Cimabue’s painting The Flagellation of Christ was created circa 1280 on a poplar panel using tempera paints and gold leaf. The painting is on the smaller size, being 9 ¾ inches tall by 7 ⅞ inches wide. This results in the viewer having to get physically closer to the painting in order to be able to take in as much information about the composition as possible. Cimabue’s The Flagellation of Christ resides at The Frick Collection in New York City. The painting shows Christ in the center of the composition with his arms tied around a post, towering above his two men yielding whips. In Cimabue’s painting, he uses vivid color, the illusion of three-dimensional space, strong lines, and shape to depict the intensity of the biblical scene.
The color palate of the painting is saturated in yellows due to the ethereal gold leaf background and warm hue of colors throughout the painting. There are different shades of yellows and oranges, along with the pink and purple of the two men’s tunics. I believe Cimabue’s use of mostly warm colors is to bring the viewer closer to the painting since warmer colors tend to be inviting. To contrast all the warm tones, Cimabue used a small amount of muted blue on the roofs of the buildings, the feet and legs of the two men to the left and right of Christ, and the trimming of the ledge. This causes your eyes to follow the blues around the painting, since it stands out from the warmer hues throughout. Also, the blues are placed in the background, the middle ground, and the foreground of the painting, helping to further establish the depth.
In his painting, Cimabue does his best to create the illusion of three-dimensional space. Though he is not fully successful in terms of realism, he was still able to allow the viewer to see the idea of depth within the painting. Depth is demonstrated with the extrusion of the buildings in the background. Also, Cimabue uses the technique of chiaroscuro to add to the three-dimensional aspect of the painting. In areas of the painting that would be considered farther away from the viewer, there are darker shades of color. This is also seen in the men’s tunics, where there is shading within the folds of the clothing. The scale of the buildings in comparison to the men also give way to the idea of depth, since the buildings are meant to be seen as farther in the distance from Christ and the two men, they are painted to be only a little taller than Christ and the same size as the pole that Christ is bound to. Cimabue also has a ledge in the middle ground to separate the background from the foreground, adding to the perception of depth. Even the way that the two men whipping Christ are placed within the painting shows depth since they are slightly more forward, invading the space of the viewer.
Cimabue uses strong lines to cut the painting down the center and create symmetry between the two halves. The vertical post that Christ is tied to is centered in the composition. This causes the viewer’s eyes to go straight to the center, signifying the importance of what’s going on in that area of the painting. The buildings to the left and right of the composition have diagonal lines that point towards the center of the painting as well which also causes the viewer to subconsciously follow those lines to the center. Even the two men on the left and right of Christ have horizontal lines, due to their outstretched arm, directing the viewer towards the center of the painting. Essentially, Cimabue really wants the viewers of the painting to be directed to and notice what’s going on in the center of the composition.
Along with the use of lines to help direct the viewer’s eyes, Cimabue incorporates shapes to highlight what he wants to be noticed by the viewer. There is a circle around Christ’s head, which leads your eyes to be focused on the facial expression of Christ. Cimabue wanted to draw the viewer into the painting with the expression of despair on Christ’s face. The direction that Christ’s face is painted in is intended to make the viewer feel as if they are a part of the scene and that Christ is directly looking at them. Another shape that is seen within the composition is a triangle that is formed by Christ and the two men who are striking him. Christ is at the top point of the triangle and the two men are lower than him making up the two bottom points of the triangle. The triangle is a common shape that is found within paintings to help strengthen the composition and help lead the viewer’s eyes.
Cimabue creates an impactful biblical scene to bring in those who are viewing The Flagellation of Christ. He uses warm colors to invite in the viewer to the scene as well as lines and shapes to direct the viewer to the middle of the painting. The middle of the painting holds the most importance due to emotional expression depicted on Christ’s face. Cimabue also incorporates shading with the buildings in the background to show depth within the scene. There is also shading in the two men’s tunics and Christ’s loincloth which incorporates the concept of naturalism. Cimabue further adds to naturalism with the lifelike proportions of the body of Christ and the other two men. All of these elements further establish the idea that Cimabue wanted the viewer of the painting to be brought into the scene, to feel the emotion and have a connection to what was being depicted.