( Originally Published 1955 )
Roman painter and mosaicist whose work stands as the earliest attempt by an Italian to break with Byzantine formulas of representation and strike out in the direction of plastic illusion and rational space. How far he antedates Giotto in this is debatable, but it is agreed that he played a considerable role in the formation of the great Florentine's style. Of the many works attributed to Cavallini by Ghiberti and Vasari, only two are extant: the well-preserved mosaics in the apse of Santa Maria in Trastevere, Rome, 1291, and fragmentary remains of an extensive fresco cycle in Santa Cecilia, Rome, which were covered with whitewash until 1900. The Vatican possesses old watercolors depicting frescoes that Cavallini executed in San Paolo fuori le Mura, and fragments are preserved inside the same church of mosaics he made on the facade. The frescoes are lost but the watercolors of them reveal three cycles, made at different times between 1270 and 1303 (according to contemporary personages referred to or depicted). The famous mosaics in Santa Maria in Trastevere present scenes from the life of the Virgin. Cavallini's iconography in this cycle is thoroughly Byzantine, but the rendering of the figures is plastic to a degree that suggests some study of antique sculpture. The remains of the frescoes in Santa Cecilia (generally dated about 1295) indicate that the whole church was originally decorated with scenes from the Old and New Testaments. A fresco in San Giorgio in Velabro, Rome, is also attributed to Cavallini. There is a stylistic connection between Cavallini's Roman school and certain frescoes in the Upper Church of San Francisco at Assisi. Other works associated with his school are a fresco of the Madonna and Saints in Santa Maria in Aracoeli, Rome, a mosaic of the same subject in San Chrisogono, Rome, and a panel of the Nativity in the Philadelphia Museum.