Cimabue's Celebrated Madonna

1853-5, Frederic, Lord Leighton

On loan from Her Majesty the Queen, © Her Majesty The Queen

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Cimabue's celebrated 'Madonna' is carried in procession through the streets of Florence; in front of the 'Madonna', and crowned with laurels, walks Cimabue with his pupil Giotto; behind are Arnolfo de Lapo, Gaddo Gaddi, Andrea Tafi, Nicola Pisano, Buffalmacco, Simone Memmi. In the right corner is Dante.

This was Leighton's first major work, painted in Rome. It was shown at the Academy in 1855. It was an immediate success, and Queen Victoria bought it for 600 guineas on opening day. She recorded in her diary: 'There was a very big picture by a man called Leighton. It is a beautiful painting, quite reminding one of a Paul Veronese, so bright and full of light. Albert was enchanted with it - so much so that he made me buy it.'

The subject is from Vasari's account of how the 'Rucellai Madonna' was carried from the house of the 13th century painter Cimabue to the church of S. Maria Novella in Florence. Vasari also mentions Charles of Anjou, King of Naples, and Leighton has shown him on horseback on the right of the composition.


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