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Joy of Museums

Museums, Art Galleries and Historical Sites

“Cimabue’s Celebrated Madonna” by Frederic Leighton

Frederic Leighton - Cimabue's Madonna Carried in Procession

“Cimabue’s Celebrated Madonna carried in Procession through the Streets of Florence” by Frederic Leighton

The painting “Cimabue’s Celebrated Madonna carried in Procession through the Streets of Florence” as created by Frederic Leighton is massive, measuring more than two metres tall and more than five metres wide. The painting shows a scene from the 13th-century procession of an altarpiece of the Madonna and Child through the streets of Florence. The detailed description was provided by a 16th-century historian Giorgio Vasari’s.

The Madonna is being carried from the studio of the artist Cimabue to the church of Santa Maria Novella. Cimabue himself is depicted immediately in front of the Madonna wearing a laurel wreath. He is followed by a group including several leading Florentine artistic figures of the day and on horseback at the right edge of the image, the King of Naples, Charles of Anjou.

The Madonna depicted, as seen from a very narrow-angle in the centre of the painting, is actually not by Cimabue. This error is the result of the miss-attributions of this altarpiece which lasted past Leighton’s time, a mistake which was not corrected until 1889.

Frederic Leighton was 24 years old when he painted this artwork and when it was first exhibited it was well received. So much so that Queen Victoria purchased it on the first day of the exhibition. The National Gallery notes Victoria’s diary entry about this painting:

“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.”

– Queen Victoria

Cimabue

Cimabue (1240 – 1302) was an Italian painter from Florence. Although Byzantine models profoundly influenced him, Cimabue is generally regarded as one of the first great Italian painters to break from the Italo-Byzantine style. While medieval art at Cimabue’s time was scenes that appeared flat and highly stylized, Cimabue’s figures were depicted with more lifelike proportions and shading than other artists of his time.

Art History has long regarded Cimabue as the last of an era that was overshadowed by the Italian Renaissance. Giotto eclipsed Cimabue’s fame, so much so that Dante lamented Cimabue’s quick loss of public interest in the face of Giotto’s revolution in art:

O vanity of human powers,
how briefly lasts the crowning green of glory,
unless an age of darkness follows!
In painting, Cimabue thought he held the field
but now it’s Giotto has the cry,
so that the other’s fame is dimmed.
– Dante

Frederic Leighton

Sir Frederic Leighton was highly successful and famous during his lifetime with many works depicting historical, biblical, and classical subject. Leighton was educated at University College School, London and then received his artistic training on the European continent. At age 17, in 1847, he met the philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer in Frankfurt and drew his portrait, the only known full-length study of Schopenhauer done from life.

When Leighton was 24, he studied in Florence and painted the procession of the Cimabue Madonna. From 1855 to 1859 he lived in Paris, where he met Ingres, Delacroix, Corot and Millet. In 1860, he moved to London, where he associated with the Pre-Raphaelites. In 1864 he became an associate of the Royal Academy, and in 1878 he became its President (1878–96). Leighton was one of the most influential and accomplished artists of the Victorian era.

Leighton was the bearer of the shortest-lived peerage in history, 1st Baron Leighton. After only one day his hereditary peerage became extinct upon his death. Leighton remained a bachelor with no legitimate children. Leighton’s house in Holland Park, London has been turned into a museum, the Leighton House Museum. It has many of his drawings and paintings, as well as some of his former art collection including works by Old Masters and his contemporaries.

Reflections

  • What did Prince Albert like about this painting that Queen Victoria purchased it on the first day of the exhibition?
  • What are the stories told about the many people in this painting?
  • This artist travelled to Florence and Venice to gather inspiration for this painting. Does the authentic detail shine through this painting?

Exploring Frederic Leighton

Cimabue’s Celebrated Madonna is carried in Procession through the Streets of Florence

  • Title:             Cimabue’s Celebrated Madonna is carried in Procession through the Streets of Florence
  • Artist:            Frederic Leighton
  • Created:        1853-55.
  • Period:          Academic art
  • Media:          Oil paint on Canvas
  • Dimensions: 231.8 × 520.7 cm (91.3 × 205 in)
  • Museum:      National Gallery, London

Frederic Leighton

Exploring the National Gallery, London

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“The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing.”
– Socrates

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Photo Credit:1) Frederic Leighton, 1st Baron Leighton [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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