Simone Martini – Gothic Painter

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Simone Martini Self Portrait Simone Martini was an Italian painter born in Siena in 1284. Throughout his life, he contributed majorly in gothic style paintings.  He is thought to be the one of the earliest gothic artists. He produced many paintings and frescoes. His main style which differentiates his work from the rest is the spatial depictions of scenes and the use of bright, reflective gold texture. In his major works like The Annunciation, Saint Catherine of Alexandria Polyptych, Virgin and Child with Saints and Christ Discovered in the Temple, he has used the reflective golden texture to emphasize the painting with an attractive way. Additionally, in his time pigments like gold and ultramarine were very costly and the use of those colors were regarded as a reflection of god’s glory. Patron’s trust in his ability to use those rare colors adequately describes his mastery.

Notable Works

His learning of the art was supervised by Duccio di Buoninsegna, a learned painter. Though, the noted Renaissance period biographer Giorgio Vasari marked him as the pupil of Giotto di Bondone. His first documented work was Maesta. It is a fresco on the north wall of Sala del Mappamondo in the Palazzo Pubblico in Siena, depicting Madonna and child Jesus with angels and saints. This work is considered as one of his masterpieces and an example of the 14th century art.

Another major artwork was The Annunciation. An incident from bible when angel gabrial comes to mary to inform about the god’s child which will incarnated through her womb. In the painting, Mary is a bit reluctant by the news. Angel is kneeled on one leg with an olive branch in one hand (a traditional symbol of peace) while Mary is on a chair. On the left there is St. Ansanus and on the right –behind Mary- there is a female saint generally identified as St. Maxima or St. Margaret. In the four condos, the saints’ names are Jeremiah, Ezechiel, Isiah and Daniel.

The Annunciation and Two Saints by Simone Martini

The Annunciation and Two Saints by Simone Martini

We can see the sheer amount of the golden color, gothic-style arcs and the spacious setting of the characters and things, which were his trademark.


Technical Innovations

Mastery in golden Surfaces – In a way, Martini took up a goldsmith’s work and utilized it for the better of his paintings. He had all the hammers and tools of a goldsmith and produced many paintings using gold-layers. It was called luxury-art.  The style was so popular that first art theoretician of the renaissance had to urge to artists to use their artistic ability to portray the golden colors or even metals.

Though, martini acquired certain perfection in the use of gold-surfaces. And he polished it further. The amazing outcome of the golden surface was dazzling everyone.

Martini discovered a technique called Luminous Color Technique in which the surface of the color (generally the silver or golden color) would shine exceptionally.

Iridescent Palette – Martini’s another discovery was iridescent palette. Means on a same surface a color would be transformed in another color seamlessly. That was a huge breakthrough at the time, which he used on the frescos – a tough surface to apply this technique.

In The Lives of the Artists, renaissance period biographer Giorgio Vasari has immortalized Martini in two sonnets inspired by his work of Madonna Laura:

1.            ‘No matter how hard Polyclitus looked, And all the others famous for that art.’

2.            ‘When Simone first received that high idea, Which for my sake he used his drawing pen.’

Martini died in Avignon, where he was serving Papal court in 1344.

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