Anachronistic and teleological notions about one-point perspective and its relationship to optical reality or the observation of space have led to a mass denigration of earlier pictorial strategies for rendering volumes, situating them, and specifying their relationships to each other. However, if one has spent any time in a medieval hill-top commune, such as Siena, San Gimingnano, Volterra, Assisi or Cortona, one knows that the enchanting jumble of sweet and savory-colored buildings, tiled rooves, jagged walls, myriad towers, gothic windows, crenellations, and empty loggie seen everywhere in trecento painting, correspond rather accurately to one’s visual experience urban architecture and topography in such places.

To put it more plainly, Siena looks like Ambriogio Lorenzetti’s Good Goverment in the City and the 14thc. renderings of the built environment are, on balance, fairly accurate. One couldn’t extrapolate a groundplan of the structures seen in any of these images, the way one can with Piero’s Flagellation, but then again they were never intended to have a cartological application. A similar case can be made for the representation of the contado—the rural or uncultivated topography landscape beyond the city walls.

The Best-Dressed List: Fashions and Fabrics in the Art of Simone Martini

SIMONE MARTINI was the pre-eminent painter of luxury garments, fashion design and textiles in late medieval Italy. His was born around 1284 in Siena, a major European textile-production center, and he concluded his career as the court artist to the papal curia at Avignon, where his duties included designing costumes and decorative textiles, as well as painting and interior decoration. Sienese silk textiles—damasks, brocades and lampas weave—of the trecento were highly prized for their intricate patterns and depth of color (see the following post for examples). Inevitably, Sienese painters became skilled not only in the representation of patterned textiles, but, beginning with Duccio, in the representation of patterned fabrics draped over the human body. This involved painting both intricate designs as well as the breaks in those patterns occluded by folds or interrupted by seams and hemlines. The latter ability in turn could only be achieved by the artist hiring models and studying tailored clothing. As Hayden Maginnis’s description (below) of the representation of the plaid cape worn by Gabriel in the Annunciation makes clear, Simone had first-hand knowledge of expensive, often intricate, sewn garments and how they moved when worn. Simone would have taken the time to inform himself about such matters because his clients, included members of the extended French royal family, including the King of Naples, Robert of Anjou, and King Ladislaw and Queen Elizabeth of Hungary, and other high-profile dignitaries like the pope and the poet Petrarch, all of whom used costume as an index of their social rank, wealth and taste for for whom extravagance and opulence were not only appropriate, but expected. Due to political alliances within Italy, Siena fell from prominence in the 15th century and the specialization in luxury fabrics passed to Florentine artists such as Benozzo Gozzoli, Fra Angelico and Botticelli.

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