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Italian Renaissance Learning Resources

In collaboration with the National Gallery of Art

Cennini, Cennino

(b Colle di Val d’Elsa, nr Florence, c. 1370; d Florence, c. 1440).

Italian writer and painter. His father Andrea Cennini was also probably a painter. Cennino began his career in Florence as a pupil of Agnolo Gaddi, with whom he claimed to have spent 12 years. Agnolo was both a son and pupil of Taddeo Gaddi, who in turn had been taught by Giotto. Cennino, therefore, represented the third generation trained in the Giottesque tradition, a fact he proudly emphasized. He is cited in only two documents of 13 and 19 August 1398, in which he is recorded as a painter living in Padua, employed by Francesco II da Carrara, Lord of Padua, and married to Ricca di Cittadella. No signed or documented works by him have survived. . . . Cennini’s most important work is his practical treatise on the art of painting, Il libro dell’arte. It was written c. 1390 and is the earliest such treatise in Italian. It is thought to have been composed in Padua, as it contains many Venetian terms and was dedicated to St Antony of Padua (among others). The original manuscript does not survive, but three copies exist. . . . The treatise constitutes a fundamental source for the knowledge of early Italian painting techniques. Cennini described the complex stages of making a panel painting, from the initial preparation of the ground to the final stages of varnishing. . . . Although Cennini wrote his treatise in the tradition of such earlier medieval works as Theophilus’s De diversis artibus and Johannes Alcherius’s collection of recipes, his approach was different. He stressed the need to master practical skills but also encouraged the cultivation of the artist’s own unique style. In this, the treatise is a precursor of the Renaissance preoccupation with the nature of artistic creation. . . . Cennini’s treatise is not only of great historical value but continues to be of practical use. Its publication in the 19th century stimulated a renewed interest in tempera painting among such artists as the Birmingham painter Joseph Southall (1861–1944). The treatise is also an invaluable reference work for conservators and restorers.