Cimabue Artist Study for Homeschoolers

Cimabue Artist Study

This post will teach you how to create a wonderful immersive Cimabue artist study perfect for homeschoolers. First, I will introduce Cimabue, an Italian painter and mosaic-maker of the 1200s. Second, I will direct you to another post which will teach you a simple method of making tempura paints similar to those Cimabue would have used. Third, I will share our study of The Crucifixion and how we used our home-made paints to recreate this tempura on wood. Fourth, I will share our own study of Cimabue’s mosaic ‘Saint John the Evangelist’ and our attempts at a small mosaic. Lastly, I will demonstrate how we created a plaster of Paris ‘canvas’ and painted our own frescoes in the style of Cimabue.

Cimabue Artist Study for Homeschoolers:

Bencivieni de Pepi {Cimabue (1240-1302)}

Cimabue is considered to be one of the first great Italian medieval painters. Influenced by the Byzantine painters who came before him, he created images more realistic than his contemporaries.

he was… so haughty and proud that if someone pointed out to him any mistake or defect in his work, or if he had noted any himself… he would immediately destroy the work, no matter how precious it might be”

Giorgio Vasari

Cimabue is in fact a nickname which meant ‘bull-headed’. This was perhaps because of Vasari’s assessment of his character above 🤨

He was the teacher of Giotto and Duccio, two of the most well thought of 14th century artists. The two books and dvd below are excellent children’s books about Giotto and include lots of lovely information about Cimabue:

Cimabue painted the Crucifix (c.1270) in the church of San Domenico in Arezzo. It is the earliest known work which departs from the Byzantine style.


The children read the books and made some note pages about Cimabue and his art. These blank note pages I downloaded from Practical Pages:

Cimabue Artist Study for Homeschoolers

How to Make Tempura Paint

I have written a post detailing exactly how to make your own tempura paints at home. This encourages an authentic approach to recreating some of Cimabue’s art. Click here to read that post.

So, let’s move on to the actual Cimabue artist study for homeschoolers…

The Crucifix (1280s)

The Crucifix by Cimabue
The Crucifix by Cimabue

Cimabue painted this for the Basilica of Santa Croce, Florence. This tempura paint on wood demonstrates the departure from the stylised flat Biblical scenes which were popular in his day. Instead, Cimabue displays Christ’s suffering in a more realistic manner. There is an attempt at making the image three dimensional with the positioning of the body on the cross. Cimabue uses enhanced musculature and realistic facial features, as well as positioning to give the painting depth.

Observing the Art

I printed out a copy of the Crucifx for each child, and also created a close up of Christ’s face. We spent some time looking at the three prints and commenting.  The children are free to make any comment, without fear of judgement. After all, art is personal and elicits all sorts of responses, good and bad.  I hope this transfers to their own work, and makes them a little less critical and allows them to enjoy the process more.  Charlotte pointed out that Christ was painted the colour of a living person rather than a dead one, which I thought a rather interesting observation. 

We looked at the symmetry or lack thereof.  We talked about the accuracy of the anatomy and how the paintings looked quite primitive and obvious i.e. Christ’s ribs, rather than the subtlety one might see in later paintings.  The children noticed that baby Jesus’ face looked like an adult’s face, again fairly normal for the paintings of the time.  Also, all the faces looked very alike. It was as if the same person’s head had been transplanted to different bodies.  Our art appreciation is not terribly knowledgable, and I’m sure a trained teacher would be snickering behind her hand, but the children are learning to look, and more importantly to see.  And the fact is, what one person sees, another misses.  Art is very personal, after all!

Copying the Crucifix by Cimabue

We all attempted to copy the painting, using a thick cardboard instead of the wood. You could definitely use wood, which is a bit more authentic, but I wanted to be able to store the paintings in their notebooks. We used the tempura paints we had made earlier on. Unfortunately, this was not in any way easy. First, we needed to mix the bright colours to make muted colours and then we had to navigate the difficulties of painting with such a lumpy paint:

Cimabue Artist Study for Homeschoolers

But we managed and were not too unhappy with the results:

I stuck these onto some notepads to go into our folders.

The Capture of Christ (1280, Fresco, San Francesco, Assisi)

The attribution of this fresco to Cimabue is not a confident one. However, it is thought that he would have influenced it in some way. Perhaps it was done under his instruction or by a student of his. Regardless, it is a fresco painted in his distinct style:

The capture of Christ by Cimabue
The Capture of Christ

The Capture of Christ was a painting done on wet plaster, otherwise known as frescos.  We have studied and made many fresco paintings in our time.  When we studied the Minoans we replicated the dolphin frescos, but by far our favourite experience with frescos was when we were learning about Michelangelo and decided to do some upside down fresco painting! Ah, the memories! 

This time we could look at Cimabue’s frescos and compare a little to those we’d come across before.  We talked about subject matter. The children noted that Jesus and therefore Christianity was not around during the Minoan times. As a result, they chose to celebrate nature in their art. In contrast, Michelangelo had a similar subject matter to Cimabue but his work tended to be on a much larger scale. 

We revisited the problems with fresco work such as the need to paint whilst the surface was wet. I reminded them of the reasons painters worked in teams, which is why we can not confidently say that the fresco was painted by Cimabue. 

Copying The Capture of Christ

I again wanted the children to try to replicate some of Cimabue’s work.  Copying the great artists is such a wonderful way to learn art.  I gave each child a copy of the print and asked them to replicate some part of it or all of it if they wanted to. 

But first things first…we needed to make the plaster.

Plaster is one of the mainstays of our homeschool. I love me a bit of plaster! The girls mixed a big bucket of plaster and poured them into some moles that the local butcher kindly gave us:

Girl pouring plaster

We let them firm up until solid but still wet:

Twin girls with frescos ready to paint

Finally, we could all paint:

Cimabue Artist Study for Homeschoolers
children painting with homemade paints
children painting with homemade paints
Look at the glee on Lil’s face!
children painting with homemade paints

And here are their final frescos:

Christ enthroned with Mary and John (detail of John) 1302

The mosaic below is detail of part of the larger mosaic ‘Christ Enthroned with Mary and John’. The detail is that of John. Created in the apse of Pisa Cathedral and is almost 4 meters by just over two meters. This is some of the only work which is dated and has historical documentation attributing it to Cimabue. In fact, it was his last piece of work.

Fransceco da Pisa had just finished the figure of Christ when Cimabue took over to craft John the Baptist, which took him 94 days to complete. Vincino da Pistoia completed the rest of the mosaic in 1321, and included the figure of Mary, the mother of Jesus.

Christ enthroned with Mary and John
Christ enthroned with Mary and John (Showing John)

We chatted about the mosaics we had come across before in our art studies, in particular Roman mosaics.  The Celtic farm we visited had an original Roman Hall and we had taken photos of the mosaic floor there and the children had a chance to play with some mosaics themselves.

We studied the print of the mosaic up close, talking about Cimabue’s use of colour to create depth in John’s gown, the use of halos to denote holiness and the fact that many paintings and works of art at the time were religious. The purpose of art in the 14th century were a means of worship. This meant that art would not often be found in homes, and instead would be created for public enjoyment and public displays of worship.

Three children learning about Cimabue

Creating Some Mosaics

The children used some simple mosaic kits I bought to create their own mosaics:

And the note pages:

Cimabue Artist Study for Homeschoolers

National Art Gallery

After we had studied about Cimabue, we took the opportunity to travel to beautiful London to see some Cimabue art alongside his contemporaries.  The children loved the first half an hour (!) or so but after that they became a bit restless.  The children did a note page about their field trip:

Note pages of a gallery visit

Whilst we didn’t perhaps end the study strongly, it was nonetheless a fabulous study. I hope you enjoyed our Cimabue artist study for homeschoolers. Let me know which were your favourite activities in the comments below.

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