Cennino Cenninni on Imitation and Emulation during the Renaissance

The emphasis in art on originality and creativity is a fairly recent phenomenon. Throughout art history, many cultures and many time periods have emphasized the importance of imitation and emulation in art. This was especially so during the Renaissance. Although Renaissance artists did develop their own styles, convention in terms of both subject matter and representational practices in their works of art predominated.

The following is an excerpt from Cennino Cennini (an Italian painter during the Renaissance period; below are some of his works) on imitation and emulation in Renaissance art…

In this excerpt, I think that Cennino Cennini makes a very effective argument on why an artist should practice imitation and emulation as well as how an artist should practice them. The excerpt begins with Cennini explaining that in order to effectively grasp artistic skills through imitation, an artist must choose the best works of art to practice with, such as works of art created by the masters. Cennini explains that through repetition, an artist practicing imitation will naturally grasp it, in fact, it would be against nature if he/she did not. He then argues how an artist should practice imitation. He believes that the artist should focus on imitating one artist at a time.  If he/she focuses on two artists, then he/she will not grasp the work of either artist and would only be distracting himself/herself. By focusing on one artist at a time, the young artist will naturally grasp the essence of both artists. Cennini argues that the final step in the development of an artist is the artist’s own style, which will be acquired naturally as a result of imitation.

Throughout the argument, Cennini’s main strategy is to convince the reader that with hard work, everything else comes naturally. For instance, Cennini believes that through repetition of imitating a master, the young artist will naturally grasp the essence of the master’s style. He also believes that the transition the artist makes from imitation and emulation to the development of his/her own individual style is natural as well. Thus, Cennini attempts to convince the reader that with hard work, the rest of the process of artistic development is natural.

Here are some of the works of art by Cennino Cennini…

Cennino Cennini, Polyptychon, 15th century

Cennino Cennini, Madonna col Bambino tra Angeli e Santi, 15th century

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