Andrea Orcagna

 1320-1368

 Italian Late Gothic  Byzantine Style  Painter,  Architect, Sculptor,  Mosaist and Poet

Influences - Giotto di Bondone  Cimabue, Coppo di Marcovaldo

Education - apprenticed to  Giotto di Bondone and Andrea Pisano

Painting Medium - Tempera and gilt on wood


  Andrea Orcagna was born into a family of artists and craftsmen. His brothers Jacopo and Nardo di Cione were also well known artists.  According to Vasari, Orcagna was the leading Florentine artist of his generation and attributed many great works to him, including the altarpiece of The Redeemer with the Madonna and Saints in the Strozzi Chapel.  Orcagna survived the great plague of the late 1340s but the consequences of the pandemic influenced his style and themes. The horrors of the black death pervaded all aspects of Medieval culture and especially art. The effects were lasting, bringing a somber darkness to visual art, literature, and music. The dreadful trauma of this era instigated the imaginations of writers and painters in bleak and disturbing ways for decades to follow. Hell, Satan and the Grim Reaper became favored subjects. With an imagery at once, bizarre, fantastic and inspirational, Orcagna invented an ethereal universe of inspiring beauty - an idyllic and shining Kingdome from which evil, hardship and gloom were eternally forbidden.  Even the most eccentric of his paintings, are serene and everlasting in their sincerity. Sadly Orcagna's later years were overshadowed by a dramatic decline of his mental state due to his drunken binges. He died relatively young at forty-eight.

Most prominently featured in his work are  the holy figures of the Christian faith--the -ChristSaints, The CrossVirgin Mary Chalice, Keys, The Anchor, Wheat The Good Shepherd, The Apostles, Animals, Fish, Angels, Birds, Insects  and Satan.


With the triumph of Christianity, Byzantine style artists aspired to reawaken the divine spirit of holy figures rather than depict their physical qualities.  Their unique style is a  combination of  frontal simplicity, truth to nature, harmonious unity together with precision in details.  The use of costly materials such as gold, precious stones and ivory indicates the degree of wealth that was common during this period, and attests to the sophistication of the culture.  
Eminent art historian and aurthor, Clive Bell explains "Between 900 and 1200 the capital achievements of Christian art are not superior in quality to those of the preceding age—indeed, they fall short of the Byzantine masterpieces of the sixth century; but the first-rate art of this second period was more abundant, or, at any rate, has survived more successfully, than that of the first. The age that has bequeathed us Romanesque, Lombardic, and Norman architecture gives no sign of dissolution. We are still on the level heights of the Christian Renaissance. Artists are still primitive. Men still feel the significance of form sufficiently to create it copiously. Increased wealth purchases increased leisure, and some of that leisure is devoted to the creation of art. I do not marvel, therefore, at the common, though I think inexact, opinion that this was the period in which Christian Europe touched the summit of its spiritual history: its monuments are everywhere majestic before our eyes."



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