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Cimabue’s “Madonna Enthroned” Critical Essay

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Updated: Jul 4th, 2019


The artwork in question is entitled Madonna Enthroned. It was created between 1280 and 1290 by Cimabue of Florence (Davies et al. 283). It is tempera on panel and the dimensions of the artwork are 3.9 x 2.2 m (Davies et al. 283). It is also necessary to note that the artist used gold leaf to create the piece. Noteworthy, this is typical of Byzantine art tradition (Cunningham 356).

The subject matter of the work is Madonna with her baby child. Madonna is depicted on a massive throne holding Jesus on her lap. She is in the center of the piece. Angels are depicted on both sides of the throne. Remarkably, Madonna, Jesus and the angels are looking at the viewer.

At the bottom of the throne, Cimabue depicted four Hebrew Bible prophets (Davies et al. 283). The prophets are holding their scripts. Two of them (in the center) are looking at the viewer while the others are looking at Madonna. Noteworthy, Madonna’s figure is the largest.

More so, the rest of the figures are depicted only partially. Thus, the angels are standing behind the throne and the prophets are under the throne in certain kinds of windows. As far as the color is concerned, gold color prevails. Blue color also plays an important role in the work as it contributes to creation of the necessary focus.

The Focus of the Work


The major focus of the work is made on Madonna. This effect is achieved with the help of several tools. In the first place, Cimabue puts the figure of Madonna in the center of the painting. The central position ensures that the figure catches the viewer’s eyes.

This central position of the major image of the work can be regarded as an illustration of Byzantine art tradition (Kleiner & Gardner 406). Thus, Cimabue follows this tradition in his work. It is also important to state that Madonna is placed higher than the rest of the images. This also makes the viewer focus on the figure of Maria.


Apart from the central position, the artist employs another tool to make the necessary emphasis on the image of Madonna. As has been mentioned above, the figure of Madonna is the largest. This also creates the necessary emphasis. The figure of Madonna occupies the major part of the artwork and this makes her stand out (Cunningham 356).

She is sitting in the massive gold throne which can also be regarded as certain background. The viewer focuses on the largest object of the work and the rest of smaller images create the necessary background. Thus, the angels behind the throne bring the image of Madonna to the fore.

The prophets who are much smaller also serve as the background. Thus, the artist emphasizes the greatness of Jesus’ mother. Angels show their respect and mere mortals (i.e. prophets) reveal their worship.


Finally, color also contributes to the creation of the necessary emphasis. Cunningham notes that the deep blue color creates the necessary contrast (356). Therefore, Madonna’s gown is what catches the viewer’s eyes. Remarkably, realistic representation of the folds of the gown contributes to the creation of the emphasis on Madonna (Cunningham 356).

The lines of the gown help provide a realistic depiction of Mary’s figure. Golden background is chosen deliberately to stress the glory of the world of angels and Jesus. It can also stand for the divine light of the heavens. At the same time, Mary’s deep blue gown depicted in a very realistic way emphasizes the significance of Mary and her child who belong to both human and divine worlds.

It is also important to add that Cimabue also exploits movement to focus on certain concepts. The movement also catches the viewer’s eye. Mary points at her child and it is possible to think that the artist wants to stress the significance of the child and to make Jesus central to the artwork. Nonetheless, this movement is aimed at emphasizing Mary’s dignity and modesty (Davies et al. 283).

Catholic Christians have always paid special attention to Mary and her relationship with her holy son. Her devotion and modesty are central to Catholicism. Therefore, the movement depicted is another reference to this important concept. Madonna is pointing at her child stressing that she is there to support Him and help Him live in the world of humans.


On balance, it is necessary to note that Cimabue’s Madonna Enthroned focuses on the image of Maria. The artist uses position, dimension and color to make the emphasis on Maria. Apart from the focus on the figure of Madonna, Cimabue reveals some of the major values of Catholicism.

Thus, the artist conveys the idea of Madonna’s dignity and modesty. Cimabue also stresses the specific place Maria occupies in the hearts of Christians. The artist reveals the belief that angels respect the holy woman and mortals worship her. This meaningfulness makes the artwork in question one of the most remarkable pieces.

Works Cited

Cunningham, Lawrence S. Culture and Values: A Survey of the Humanities. Boston, MA: Cengage Learning, 2013. Print.

Davies, Penelope JE, Frima Fox Hofrichter, Joseph Jacobs, Ann M. Roberts, and David L. Simon. Janson’s Basic History of Western Art. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice, 2014. Print.

Kleiner, Fred S., and Helen Gardner. Gardner’s Art through the Ages. Boston, MA: Cengage Learning, 2012. Print.

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