Italians were painting before the notable Russians. I visited the church of Sveti Pantelejmon in Skopje in Macedonia a few years ago in search of some frescoes that pre-date Giotto by 150 years. Andrew Graham-Dixon believes that these particular frescoes must call into question the commonly held belief, started by Vasari, that Giotto was the granddaddy of the Renaissance – that his work, Cappella Scrovegni and Assisi etc, marked the important departure from the static icon to the depiction of passion and reality of subject matter so prevalent in and which characterises the Renaissance.

    The Wiki page (eek!) describes the works:
    The frescoes contained within St. Panteleimon at Nerezi are not seen as static, they had the capacity to change into something more obviously human and realistic, anticipating the West’s emphasis on depicting Christ as a man of flesh and blood by some 150 years. The lamentation of Christ fresco is described as being a fusion of life and death in a single image as Mary movingly mourns Jesus, cradling him between her legs. Graham-Dixon reminds that these frescoes from the 1160s precede Giotto’s similar emotional frescoes from the Arena Chapel near Venice circa 1305. He concludes “…the Byzantine east played a much more formative role in the development of renaissance art than Vasari was prepared to concede.”

    Macedonia is a fascinating place – a rich ‘east-meets-west’ melting pot. The many churches on the shores of Lake Ohrid contain a wealth of fascinating and surprisingly accomplished frescoes and icons, often still blackened with candle soot like Italian churches all used to be before the big ‘in restauro’ clean up of the past 30 years. Lake Ohrid served as an episcopal center of the Orthodox Church and was an important stop on an orthodox pilgrim route. It is where the cyrillic script (after St Cyril) was developed.

    I have some half decent photos of some of the frescoes from Sveti Pantelejmon and a couple of the churches in Ohrid if you are interested.

    • Hi – That sounds fascinating. I would love to see your photos of Macedonia! There is certainly plenty of opportunity for revisionist history here. The timeline reveals that the continuation of the ‘static image’ in the Eastern tradition was actually a preferred choice throughout the ‘renaissance’ years – perhaps to to avoid the passion, emotionalism, and human realism in favour of a continuation of silent and meditative spiritual archetypes. Maybe they gave it a go – and then decided it didn’t work for them – so they left realism / emotionalism to Giotto and the Italians!
      I have also been reading about the rules they had in the first millennium around displays of emotional art and music. For instance, Plato warned against listening to most melodic music – seeing it as dangerous, emotional and manipulative, especially for the youth (!). His ideas were still much in use, thus the Gregorian chants (mantras?) etc were the only sanctified music allowed…. especially in the church. I imagine the same ideas of over emotional and manipulative abilities could also be applied to art…?

      NB. Thomas of Aquinas just needs a cuppa tea and a bikkie to complete this picture….

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