Origins of Medieval Tuscan Painting IV. Tuscan painters of the first generation after Giotto.
In Padua, Giotto worked with several disciples, and in his Assisi frescoes is clear the collaboration of assistants. One of the most prominent was Bernardo Daddi (ca. 1280-1348), whose deep “giottism” was oriented towards pictorial preciousness. But the favorite of these collaborators seems to have been Taddeo Gaddi (ca. 1290-1366). Taddeo was a member of Giotto’s workshop from 1313 to 1337 and, according to Giorgio Vasari, he was considered Giotto’s most talented pupil. It is often difficult to specify whether a work is by Giotto or Gaddi. From Taddeo learned his own children, Agnolo, Giovanni and Nicola, who continued their father’s workshop for several years. The Gaddi family was not, like Giotto’s, entirely popular: Taddeo’s father was a painter and a mosaic artist, and from the Gaddi lineage came notable merchants, politicians and even cardinals.
The generation led by Taddeo Gaddi was followed by Andrea di Bonaiuto (active 1343-1377) and the last painters of the 14th century who worked in the Campo Santo Monumentale of Pisa. We have seen in previous essays that the cloister destined for a cemetery in Pisa included a wide gallery of Gothic arches, like a monastic cloister, in which sarcophagi and ancient marbles were accumulated. The exterior walls don’t have any window that breaks the wall structure, and therefore lend themselves admirably to be decorated with large frescoes. The decoration of the cemetery lasted more than a century: started by Giotto’s disciples who painted the East wall, it was finished in the 15th century by Florentines, Benozzo Gozzoli (ca. 1421-1497) and his disciples. These last paintings, mostly destroyed during World War II, will be discussed later; instead, the frescoes of the eastern wing must be cited among the works of the disciples of the second generation after Giotto.
Vasari attributed to Andrea di Cione (ca. 1308-August 25, 1368), nicknamed Orcagna, a group of paintings about the Triumph of Death and the Last Judgment located in the Pisan cemetery, which today are generally attributed to a Pisan painter named Francesco Traini active in Pisa from 1323. On one side, a group of cheerful ladies and handsome gentlemen sing in the most complete abandonment and chanting about the easy life of the senses to the sounds of a clavichord; but on the other side, a horse riding, also involving ladies and gentlemen crossing the forest, is suddenly interrupted by three coffins with their decaying corpses which remind them of the triumph of death. The horses stop their march, menacing, when stepping on the magical territory of death. Dogs sniff the air restlessly. Horror permeates everything silently with a chill that makes fear visible. The scene seems conceived by Edgar Allan Poe. The fresco with the Last Judgment and a view of the Dantesque hell comes next.
From the second half of the 14th century was the great work of Andrea di Bonaiuto, a Florentine painter. It consists of a monumental ensemble of frescoes that decorate the walls and ceiling of the “Spanish chapel”, in the chapter house of Santa Maria Novella. This chapel used to be the meeting place (and also the burial place) for the Spaniards involved in the wool trade in Florence during the 16th century. It is a very large square room, in whose far side there is a representation of Calvary, a painting with a great original representation of animation and movement. On one side was painted the triumph of the Church defended by a pack of black and white dogs representing the Dominican friars, while sheep rest at the feet of their shepherds representing the ecclesiastical hierarchies. In front of this painting, another composition contains the nine figures of the liberal arts and nine patriarchs and philosophers who correspond to each of them. Thus, for example, Cicero is at the foot of Rhetoric; Tubal-Cain, to those of Music; Saint Augustine, to those of Dogmatic Theology; Justinian, to those of Jurisprudence; Pythagoras, to those of Arithmetic, etc. The whole of this mural decoration was made around 1365-1367 and because of its allegorical sense and its deep theological and humanistic significance, it can be considered an organic synopsis of the entire Christian culture of the Trecento.
The artistic repertoire in painting increased by these humanistic concepts of the Florentine artists of the end of the 14th century which, however, always remained faithful to the principles of composition established by Giotto. The artists themselves were aware that weren’t artistic techniques per se what was progressing in art, but that art was progressing as a result of having increased the artistic repertoire and the addition of new iconography to the somewhat schematic scenes firstly laid out by Giotto. As a consequence, the psychological part that was previously personal and individual, became social and human.