In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Gothic Art in Italy

  • Introduction
  • Foundational Studies
  • Annotated Bibliographies and Exhibition Catalogues
  • Collected Essays/Anthologies
  • Treatises
  • Assisi
  • Bologna
  • Florence
  • Milan and Lombardy
  • Naples and Southern Italy
  • Orvieto
  • Padua
  • Pisa
  • Prato
  • Rome and the Papacy
  • San Gimignano
  • Siena
  • Venice and the Veneto

Art History Gothic Art in Italy
Nancy Thompson
  • LAST REVIEWED: 16 August 2022
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 February 2020
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199920105-0144


This article covers a period in Italy, c. 1250 to c. 1400, often characterized as the beginnings of the Renaissance in Italy. While many scholars in the past—from Giorgio Vasari in the 16th century to 19th- and 20th-century founders of the discipline—sought the “primi lumi,” or first lights, of the Renaissance in the 13th- and 14th-century art of Italy, more recent scholarship in the field is concerned with the contexts in which art in this period was commissioned, created, and received. Some of the larger contextual concerns that have driven scholarship since the late 20th century are the proliferation of the mendicant orders and their roles as patrons; the burgeoning mercantile economy that fueled artistic and architectural commissions; the political power of the communes and the ways that art and architecture reflected and created civic identity; the reception of works of art by a variety of audiences; and the importance of materials and techniques in the creative lives of artists. Additionally, due in large part to Vasari’s love of Florence and Florentine art, a great deal of scholarship in the field attends to Florentine art and to central Italian art more generally. This article reflects that bias and contains scholarship mainly on central Italian art. The title of this entry implies that it is concerned only with Italian art that is related in some way—visually, socially, theologically—to the art of northern Europe, where what art historians call the Gothic style originated in the 12th century. While some of the scholarship in this article centers on artistic exchange between northern Europe and Italy or examines Italian art that is Gothic in style, it is not limited to these issues. This article is intended to serve advanced undergraduates, beginning graduate students, and scholars seeking to do research in a new field, and it includes almost all books, many of them published within the past twenty years, with the intent that the bibliographies of the books will lead students and researchers to the older sources and periodical literature relevant to their scholarly interests.

Foundational Studies

Sometimes called the “father” of the discipline of art history, Giorgio Vasari’s work also provides a foundation to the study of later medieval Italian art. While 19th-century Italian scholars did groundbreaking work in their city and church archives and published many documents that brought to light important data about artists, buildings, and works of art (see, e.g., Poggi 1909, cited under Florence and Fumi 1891, cited under Orvieto), other European and North American scholars began to focus their attention on 13th- and 14th-century Italian art in the early 20th century. Bernard Berenson, Richard Offner, Giulia Brunetti, and Giulia Sinibaldi established bodies of work for many painters; while some of their attributions have been questioned or disproven, their scholarship still acts as a springboard for further research. Working at the same time as Offner and Berenson in Florence in the 1930s, Sandberg-Vavalà and Kaftal pioneered the study of iconography, with their thorough, encyclopedic studies that still provide a foundation for iconographic research. After the Second World War, the social history of art emerged, and scholars such as Antal and Meiss began to view works of art not just in terms of style and iconography but also within social, political, and religious contexts.

  • Antal, Frederick. Florentine Painting and its Social Background: The Bourgeois Republic Before Cosimo de’ Medici’s Advent to Power. London: K. Paul, 1947.

    An excellent example of the social history of art. Discussion of the economic, social, political, intellectual, and religious dynamics in 14th- and early-15th-century Florence, followed by a discussion of how these social forces relate to changing artistic styles.

  • Berenson, Bernard. Studies in Medieval Painting. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1930.

    A collection of Berenson’s essays that highlight his connoisseurship methods. In these essays, Berenson attributes work to Cimabue, the school of Pietro Cavallini, Lippo Vanni, Allegreto Nuzi, Roberto Oderisi, Meo da Siena, Jacopo del Casentino, the Lorenzetti, among others.

  • Brunetti, Giulia, and Giulia Sinibaldi, eds. Pittura italiana del duecento e trecento: Catalogo della Mostra Giottesca di Firenze del 1937. Florence: Sansoni, 1943.

    An enlarged catalogue of the exhibition held in the Uffizi Florence in 1937, which brought together 195 13th- and 14th-century paintings from churches and collections in central Italy for the first time. Concerned with discerning the hands of artists, the authors of the catalogue challenge some of the attributions of paintings by earlier scholars. Each entry contains an extensive bibliography.

  • Kaftal, George. Iconography of the Saints in Tuscan Painting. Florence: Sansoni, 1952.

    This is the first in a series of encyclopedic publications that resulted from the work that Kaftal began in the 1930s, when iconography was an emerging method in Art History. Later volumes cover central and south Italy, northeastern Italy, and northwestern Italy.

  • Levi D’Ancona, Mirella. The Iconography of the Immaculate Conception in the Middle Ages and Early Renaissance. New York: College Art Association, 1957.

    The first part of this iconographic study discusses the medieval foundations of the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception, which was not declared as official Catholic doctrine until 1854. The chapters in the second part of the book each treat a different iconography related to the Virgin’s immaculate nature. The study places Italian imagery into the wider context of later medieval European images of the Virgin.

  • Meiss, Millard. Painting in Florence and Siena After the Black Death: The Arts, Religion, and Society in the Mid-Fourteenth Century. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1978.

    Pioneering study in social art history. Interprets changes in Florentine and Sienese painting styles between c. 1350–1375 in light of the extreme social, political, and spiritual disruption caused by the epidemic of the black plague in 1348. Originally published in 1951.

  • Offner, Richard, Klara Steinweg, Miklós Boskovits, et. al. A Critical and Historical Corpus of Florentine Painting. New York: Institute of Fine Arts, New York University, 1930–2011.

    An extensive series of publications that uses stylistic analysis to establish oeuvres for many Florentine painters of the 13th and 14th centuries. The 14th century is the main focus. The project was begun by Offner and Steinweg in 1930. Steinweg led the project following Offner’s death in 1965; following Steinweg’s death in 1972, Boskovits and Mina Gregori took over as editors of the project. Later volumes have various authors.

  • Panofsky, Erwin. Renaissance and Renascences in Western Art. Stockholm: Almqvist & Wiksell, 1960.

    Essays based on a series of lectures that Panofsky gave in Uppsala, Sweden in 1952. In chapter 3, “I primi lumi: Italian Trecento Painting and its Impact on the Rest of Europe,” Panofsky discusses the innovative nature of visual representation in 14th-century Italian painting and how it shaped painting in northern Europe.

  • Schlosser, Julius von. “Ein veronesisches Bilderbuch und die höfische Kunst des XIV. Jahrhunderts.” Jahrbuch der Kunsthistorischen Sammlungen in Wien 16 (1895): 144–230.

    Translated into Italian by Gian Lorenzo Mellini as L’arte di corte nel secolo decimoquarto (Milan: Edizioni di comunità, 1965). An important early work on the art of the courts in northern Italy in the later 14th century that considers the relationship between manuscript illumination and wall painting.

  • Thode, Henry. Franz von Assisi und die Anfänge der Kunst der Renaissance in Italien. Berlin: G. Grote, 1885.

    Italian translation by Luciano Bellosi, Francesco d’assisi e le origini dell’arte del Rinascimento in Italia (Rome: Donzelli, 1993). An important foundational work that sees the early Franciscan movement as a theological and artistic force behind the Italian Renaissance.

  • Toesca, Pietro. Storia dell’arte italiana. Il medioevo. Turin, Italy: Unione Tipografico-Editrice Torinese, 1927.

    A synthetic survey of medieval art in Italy. Part one covers early Christian art through the end of the 13th century, and part two covers the Trecento. Chapters in the Trecento volume are arranged by medium and include architecture, sculpture, painting, mosaic stained glass, manuscript illuminations, and metalwork. Each chapter contains a thorough bibliography in the notes.

  • Vasari, Giorgio. Le vite de’più eccellenti pittori, scultori e architetti. Florence: Lorenzo Torrentino, 1550.

    For an English translation of the entire work, see Gaston du C. de Vere, trans. Lives of the Most Eminent Painters, Sculptors, and Architects by Giorgio Vasari. 10 vols. (London: Macmillan, 1912–1914). For an abridged version of thirty-six lives—including Cimabue, Giotto, Simone Martini, and Giotto—see Julia and Peter Bondanella, trans., The Lives of the Artists (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991); reissued 2008. Vasari’s biographies of 13th- to 16th-century Italian artists are the foundation of much research on Gothic art in Italy. Enlarged edition published in 1568.

  • Vavalà, Evelyn Sandberg. La croce dipinta italiana e l’iconografia della passione. Verona, Italy: Casa editrice Apollo, 1929.

    Pioneering study of painted crosses in later medieval Italy. Provides a history of the iconography of the crucifixion and categorizes Italian crosses by size and shape and by the scenes of Christ’s passion on the cross aprons. Part 2 is dedicated the christus triumphans and Part 3 to the christus patiens. Contains an index of locations and charts that group the images by subject and type. Reprint: Rome: Multigrafica Editrice, 1985.

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