Simone Martini

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Simone Martini

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Simone Martini, according Vasari, was born around 1284. The tradition says that he would have come from Siena and that he would have been the son of a certain Martino, who lived in the Sant’Egidio borough. However according to recent studies, there is indication that he could have been born in San Gimignano, to the family of the Master Martino, whose job, as per documentation dated 1274, was a craftsman specialised in preparing the walls where frescoes would be painted.

Up to now no information has come up about the first 30 years of his life. But it is probable that he went to Siena soon, first as a pupil of Duccio di Buoninsegna, and then becoming independent with his own workshop.
His training in Siena was very important for his style, because during the XIII and XIV centuries this city was an active center of gothic culture with a particular taste and tradition.
In Siena, Simone Martini was the head of a flourishing and renowned workshop, where high quality works were produced. His artistic laboratory became one of the most active centers of pictorial innovation and research, but it was also a balanced and efficient cooperative system between the artists who used to go there. Some of these were relatives of Simone, as his brother Donato and his brothers-in-law Lippo and Tederico Memmi (brothers of Simone’s wife), the sons of San Gimignano’s civic painter Memmo di Filippuccio.
In its efficient organization, Simone’s workshop reflected the typical hierarchic order of the Tuscan workshops of the time and must have had several members among them collaborators, workers, helpers and pupils. Several works were often made by more than one artist. Sometimes they carried only the master’s signature, some other times the one from Lippo Memmi, sometimes from both, sometimes it could be Simone’s and Tederico’s together, and so on.

Among the most famous works, belonging to the rich production from Simone Martini, the Maestà is one to remember, housed in Siena’s Palazzo Pubblico (Town Hall), as well as the frescoes telling the Story of San Martin, in the Lower Basilica of San Francesco in Assisi, San Ludovico’s Altarpiece from Tolosa, the frescoed Angelo in Orvieto’s Duomo, and extraordinary polyptychs, like the one in the National Museum of Pisa, the one from Orvieto’s Opera del Duomo, the Polyptych of Boston’s Gardner Museum, and the famous Annunciation of the Uffizi.

The great technique versatility of this master can be noticed from the works he produced. Besides traditional painting as frescoes, tempera on wood and miniature, Simone Martini experimented also with applications of glass, enamel, metal leaf and perforation, stucco and even paper.
But Simone Martini’s art stands out mainly for the new aesthetic vision. As a master, he was very aware of contemporary artistic and cultural events. He carried out a perfect fusion between the 4th Century realism, introduced by Giotto, and the traditional style from Siena and Duccio. His painting developed the Sienese trend in the gothic terms he was trained, assimilating Giotto’s teachings. His works introduced credible settings and spaces that were structured in depth and where he placed his characters. However, instead of the Florentine-giottesque synthetic vision, he developed an extremely personal analytical vision, focused on the details, which were meticulously described, bringing absolutely new results.
The attention to details, moreover, is not a simple decoration fact, but the fruits of a close and attentive observation, which is developed with a scientific study of the real facts. Such modern approach to reality makes this artist one of the first portrait painters and one of the firsts to study the truth of painting in the West.
Another fundamental element is his endless research to interpret feelings. In this field, Simone Martini put into action a refined capacity of psychological observation and the return of deep expressions, that anticipated the research that later developed mainly in the Renascence.
The way that Simone used his expressive elements is also very personal. Simone Martini’s line is mobile, sinuous, continuous and rhythmic. It has a life of its own. It flows without stopping on all the outlines and it follows the oscillation of the folds of the garments, the hair and the details. The colours follow a rich range, delicate and refined, full of opalescent transparencies and reflections.
Simone Martini spent the last years of his life in France and his work had a strong influence in the French painting. In Avignone he became friends with Francesco Petrarca and together they became one of the greatest representatives of the courteous society and of the International Gothic. He died in Avignone in 1344.

 A. Cocchi

Trad.: A. Sturmer


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G. Contini, M.C. Gozzoli. L'opera completa di Simone Martini. Classici dell'Arte Rizzoli, Milano, 1966
E. Castelnuovo. Pittori girovaghi nell'Avignone dei papi. in: Il romanzo della pittura. Giotto e i maestri del Trecento. Supplemento a La Repubblica, Arnoldo Mondadori, Verona, 1988
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G. Bonsanti. Simone Martini. Associazione per le Casse di Risparmio italiane, Roma 1994



Tags:Simone Martini, Duccio di Buoninsegna, painting, line, gold, miniature, Alesandra Cocchi, A. Sturmer, .


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