The art of the Italian Trecento – especially the outstanding Giotto – is of paramount importance in the development of occidental art. From this significant stage comes this entirely textless picture book depicting scenes from the life of Christ, completed to perfection by Pacino di Bonaguida (circa 1280–1340).
Because of this, the influential spatial concept of the Trecento was first introduced to the illumination of manuscripts – a true milestone in the history of art.
Brilliant Florentine Miniatures that Superbly Reflect Giotto's Influence
Over 19 folios, a total of 38 full-page miniatures unfold a rich sequence of pictures of late Medieval art in tempera and gold leaf. Within this defining work, the Trecento shows itself in all its artistic glory; what Giotto created with his sublime frescos in the Arena Chapel can be found at the same level of quality, albeit on a smaller scale, in this unique illuminated manuscript.
In Pacino di Bonaguida’s Picture Book two scenes from the Old Testament and four scenes of the life of Blessed Gerard of Villamagna are brought to vivid life. Therefore, the range spans from the Old Testament and the New Testament to the history of Florence in the 13th century.
Through their incredible freshness of the colours as well as the clear iconography that is never overstated, Pacino’s masterly representations are truly enthralling. The influence of the great Giotto soon becomes evident due to the work’s adoption of some striking stylistic features.
Pacino di Bonaguida's Masterpiece at the Dawn of the Renaissance
Pacino was the first to include Giotto’s special concepts into miniature painting – and he was the first Florentine illuminator still known to us by name. One of his distinctive qualities was to be able to develop scenes independently without referring to direct examples.
His originality is not only exemplified in this outstanding work, but also in other masterpieces that evidence his predisposition towards innovative, often novel solutions for the requests of his customers.
A good example of this would be the Tree of Life in the Florentine Academy or, perhaps, the Chiarito Tabernacle, today located in the Getty Museum in Los Angeles.
Pacino di Bonaguida and the "Miniaturist Style"
The commonly termed "Miniaturist" Style is what distinguishes the masterpieces of a group of artists, led by Bonaguida, from the monumental works of Giotto. The artists of the Miniaturist Style were able to perfectly express their true mastery in their detailed pictures.
The monumental paintings of Giotto are impressive, static and, so to speak, eternal, while the small scenes of the miniaturists appear, in contrast, more dynamic, and, therefore, can be understood more easily by the observer.
Due to the natural limitations of the scenes in the miniatures, the artist needs to essentially capture one instant – yet this instant is defined so artistically that the story further imposes on the observer and, as a result, an incredibly dynamic picture emerges.
Thus, Bonaguida established an entirely new method of narrative development in the illumination of books. The sublime Picture Book of Pacino di Bonaguida is undoubtedly one of the most important works in the European history of art at the dawn of the Renaissance.
The manuscript is preserved at the Morgan Library in single leaves.
- Gallery of images with description, from the catalog of the Morgan Library