During the years 1350 to 1425, inside the walls of the Camaldolese Florentine monastery of Santa Maria degli Angeli, the monks had daily access to some of the most innovative European paintings produced between 1350 and 1425. It was here, at the peak of the other-worldliness of medieval Christianity that leading painters of the day, like Nardo di Cione and Lorenzo Monaco, filled manuscripts and decorated altars with richly coloured pictures representing the supernatural cultural belief system which defined their city state.. These pictures augmented its liturgical spirituality through the representation of biblical passages and theological positions embraced by the religious and secular communities in a great commercial city, which was marked by wealthy and sophisticated ecclesiastical families. In helping to build their spiritual niche and that of the city through coloured art the monks of Santa Maria degli Angeli had few peers.


Lorenzo Monaco is regarded as a leading exponent of the city's late medieval cultural iconography. His last painting was the Bartolini Salimbeni Annunciation, completed just before his death (1420-1424) and housed in the Bartolini Salimbeni Chapel of the church of Santa Trinita, Florence. The chapel, was created during the renovation and enlargement of the church started in the mid-13th century. It was owned by the rich merchant family of Bartolini-Salimbeni since 1363. Their residence, the Palazzo Bartolini Salimbeni, is located in the same square as the church.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bartolini_Salimbeni_Chapel
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bartolini_Salimbeni_Annunciation

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Lorenzo Monaco's panel is intermediate between a medieval polyptych and a Renaissance altarpiece. It is generally described as the first work in which the subject has a direct relationship with the surrounding architecture. Another innovation is the small side pillars with saints, later used also by Masaccio and Fra Angelico in their art works.

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The central panel depicts the Annunciation in a single painted surface whose rounded top arches recall however the shape of a triptych. Above the three arches are medallions with prophets, of whom only the middle one (Isaiah) has been identified, thanks to the cartouche saying Ecce Virgo [concipiet]. Below, the scene is completed by a predella with four scenes: Visitation, Nativity, Adoration of the Magi and Flight into Egypt. These shows typical elements of the International Gothic style culture of the arts, such as the fine arabesques in the drapes and the delicate tonalities in contrast with the dark backgrounds.

In the Adoration, the detail of the old king kneeling to kiss the Child is taken from a Ghiberti's tile, and was also used by Gentile da Fabriano in his Strozzi Altarpiece.

In the Flight, the palm is taken from the Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew, which describes the tree that bent itself to allow the passage of the holy family.

At the sides, only four of the five compartments of each pillar are painted: the 1990s restoration did not find any trace of paint in the upper ones, so it is likely that they have been empty since the work's execution.

The Annunciation depicts a sitting Madonna, with an angel arriving from the left to stop her reading (a hint to the Holy Books). She looks at God, who is portrayed in the middle arch, surrounded by seraphims, and who sends her the dove of the Holy Ghost.



Lorenzo Monaco's slight variations on the cultural norms of religious art indicate that times were changing, and the dominance of ancient religiosity was about to give way to Christian humanism. Florentine culture was the first to loosen its grip on the long-established imperative to depict imagined biblical dramas to commemorate all public and private events. The pace of change at this time can be seen by comparing the Salimbeni Annunciation with Donatello's Cavalcanti 'Annunciation' created a decade later.

Donatello, born Donato di Niccolò di Betto Bardi, was an outstanding Florentine artist whose work helped to define the cultural art of the early Italian Renaissance. Donatello's Annunciation was created for the Cavalcanti family's altar in Santa Croce. The work is richly decorated with painterly gilding on stone, emphasizing the Virgin Mary's 'grace and humility.'

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As in Lorenzo Monaco's painting of The Annunciation, Donatello depicts the moment when the angel Gabriel appears to the Virgin Mary, informing her that she will give birth the son of God. Donatello is credited with developing the shallow relief style of sculpting, a form that plays with depth perception and makes the sculpture appear deeper than its actual dimensions; a three dimensional painting in fact. Although the composition reflects iconographical models of earlier 14th century painting, the framing is intricately classical and signals the birth of the humanistic culture, which has come down to us from that time.


The pace of cultural change was increasing fast and this can be seen by comparing Donatello's Annunciation with the work of Bernardo Rossellino. Bernardo was one of three younger sculptors who dominated marble sculpture in Florence until 1470.

Bernardo Rossellino, his younger brother Antonio and a friend, Desiderio were born in Settignano, a hill town outside Florence famous for its quarries and stonecutters: . The most important sculptural commission of Bernardo Rossellino was the tomb of Leonardo Bruni in Santa Croce, created about ten years after Donatello's Annunciation. The humanist chancellor of Florence, who died in 1444, had requested a simple tomb slab. Although the monument is undocumented, a contemporary description of the funeral clarifies much of the iconography. The effigy of this quintessential Renaissance man lies in state as in his funeral. He holds his book (History of the Florentine People) and wears a laurel crown.

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The harmonious integration of the figures in an architectural frame established this monument as the model for sepulchral monuments for the remainder of the century. The tomb's format recalls the triumphal arch, a fitting motif for a Christian humanist. However, its message is the triumph not so much of salvation as of the individual and his everlasting fame, in this case as a prosperous merchant and politician, with an illustrious pedigree.. This is stressed by the crowning element, Bruni's coat-of-arms.

This cultural shift which occupied about two decades was to hook on to the mimetic tradition had originated in ancient Greece. It was perfected during the next century and found prominence again during the Renaissance and again during the nineteenth-century. But then, for modern artists, this old standard was too limiting and did not reflect the way that life was now being experienced. Freud and Einstein had radically changed perception of reality. Freud had asked us to look inwardly into a personal world that had previously been repressed, and Einstein taught us that relativity was everything. And, thus, new artistic forms had to be found that expressed this new culture of subjectivity. Artists countered with works that were so personal that they distorted the natural appearance of things and with reason. Each individual work begged to be judged as a self-sufficient unit which obeyed its own internal laws and its own internal logic, thereby attaining its own individual character.



Works of Lorenzo Monaco