The best paintings during the Gothic period were executed upon the walls of the churches in fresco. The prepared color was laid on wet plaster, and allowed to soak in. The small altar and panel pictures were painted in distemper, the gold ground and many Byzantine features being retained by most of the painters, though discarded by some few.
CHANGES IN THE TYPE, ETC: The advance of Italian art in the Gothic age was an advance through the development of the imposed Byzantine pattern. It was not a revolt or a starting out anew on a wholly original path. When people began to stir intellectually the artists found that the old Byzantine model did not look like nature. They began, not by rejecting it, but by improving it, giving it slight movements here and there, turning the head, throwing out a hand, or shifting the folds of drapery. The Eastern type was still seen in the long pathetic face, oblique eyes, green flesh tints, stiff robes, thin fingers, and absence of feet ; but the painters now began to modify and enliven it. More realistic Italian faces were introduced, architectural and landscape backgrounds encroached upon the Byzantine gold grounds, even portraiture was taken up.
This looks very much like realism, but we must not lay too much stress upon it. The painters were taking notes of natural appearances. It showed in features like the hands, feet, and drapery ; but the anatomy of the body had not yet been studied, and there is no reason to believe their study of the face was more than casual, nor their portraits more than records from memory.
No one painter began this movement. The whole artistic region of Italy was at that time ready for the advance. That all the painters moved at about the same pace, and continued to move at that pace down to the fifteenth century, that they all based themselves upon Byzantine teaching, and that they all had a similar style of working is proved by the great difficulty in attributing their existing pictures to certain masters, or even certain schools. There are plenty of pictures in Italy to-day that might be attributed to either Florence or Sienna, Giotto or Lorenzetti, or some other master ; because though each master and each school had slight peculiarities, yet they all had a common origin in the art traditions of the time.
FLORENTINE SCHOOL: Cimabue (1240 ?-1302 ?) seems the most notable instance in early times of a Byzantine- educated painter who improved upon the traditions. He has been called the father of Italian painting, but Italian painting had no father. Cimabue was simply a man of more originality and ability than his contemporaries, and departed
further from the art teachings of the time without decidedly opposing them. He retained the Byzantine pattern, but loosened the lines of drapery somewhat, turned the head to one side, infused the figure with a little appearance of life. His contemporaries elsewhere in Italy were doing the same thing, and none of them was any more than a link in the progressive chain.
Cimabue's pupil, Giotto (1266?-1337), was a great improver on all his predecessors because he was a man of extraordinary genius. He would have been great in any time, and yet he was not great enough to throw off wholly the Byzantine traditions. He tried to do it. He studied nature in a general way, changed the type of face somewhat by making the jaw squarer, and gave it expression and nobility. To the figure he gave more motion, dramatic gesture, life. The drapery was cast in broader, simpler masses, with some regard for line, and the form and movement of the body were somewhat emphasized through it. In methods Giotto was more knowing, but not essentially different from his contemporaries ; his subjects were from the common stock of religious story ; but his imaginative force and invention were his own. Bound by the conventionalities of his time he could still create a work of nobility and power. He came too early for the highest achievement. He had genius, feeling, fancy, almost everything except accurate knowledge of the laws of nature and art. His art was the best of its time, but it still lacked, nor did that of his immediate followers go much beyond it technically.
Taddeo Gaddi (1300 ?-1366 ?) was Giotto's chief pupil, a painter of much feeling, but lacking in the large elements of construction and in the dramatic force of his master. Agnolo Gaddi (1333 ?-1396 ?), Antonio Veneziano (1312?-1388 ?), Giovanni da Milano (fl. 1366), Andrea da Firenze (fl. 1377), were all followers of the Giotto methods, and were so similar in their styles that their works are often confused and erroneously attributed. Giottino (1324?-1357 ?) was a supposed imitator of Giotto, of whom little is known. Orcagna (1329 ?-1376 ?) still further advanced the Giottesque type and method. He gathered up and united in himself all the art teachings of his time. In working out problems of form and in delicacy and charm of expression he went beyond his predecessors. He was a many-sided genius, knowing not only in a matter of natural appearance, but in color problems, in perspective, shadows, and light. His art was further along toward the Renaissance than that of any other Giottesque. He almost changed the character of painting, and yet did not live near enough to the fifteenth century to accomplish it completely. Spinello Aretino, (1332 ?-1410 ?) was the last of the great Giotto followers. He carried out the teachings of the school in technical features, such as composition, drawing, and relief by color rather than by light, but he lacked the creative power of Giotto. In fact, none of the Giottesque can be said to have improved upon the master, taking him as a whole. Toward the beginning of the fifteenth century the school rather declined.