4.7.09

Aesthetics of Decay - Part 2:
Cimabue & Giotto at Assisi
& Uccello's Green Cloister

For painters, the Basilica of St. Francis at Assisi is one of the most magnificent places in the world. Being there, it's easy to imagine this place as a hot-house of creative activity and experimentation in the late 13th & early 14th century, when the greatest painters in the world at that time, Cimabue and his student Giotto and all their crew, were throwing down on every surface on both levels of this cavernous cathedral.

Seven hundred years later, the color here is like no other place -- deeply rich, warm and sensuous, with a gentle gray/green patina on every surface -- it absolutely envelops your senses. What we see here is possibly just as overwhelming as it must have been when it was made. But the fact is, what we see now is not at all what was originally made, but rather a hybrid, a collaboration between the painters and the natural elements over time. There is no way to know what these paintings looked like originally -- what we do know is how they look now, which is unimaginably beautiful.

Cimabue, Crucifixion, 1280, Basilica of St. Francis, Assisi

Giotto, St. Francis Exorcising Demons, 1296-1304, Upper Church, Basilica of St. Francis, Assisi

Giotto, Sermon to the Birds, 1296-1304, Upper Church, Basilica of St. Francis, Assisi

In Florence, in the cloister of Santa Maria Novella is a remarkable early cycle of paintings by Uccello that are so weathered by time and moisture that some are almost gone. Here are a few of the less decayed fragments. Much like the Cimabues at Assisi, the color and value contrasts are transformed to a radical new state.

Paolo Uccello, Scenes from the Flood, 1432, Cloister, Santa Maria Novella, Florence

Paolo Uccello, Scenes from the Flood, 1432, Cloister, Santa Maria Novella, Florence