Trecento: 14th Century Italian Art
Painting, Sculpture, Architecture in Italy (1300-1400).

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Madonna and Child (c.1300)
The Stroganoff Madonna
By Duccio Buoninsegna
New York Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Trecento (1300-1400)

Contents

What is the Meaning of Trecento
Trecento Painting
Realism Versus Gothic/Byzantine Art
The Sienese School of Painting
Trecento Sculpture
Trecento Architecture
Greatest Works of Art


Scrovegni (Arena) Chapel Frescoes by Giotto di Bondone
Scrovegni Chapel Frescoes (c.1303-10)
By Giotto, the best of all Italian
proto-Renaissance artists.

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For details of the best painters:
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What is the Meaning of Trecento

The term "trecento" (Italian for 'three hundred') is short for "milletrecento" ('thirteen hundred'), meaning the fourteenth century. A highly creative period, it witnessed the emergence of Pre-Renaissance Painting, as well as sculpture and architecture during the period 1300-1400. In fact, since the trecento coincides with the Pre-Renaissance movement, the term is often used as a synonym for Proto-Renaissance art - that is, the bridge between Medieval Gothic art and the Early Renaissance. The following century (1400-1500) is known as the quattrocento, and the one after that (1500-1600) is known as the cinquecento.

Trecento Painting

Two schools dominated 14th century painting. (1) The conservative Sienese School of Painting led by Duccio de Buoninsegna (1255-1318), that promoted the old style of Byzantine art, including its modern variant known as International Gothic (c.1375-1425); (2) The Florentine Proto-Renaissance School led by Giotto (1267-1337). The main types of art practised during the trecento period showed relatively little change from Romanesque times. They included: fresco painting, tempera panel painting, book-painting, goldsmithing, metalwork, relief sculpture, and mosaics.


Crucifix (1321-25)
Tempera on wood
Church of Misericordia (Florence)
Attributed to Simone Martini of the
Sienese School.

 

Florentine Realism versus Sienese Gothic/Byzantine Art

Although Giotto's new form of figurative "realism" became the main style of Renaissance art during the 15th century, it was Byzantine-style art, the style taught in the city of Siena, that was still the predominant idiom in the 14th century, and remained so for most of the century - not least because International Gothic became popular in many of the royal courts of Europe. That said, it was Giotto who first grabbed the headlines with his Scrovegni Chapel frescoes in Padua (c.1303-10). A masterpiece of religious art, these pictures abandoned the conventions of the flat hieratic style of Byzantine art, in favour of a greater naturalism. The figures actually looked real! Together with his earlier mural painting in the church of St Francis at Assisi, which he is thought to have completed together with Cimabue (Cenni di Peppi) (1240-1302), the Scrovegni Chapel fresco cycle made him the greatest single influence on trecento painting, and helped to establish a revolutionary new approach to art. It was later developed and enhanced by Early Renaissance artists like (c.1400-90), such as Masaccio (1401-1428), Piero della Francesca (1420-92) and Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519).

Note: An early expert in the attribution of paintings created during the trecento era, was the Renaissance scholar Bernard Berenson (1865-1959), who lived near Florence, and published a number of seminal books on Italian art of the 14th century.

The Sienese School of Painting

While it took much longer for Duccio di Buoninsegna (and others in Siena) to move away from the Byzantine tradition, he is - in both beauty of line and richness of his materials and colour - in no way inferior to Giotto, as both his Stroganoff Madonna (1300) and Maesta Altarpiece (1308) testify. The Sienese style was much more lyrical and dreamlike than Giotto's new idiom, and was eminently suited to timeless altarpiece art. Duccio's pupil Simone Martini (1284-1344) adhered to the decorative aspects of trecento painting in Siena, being much influenced by late Gothic book painting. For more about Medieval manuscript illumination - which incidentally was taken far less seriously in Italy than anywhere else - see Gothic illuminated manuscripts (to 1350), and early International Gothic illuminations.

Meanwhile the brothers Ambrogio Lorenzetti (1290-1352) and Pietro Lorenzetti (1280-1348) favoured Giottoesque narrative realism over Martini's decorative style. The gap between the Byzantine traditions of Siena and the Giotto style of Florence narrowed during the trecento, although the former's decorative qualities were kept alive by painters such as Lorenzo Monaco (1370-1425), Masolino (1383-1440), Pisanello (c.1394-1455), Sassetta (c.1395-1450) and Gentile da Fabriano (c.1370-1427).

Trecento Sculpture

The father of 14th century Italian Renaissance sculpture was the Pisa artist Giovanni Pisano (1250-1314), who carved a Madonna and child for the Scrovegni Chapel in Padua when Giotto was painting there in 1305, and who was noted for his magnificent plastic art for the pulpit of Pistoia Cathedral. He was a major influence on another important trecento sculptor Andrea Pisano (1295-1348), no relation, whose masterworks included three bronze doors for the baptistery of the Cathedral of Florence (finished in 1336). A forerunner of the courtly International Gothic style of art, he was also influenced by Giotto, upon whose death in 1337, Andrea Pisano succeeded him as chief architect of Florence Cathedral. Meanwhile, the leading Venetian sculptor and architect was Filippo Calendario (c.1315-1355) who directed the rebuilding of the 14th century Doge's Palace, before being sentenced to death for treason.

Trecento Architecture

While the Gothic architecture predominated in Northern Europe until the 16th century, it was superceded in Italy during the 15th century by Renaissance designs. However, few major architectural works took place during the trecento. The reasons for this lull are unclear, although it is worth remembering that the Black Death (1346) wiped out one third of Europe's population, and the brutal 100 Years War between France and England began in 1339. The century also had to cope with numerous catastrophic harvests. None of which represented ideal conditions for a Cathedral building program. In any case, the Church - the biggest patron of architecture - was racked with disagreements about spiritual and secular matters.

 

 

Greatest Trecento Works of Art

Italian painting and sculpture from the 14th century can be seen in some of the best art museums in the world.

Paintings

Assisi Frescoes (c.1300 or earlier) by Cimabue and Giotto
Upper Church of S. Francesco of Assisi.
Stroganoff Madonna and Child (1300) by Duccio di Buoninsegna
Tempera/gold on wood, Metropolitan Museum of New York.
Scrovegni Chapel Frescoes (c.1303-10) by Giotto
Cappella degli Scrovegni, Padua.
Maesta Altarpiece (1308-1311) by Duccio di Buoninsegna
Tempera/gold/wood, Siena Cathedral Museum.
Maesta (1315) by Simone Martini
Fresco, Palazzo Pubblico, Siena.
Descent from the Cross (c.1320-30) by Pietro Lorenzetti
Fresco, Lower Church of S. Francesco of Assisi.
Effects of Good and Bad Government (1339) by Ambrogio Lorenzetti
Fresco, Palazzo Pubblico, Siena.

Sculptures

Giovanni di Balduccio (c.1290–1339)
Saint Peter Martyr and Three Donors (c.1340)
Marble relief, Cloisters Collection, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

• Andrea Pisano (1295-1348)
Life of John the Baptist (1330-1336)
Bronze relief, Battistero di San Giovanni, Florence Baptistery.

• For the meaning of pre-Renaissance frescoes and tempera pictures, see: Famous Paintings Analyzed.
• For information about 14th century painting and sculpture, see: Homepage.


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