The “Judgement” by Pietro Cavallini, Rome and the birth of modern Italian painting
Here are the majestic images of the “Last Judgment” in the Basilica of Santa Cecilia in Trastevere, painted by Pietro Cavallini, who was born in an unknown place in the mid-13th century and died in Rome in the 1330s.
Cavallini – author of the marvelous mosaics in Santa Maria in Trastevere, a series of frescoes in Saint Paul Outside the Walls that disappeared in the fire of 1823, and other paintings in Naples – created his “Judgment” in the last years of the 13th century.
Here is what critic and art historian Vittorio Sgarbi once wrote about him:
“Was modern Italian painting born in Florence or in Rome? Was Giotto the first painter, like Dante was the first in literature? Or was Pietro Cavallini the first? The primacy of the Florentine school is established by a Tuscan student of Michelangelo’s, Giorgio Vasari, who downgraded Cavallini to ‘disciple of Giotto’, establishing a paradoxical anachronism and creating an artistic and historical prejudice that survived for five centuries. Only in recent times have we begun to look at Pietro Cavallini with a new focus, discovering a painter who perhaps was with Giotto in Assisi, halfway between Florence and Rome…”
“Pietro Cavallini saw the world with new eyes, just like Giotto, and in those same years or perhaps a little earlier, created the mosaics for Santa Maria in Trastevere and the frescoes for Santa Cecilia.”
“In those works, we see a new humanity, as Jesus and the Apostles regain the flesh, the true faces, and the breath that seemed suspended in Byzantine mosaics and frescoes. The ‘Last Judgement’ on the counter-façade of the Basilica of Santa Cecilia is now mutilated, but the higher part that has survived – with Christ between angels and apostles – can be reached through the nuns’ choir.”
“It would be a challenge to find images that pulsate with more truth. Christ is incredibly human, a modern transcription of the Pantocrator model in Byzantine mosaics. The cherubs are surrounded in multicolor wings, like youths full of hope and good will. The apostles are also actual men, on their benches, as if they had walked up from the streets in Trastevere to take place around their leader – Christ looks like Che Guevara here: he is so bold he almost seems impudent. Looking at these figures, there is no sense of the distance that you feel, not far, inside San Francesco in Assisi or the Scrovegni Chapel” (translated from V. Sgarbi-M. Ainis, “Il tesoro d’Italia”, Milan 2013).