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Cimabue’s Crucifix kept in the Basilica of San Domenico

The Basilica of San Domenico in Arezzo, founded in 1275, is a magnificent example of Italian Gothic architecture. With its austere brick facade and majestic bell tower, the basilica features an interior with wide naves and beautiful stained glass windows that create a contemplative atmosphere. It houses Cimabue's famous Crucifix, a cross painted in tempera and gold on wood, made between 1268 and 1271. Cimabue, a pioneer of medieval art, introduced greater expressionism and naturalism, breaking with Byzantine conventions. The Crucifix, with its arched, suffering Christ, represents a stylistic breakthrough. Restored in 1917 and 2005, the work reflects influences of artists such as Giunta Pisano. The Crucifix is rich in theological symbolism, and today it can be admired by visitors to the Basilica of San Domenico, which offers an unforgettable artistic and spiritual experience.
Crocifisso di Cimabue - Cimabue's Crucifix

The Basilica of San Domenico: where Cimabue’s Crucifix is kept

The Basilica of San Domenico, located in the heart of Arezzo, is a magnificent example of Italian Gothic architecture. Founded in 1275 and completed in the 14th century, this church is known for its austerity and grandeur. The exterior of the basilica features a brick facade and a bell tower that stands majestically, while the interior features wide naves and beautiful stained glass windows that filter natural light, creating an atmosphere of contemplation and recollection. In addition to Cimabue’s Crucifix, the basilica houses numerous other works of art that testify to its importance as a center of worship and culture.

Cimabue: An Innovator of Medieval Art

Cimabue, born in Florence around 1240, is recognized as one of the great pioneers of medieval art. His real name was Cenni di Pepo, but he is universally known as Cimabue. His artistic training occurred during a transitional period, where he began to break with the rigid conventions of Byzantine art, introducing more expressionism and naturalism into his works. Among his most famous creations, besides the Crucifix of San Domenico in Arezzo, are the Crucifix of Santa Croce and the Majesty of the Louvre. Cimabue played a crucial role in the prelude to the Renaissance, profoundly influencing artists such as Giotto, who was his pupil.

The Crucifix of Cimabue: some details

The Crucifix of San Domenico in Arezzo, a work by Cimabue, is a shaped cross painted in tempera and gold on panel, with dimensions of 336×267 cm. Made between about 1268 and 1271, it represents a stylistic shift from Byzantine art toward greater expressionism. The body of Christ is depicted in an arched position, occupying the entire band of the cross, with realistic drapery and anatomical details that lend dynamism and emotional intensity. Christ’s face, painted with soft brushstrokes, expresses human suffering, while the red color of the drapery accentuates the drama of the scene. The figures of the Virgin and St. John in the side panels and the blessing Christ in the upper tondo complete the composition.

Innovation and Expressiveness: The Style of Cimabue

Cimabue, with his San Domenico Crucifix in Arezzo, introduced an innovative approach to the sacred art of his time. Moving away from rigid Byzantine forms, he adopted a more natural and human expression of the suffering Christ. This dramatically arched body of Christ reflects real and tangible suffering. The use of chiaroscuro and soft brushstrokes for Christ’s face lends a sense of three-dimensionality and emotional depth. The special attention to anatomical details and the use of red color in the drapery highlight the passion and pain, making the work a masterpiece of expressiveness and realism.

History and Restoration of Cimabue’s Crucifix

Cimabue’s Crucifix has had a rich and complex history. Created between 1268 and 1271, it has always been preserved in the Basilica of San Domenico in Arezzo. However, despite its importance, it was not mentioned in ancient sources until 1875, when Giovanni Battista Cavalcaselle mistakenly attributed it to Margaritone d’Arezzo. It was only in 1907 that Adolfo Venturi recognized the work as a masterpiece by Cimabue, an attribution later confirmed by numerous scholars. The Crucifix has undergone two major restorations, the first in 1917 and the second in 2005, both aimed at preserving the work’s beauty and integrity for future generations.

Artistic Influences: Giunta Pisano and the Master of St. Francis

Cimabue’s Crucifix clearly shows the influence of earlier artists such as Giunta Pisano and the Master of St. Francis. Cimabue adopts the iconography of the Christus patiens, a type of depiction of the suffering Christ introduced by Giunta Pisano, but enriches it with a more dynamic and realistic expression. The similarities between Cimabue’s Crucifix and Giunta Pisano’s crucifix preserved in the basilica of San Domenico in Bologna are obvious, since the Dominicans of Arezzo had explicitly requested that this model be followed. However, Cimabue surpasses his predecessors by introducing greater expressionism and an innovative use of chiaroscuro, which gives a three-dimensional and lively effect to the work.

Symbolism and Interpretation of Cimabue’s Crucifix

Cimabue’s Crucifix is rich in symbolism and theological meanings. The arched position of Christ’s body and the expression of intense suffering symbolize sacrifice and redemption. The use of red in the drapery represents Christ’s passion, while the golden streaks in the drapery and in the robes of the mourners, Mary and St. John, add a dimension of sacredness and preciousness. Christ’s face, gentle and human, breaks with Byzantine tradition and introduces a realism that makes the scene more accessible and empathetic to the faithful. This crucifix is not only a work of art, but a means for the faithful to connect spiritually with the drama of the crucifixion.

Cimabue’s Crucifix Today: How to Visit the Basilica of San Domenico

Today, Cimabue’s Crucifix is one of the main attractions of the Basilica of San Domenico in Arezzo. Visitors can admire this extraordinary work of art inside the church, which is open to the public every day. The basilica also offers guided tours that allow visitors to learn more about the history and importance of the Crucifix and the other works of art there. Opening hours vary depending on the season, so it is advisable to check in advance. The basilica, with its Gothic architecture and numerous works of art, is a place of great charm and spirituality, making the visit an unforgettable experience.

Don’t miss Cimabue’s Crucifix during your stay!

Dear guests of B&B Antiche Mura, while exploring the wonders of Arezzo, do not miss the opportunity to visit the Basilica of San Domenico. Here, you can admire Cimabue’s famous Crucifix, one of the most extraordinary works of medieval art. This visit will allow you to immerse yourself in history and art, offering a unique and unforgettable experience. We hope you will continue to discover the treasures of this fascinating city!

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