Perception & effects of images
The earliest fresco decorations date back to the 5th century in the Basilica of St. Felix in Nola. However it wasn’t until under Gregory the Great (pope 540-602) that Frescoes had begun to be commissioned in order to educate ‘instructio & edificatio’ the ignorant ‘illeterati’.
Instruction: ‘Picture service to instruct the uneducated’
Edification: ‘To recall the mystery of the incarnation of Christ and the exemplary lives of saints’ remembrance to reinforce feeling of reverence’ (Aquinas)
Christian services were held in Latin and therefore the illiterate or the otherwise known as ‘ignorant’ could not understand or be involved in their religion. The policies pushed forward by Gregory the Great meant that they could begin to understand the stories from the bible and live their life accordingly. The ancient frescoes were naturalistic because nature was believed to have been as divine as the saints themselves and acknowledged as a product of God; the notion of ‘Visible Parlare’ by Dante further enhanced this in that the subjects in frescoes and art work would be visibly interacting – something that was lost under the ‘Greek manner’ or otherwise ‘byzantine style’.
Cimabue was the supposed master of Giotto and was said to have worked in the ‘Greek Style’, whereas Giotto began to employ aspects of a revived ‘Latin Style’. The Latin Style is clearly the beginnings of the Renaissance as it resorts back to the Aristotelian theory that ‘Ars imitator naturam’ – Art imitates nature. Unlike the Latin manner, the Greek manner was not conscious of proportion and perspective. Cimabue and his contemporaries were said to have used a compass to get the length of a nose in a painting and use multiples of the ‘nose length’ to determine where other features go. On the other hand, the Latin manner incorporated the ‘naturalism’ of classical art, however it hadn’t been perfected until the likes of Michelangelo and Leonardo as, for example, it was not acceptable to paint a commissioner or a ‘normal person’ to the scale of the saints until at least the 1420’s. This is where we see diminution; the sizes of subjects are not depicted in terms of reality but rather in terms of importance.