1902 Encyclopedia > Schools of Painting > "Schools of Painting" - Definition. Medieval Method of Working.

Schools of Painting
(Part 1)

"Schools of Painting" - Definition. Medieval Method of Working.

The word "school" as applied to painting (Footnote 433-1) is used with various more or less comprehensive meanings. In its widest sense iot includes all the painters of one country, of every date, - as, for example, "the Italian school." In its narrowest sense it denotes a group of painters who all worked under the influence of one man,- as, for example, "the school of Raphael." In a third sense it is applied to the painters of one city or province who for successive generations worked under some common local influence, and with some general similarity in design, color, or technique,- as, fro example, "the Florentine school," "the Umbrian school." For many reasons the existence of well-defined schools of painting is now almost wholly a thing of the past, and the conditions under which the modern artist gains his education, finds his patrons, and carries out his work have little in common with those which were prevalent throughout the Middle Ages.

Painters in the old times were closely bound together as fellow-members of a painters’ guild, with its clearly defined set of rules and traditions; moreover, the universal system of apprenticeship, which compelled the young painter to work for a term of years in the bottega or studio of some established freedman of the guild, frequently caused the impress of the genius of one man to be very clearly stamped on a large number of pupils, who thus all picked up and frequently retained for life certain tricks of manner or peculiarities of method which often make it difficult to distinguish the authorship of a special painting. (Footnote 433-2) The strong similarity which often runs through the productions of several artists who had been fellow-pupils under the same master was largely increased by the fact that most popular painters, such as Botticelli or Perugino, turned out from their botteghe many pictures to which the master himself contributed little beyond the general design,- the actual execution being in part or even wholly the work of pupils or paid assistants. It was not beneath the dignity of a great painter to turn out works at different scales of prices to suit rich or poor, varying from the well-paid-for altar-piece given by some wealthy donor, which he master would paint wholly with his own hand, down to the humble bit of decorative work for the sides of a wedding cassone, which would be let entirely to the prentice hand of a pupil. In other cases the heads only in a picture would be by the master himself or possibly the whole of the principal figures, the background and accessories being left to assistants. The buyer sometimes stipulated in a carefully drawn up contract that the cartoon or design should be wholly the work of the master, and that he should himself transfer it on the wall or panel. It will thus be seen how impossible it is always to decide whether a picture should be classed as a piece of bottega work or as a genuine production of a noted master; and this will explain the strange inequality of execution which is so striking in many of the works of the old masters, especially the Italians. Among the early Flemish and Dutch painters this method of painting does not appear to have been so largely practiced, probably because they considered minute perfection of workmanship to be of paramount importance.


433-1 Fof classical painting, see ARCHAEOLOGY, (vol. 11, p. 343 sq.; see also FRESCO, MURAL DECORATION, TEMPERA, and the articles on the separate painters.

433-2 This is especially the case with the numerous pupils of Perugino.

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