Giovanni Cimabue, called the "father of modern painting," born at Florence in 1240, died about 1302. He was of noble birth, and while a pupil in the school of the convent of Santa Maria Novella manifested such an aptitude for painting that his parents allowed him to receive instructions, according to Vasari, from some Greek artists who were then restoring the old paintings in the convent chapel. According to others, Giunta Pisano, an artist of considerable merit, was his instructor; and as Guido da Siena is known to have painted as early as 1221, Oimabue's claim to the distinction which tradition and the zeal of his countryman Vasari have conferred upon him is by no means free from doubt. His models, however, were clearly Byzantine, and his earlier works are strongly marked by the character-istics of that school. His great merit consists in his efforts to break away from the formal monotony of his Greek models. The earliest of his works, a St. Cecilia, is still preserved in the church of San Stefano, and a large portion of the frescoes in the celebrated church of St. Francis in Assisi, commenced by Greek painters and continued by Giunta Pisano, are by his hand. Besides these, almost every great European collection contains a specimen of him.
In the prime of life he painted his chief work, a colossal madonna and child, for the church of Santa Maria Novella, where it now hangs. The legend states that the Florentine populace testified their wonder and delight at this novel creation of art by carrying it in a triumphal procession to the church. Cimabue's fame thenceforth spread over Italy, and he established a school of painting, in which his ideas received a new development. He evinced a generous appreciation of Giotto, whom tradition says he discovered drawing figures upon the smooth surface of a rock while tending his sheep, and whom he took with him to Florence, and instructed to such purpose that the pupil soon outstripped his master. Cimabue improved little upon the Byzantines in his madonnas, but his patriarchs and apostles have a grand and impressive character. He is described as haughty and disdainful, and exceedingly proud of his lineage, as well as of his acquirements in literature and art.