It would seem at first as though nothing but self-destruction could come to that struggling, praying, throat-cutting population that terrorized Italy during the Mediaeval Period. The people were ignorant, the rulers treacherous, the passions strong, and yet out of the Dark Ages came light. In the thirteenth century the light grew brighter, but the internal dissensions did not cease. The Hohenstaufen power was broken, the imperial rule in Italy was crushed. Pope and emperor no longer warred each other, but the cries of "Guelf " and " Ghibelline " had
not died out.
Throughout the entire Romanesque and Gothic periods (1000-1400) Italy was torn by political wars, though the free cities, through their leagues of protection and their commerce, were prosperous. A commercial rivalry sprang up among the cities. Trade with the East, manufactures, banking, all flourished ; and even the philosophies, with law, science, and literature, began to be studied. The spirit of learning showed itself in the founding of schools and universities. Dante, Petrarch, and Boccaccio, reflecting respectively religion, classic learning, and the inclination toward nature, lived and gave indication of the trend of thought. Finally the arts, architecture, sculpture, painting, began to stir and take upon themselves new appearances.
SUBJECTS AND METHODS: In painting, though there were some portraits and allegorical scenes produced during the Gothic period, the chief theme was Bible story. The Church was the patron, and art was only the servant, as it had been from the beginning. It was the instructor and consoler of the faithful, a means whereby the Church made converts, and an adornment of wall and altar.. It had not entirely escaped from symbolism. It was still the portrayal of things for what they meant, rather than for what they looked. There was no such thing then as art for art's sake. It was art for religion's sake.
The demand for painting increased, and its subjects multiplied with the establishment at this time of the two powerful orders of Dominican and Franciscan monks. The first exacted from the painters more learned and instructive work ; the second wished for the crucifixions, the martyrdoms, the dramatic deaths, wherewith to move people by emotional appeal. To offset this the ultra-religious character of painting was encroached upon somewhat by the growth of the painters' guilds, and art production largely passing into the hands of laymen. In consequence painting produced many themes, but, as yet, only after the Byzantine style. The painter was more of a workman than an artist. The Church had more use for his fingers than for his creative ability. It was his business to transcribe what had gone before. This he did, but not without signs here and there of uneasiness and discontent with the pattern.
There was an inclination toward something truer to nature. but, as yet, no great realization of it. The study of nature came in very slowly, and painting was not positive in statement until the time of Giotto and Lorenzetti.