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Getting to 1400 (it’s not easy)

February 20, 2012


Simone Martini (and maybe Lippo Memmi), The Annunciation with Ss. Ansanus and Margeret, 1333.  Tempera on wood (as if you all didn’t know that?)

It’s been a busy five weeks since the semester started and I am totally embarrassed to admit that only toward the beginning of Week 5 in my “Issues in Fifteenth Century Florentine Art” did I finally reach the gargantuan Brunelleschi/Ghiberti battle for the bronze doors of the Baptistery.  Week 5 and the semester is only 13 weeks.  Sigh.

The reason–painters like Giotto and Simone Martini, not to mention the Lorenzetti bros–Pietro and Ambrogio. I am a sucker for anything and everything about the Arena Chapel and would happily spend weeks just going over each detail in Mr. Scrovegni’s boondoggle, scene by scene.

And while Duccio leaves me a little cold at times, I cannot get enough of Simone Martini’s technique.  I find myself jumping up in down in front of the trying to convince them of the wonder that is Simone’s adaptation of a technique for rending luxury fabrics on sculpture for use in altarpieces like the St. Ansanus altar (illustrated above).  Sometimes I feel like I am almost there with Simone Martini, maybe LIppo Memmi is there too, and some of the other members of the workshop, carefully adhering sheets of gold or silver leaf to the canvas that will then be covered with a transparent glaze and then elaborate designs scratched in the glaze–the result–the viewer feels like they can reach out and touch the embroidered velvets or silk worn by elegantly appareled angels with curly blond hair and handsome young saints.

I love the 15th century with a passion, but sometimes it’s decadent just to lounge around for awhile in Siena during the fourteenth century.  Don’t you agree?


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  1. I’m having a good laugh–I recall Billie experiencing the same struggle, meanwhile as the student lapping it all up, falling in love with Giotto (the emotion! the solidity!) and the Arena Chapel, and the glory of Simone Martini’s brushwork. A surfeit of riches–hard to chose where to focus one’s energy but I’m quite sure that your joy in your subject matter will infect your students. 🙂

    • Dear Anne-Louise,

      Perhaps it was a virus we all caught from Billie? Or perhaps it’s encoded in our DNA. Good to hear from you and thanks for your kind comments, Anne-Louise.

  2. Billie Fischer permalink

    Finally got to this post (two-week visit to new grandson intervened) and think it’s a combination: you have to see the works first, but it must be the DNA that makes some perspicacious (and thus fortunate) people catch the virus. Many students appear completely unmoved. But for those who are susceptible, it lasts. A couple of weeks ago, an econ major from the 90’s (I think–have to check) wrote me out of the blue to say that she and friends were talking about a bucket list–and because she loved her art history classes more than anything, she said, at the top of hers was to go to those little Italian towns and soak it all up (she’s never been to Italy.) We’re meeting in a couple of weeks to talk about it (she is a banker in Battle Creek.)

  3. Good day! This post could not be written any better! Reading through this post reminds me of my good
    old room mate! He always kept chatting about this. I will forward this post
    to him. Fairly certain he will have a good read. Thanks for sharing!

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