The Santa Trinita Maestà, Cimabue

“In that work, at great pains to respond to the fame already attributed to him, he showed more invention, and a fine approach to the disposition of Our Lady, who he shows with her Son in her arms, surrounded by many angels who venerate her in a field of gold” Vasari, 1568, The Life of Cimabue

Maesta of Santa Trinita (1280 - 1290) by Cenni di Pepo CimabueUffizi Gallery

The Santa Trinita Maestà, Cimabue, 1290-1300.

This large panel (3.85 m x 2.23 m) was created by Cimabue in around 1300 for the Vallumbrosan Order of the Church of Santa Trinita, where according to Vasari it was placed on the main altar.

In 1810, it was moved to the Accademia Gallery in Florence, before finally coming to the Uffizi in 1919. The original monumental frame was lost in the nineteenth century and replaced by a painted and gilded moulding.

The paintings known as "Maestà" (Italian for "majesty") are large vertical panels, generally cuspidate. The form spread throughout central Italy between Umbria and Tuscany in the latter half of the thirteenth century as major architectural transformations began to affect mendicant churches and cathedrals.

Mary presents the Child to the faithful: this formula is derived from a Byzantine icon called the Hodegetria, meaning "she who shows the way". The Child's pose is typical – He is turned towards His Mother, with one leg bent so as to show the sole of His right foot.

The golden background alludes to the divine light of the face of God, and serves the purpose of placing this sacred scene in a different dimension, outside of earthly time and space. The background and halos were decorated using punches.

The gilding on the robes of the Virgin and Child was added using a traditional Byzantine technique called "agemina", from the Latin "ad gemina metalla" ("with two metals"). This indicates gilding using two filaments.

Cimabue offers up some novel aspects also seen in the work of Giotto, breaking with the rigid traditions of Byzantine art. The facial expressions are endearing and the faces themselves, shaped with a delicately-shaded chiaroscuro, show a hint of a smile.

The grandiose throne is reminiscent of the Tuscan churches of the time, covered in marble and decorated with mosaics. The central perspective suggests an inhabitable space housing the Mother of the Church and the Prophets in the bays formed by the arches.

The Old Testament Prophets are symbolically placed at the base of the painting, acting as the foundation for the New Testament. Within their scrolls, Jeremiah, Abraham, David and Isaiah allude to the mysteries of the Incarnation and the Virginity of Mary.

Credits: Story

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