Cavallini’s mosaics in Santa Maria in Trastevere

Santa Maria in Trastevere, mosaici abside di Pietro Cavallini, Storie della Vergine - apse mosaics by Cavallini, Stories about the Holy Virgin

The birth of the Virgin Mary

Little is known about Pietro Cavallini – Roman painter and mosaic artist who lived between 1240 and 1330. We know he lived a long life, that he was close to the Anjou court in Naples for a period of time, and that between 1270 and 1280 he worked on some now-lost paintings for the Basilica of Saint Paul Outside the Walls in Rome.

Other works attributed to him were for the Basilica of Santa Cecilia in Trastevere (1293) and the church of Santa Maria Donna Regina in Naples (1316-1320).

The apse of the Basilica of Santa Maria in Trastevere, in Rome, is home to his wonderful mosaics on “Stories of the Holy Virgin”, which likely dates back to 1291.

Art historian Giulio Carlo Argan commented on the cycle, “While not innovative in terms of iconography, the mosaics of Santa Maria in Trastevere are composed with a sense of plasticity and color that speaks of a more acute intelligence compared to Late Antiquity sources, as local traditions gradually turn into a motivated and aware cultural stance.”

Figures are full of ‘ancient’ dignity, wrapped in heavy cloaks that magnify their volume and statuesque compactness; gestures are moderate and solemn, eyes are intense. Such a radical change could not be explained if not by introducing an external factor: Arnolfo di Cambio, who worked in Rome in the last decades of the century.”

“His influence was not limited to the ideal of statuesque figure. Pietro Cavallini molds color like Arnolfo molds stone – and it is dense, deep color that creates a mass: it absorbs the chiaroscuro in itself, in its pigment intensity, almost erasing edges. He goes down a street that is parallel – though narrower and with lower perspectives – to Giotto’s: this explains how, in addition to spreading directly in Lazio and Campania, Cavallini’s painting also had a far-reaching impact, together with Giotto’s great influence, for example on the school of Rimini” (translated from “Storia dell’arte italiana”, Sansoni, Florence 1968).

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September 1, 2016

Cavallini’s mosaics in Santa Maria in Trastevere

Basilica of Santa Maria in Trastevere, Rome
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