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Saturday, May 14, 2011

Painting Styles

When we speak of painting styles coming and going, we often think in terms of a decade or so of prominence as in the twentieth century, perhaps twice that length of time in the previous century, and a generation or two in the century before that. As painting has developed in the art of man, the lifespan of a given style of painting has decreased in duration geometrically. Broadly speaking, for instance, the Renaissance style of painting spans a hundred years or more. The mannerist style of painting that followed it somewhat less than that, perhaps 75 years, while the Baroque era lasted anywhere from 75 to 100 years depending upon which art historian you prefer.
Virgin et Nino, 4th Century CE,
Catacombs of Priscilla
Moving back a century or so, early Christian art, sometimes called Byzantine art was little changed for perhaps 1000 years. Talk about a style with legs! A Madonna and Child fresco painting from the Catacomb of Priscilla in Rome dates from the fourth century. It features a sitting Madonna holding a child-like Christ on her lap. Stylistically, it is little different from one painted in the 1300's by the Italian artist, Duccio. The Duccio panel is rich with heavy gold leaf and much more linear in design with the Madonna enthroned in a circular seat that would appear to have been modeled somewhat after the Coliseum.

Madonna and Child Enthroned with Angels and Saints,
c. 1300, Duccio
Madonna Enthroned,
1305-10, Giotto
Madonna and Child with Angels,
1426,  Massaccio
The third century fresco, in contrast, lacks a halo and actually seems more naturalistic than the Duccio figure. It seems possible, if not certain, that Duccio was familiar with the catacomb fresco. Whatever the case, though different, there is little doubt that stylistically, they are cut from the same cloth thousand-year-old cloth. Pursuing Madonna and child paintings down through Giotto, (a student of Duccio) to Massaccio (a student of Giotto) to his student, Piero della Francesca we can watch generation by generation as the Byzantine slowly gave birth to the Renaissance like a mother giving birth to a child.

Madonna and Child with Saints, 1472-73,
Piero della Francesca

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