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Cennino D'Andrea Cennini

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Subject: Working in layers, Underdrawing, Daniel V. Thompson, Bernardo Cennini, 1440s in art
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Cennino D'Andrea Cennini

Cennino d'Andrea Cennini (c. 1370 – c. 1440) was an Italian painter influenced by Giotto. He was a student of Agnolo Gaddi. Gaddi trained under his father, called Taddeo Gaddi, who trained with Giotto.

Cennini was born in Colle Val d'Elsa, Tuscany.

He is remembered mainly for having authored Il libro dell'arte, often translated as The Craftsman's Handbook. At first thought to be written in the early 15th century, the book is a "how to" on Renaissance art. It contains information on pigments, brushes, panel painting, the art of fresco, and techniques and tricks, including detailed instructions for underdrawing, underpainting and overpainting in egg tempera. Cennini also provides an early, if somewhat crude, discussion of painting in oils. His discussion of oil painting was important for dispelling the myth, propagated by Giorgio Vasari and Karel Van Mander, that oil painting was invented by Jan van Eyck (although Theophilus (Roger of Helmerhausen) clearly gives instructions for oil-based painting in his treatise, On Divers Arts, written in 1125).

The dates of Cennini's life are highly speculative. It is often falsely assumed that he was alive in 1437 because that date appears on one of the copies of his manuscript. This is discussed by Daniel V. Thompson in the preface to his authoritative translation of Il libro dell'arte. Thompson himself does not speculate on Cennini's years of life, a sure indication of the lack of evidence on this point. Thus, dating Cennini's book to the "early 15th century" as above is only a guess. The techniques Cennini describes are grounded in the late 13th and mid 14th centuries. There is no evidence in his writing of the exciting developments in oil painting taking place in the early 15th century. This suggests that his book was indeed written some time in the 14th century.

Cennini's intention was to provide a practical handbook for the apprentice painter. Along with technical methods, Cennini offered advice on the sort of lifestyle to which a young painter should subscribe. "Your life should be arranged just as if you were studying theology, or philosophy, or other theories, that is to say, eating and drinking moderately, at least twice a day, electing digestible and wholesome dishes, and light wines; saving and sparing your hand, preserving it from such strains as heaving stones, crowbars, and many other things which are bad for your hand, from giving them a chance to weary it. There is another cause which, if you indulge it, can make your hand so unsteady that it will waver more, and flutter far more, than leaves do in the wind, and this is indulging too much in the company of women."

According to Victoria Finlay, in her book Colour: Travels Through The Paintbox, the infamous UK forger, Eric Hebborn was greatly influenced by Cennino Cennini. The last book Hebborn wrote before he was brutally murdered was The Art Forger's Handbook. Finlay writes that he "used and adapted Cennino's advice extensively - preparing panels, tinting papers different colours, and making brand new works look as if they had been varnished some time before (by beating egg-white, left overnight and then painted on with a brush), just as the master advised."

Editions and translations

  • Thompson, D. V., Jr. (1932–3) Cennino d’Andrea Cennini da Colle di Val d’Elsa. Il Libro dell’Arte, 2 vols. New Haven: Yale University Press. [Edition and English translation]
  • Thompson, D. V., Jr. (1933) The Craftsman’s Handbook ‘Il Libro dell’ Arte’ by Cennino d’A. Cennini, New Haven: Yale University Press. [Reprint of the English translation volume only of the above: Dover Publications, New York, 1960].

According to Thompson (in The Craftsman's Handbook), no paintings by Cennini are known to have survived. Thus, the images presented on this page need citation.

Sources and external links

  • Encyclopaedia Britannica
  • Cennini on art and imagination
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