Pages

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Cimabue's Madonna Carried in Procession Through the Streets of Florence


Frederic Leighton, 1st Baron Leighton (3 December 1830–25 January 1896)
Cimabue's Madonna Carried in Procession Through the Streets of Florence 1853-5
Oil on canvas 222 x 521 cm.
On loan to the Leighton House Museum, London, from Her Majesty The Queen.

Cimabue's Madonna Carried in Procession Through the Streets of Florence 1853-5 (detail)


Cimabue's Madonna Carried in Procession Through the Streets of Florence 1853-5 (detail)

Cimabue's Madonna Carried in Procession Through the Streets of Florence 1853-5 (detail)


The English establishment and middle-class had an attachment to Florence. It was an essential stopping point on the Grand Tour.

In the painting, Cimabue's celebrated 'Madonna' is carried in procession through the streets of Florence. In front of the 'Madonna', and crowned with laurels, walks Cimabue with his pupil Giotto. Behind are Arnolfo de Lapo, Gaddo Gaddi, Andrea Tafi, Nicola Pisano, Buffalmacco, Simone Memmi. In the right corner is Dante.

This was Leighton's first major work, painted in Rome. It was shown at The Royal Academy in London in 1855. It was four years after the passing of the Ecclesiastical Titles Act 1851. However, despite its Catholic theme, it was an immediate success, and Queen Victoria bought it for 600 guineas on the opening day.

She recorded in her diary: 'There was a very big picture by a man called Leighton. It is a beautiful painting, quite reminding one of a Paul Veronese, so bright and full of light. Albert was enchanted with it - so much so that he made me buy it.'

The scene is based on the passage in Vasari`s Lives of the Artists regarding the artist Cimabue:

"After his return to Florence he made for the church of S. Maria Novella a picture of our Lady, which work was of larger size than those that had been made before that time, and the angels that stand round, although they are in the Greek manner, yet show something of the modern style.

Therefore this work caused such marvel to the people of that time, never having seen a better, that it was borne in solemn procession with trumpets and great rejoicing from the house of Cimabue to the church, and he himself received great honours and rewards.

It is said, and you may read it in certain records of old pictures, that while Cimabue was painting this picture, King Charles of Anjou passed through Florence, and among other entertainments provided for him by the people of the city, they took him to see Cimabue's picture; and as no one had seen it before it was shown to the king, there was a great concourse of all the men and women of Florence to see it, with the greatest rejoicing and running together in the world.

From the gladness of the whole neighbourhood that part was called Borgo Allegri, the Joyful Quarter, and though it is now within the walls of the city, it has always preserved the same name."

Some images of some of Cimabue`s Madonnas can be seen here.