(b c.1240; d Pisa, ?1302). Florentine painter. His nickname means ‘Ox-head’ or ‘De-horner of oxen’, perhaps indicating that he had an abrasive temperament. He was a contemporary of Dante, who in The Divine Comedy (Purg. xi. 94–6) describes him as an artist who was ‘believed to hold the field in painting’ only to be eclipsed by Giotto's fame. This passage, meant to illustrate the brevity of earthly glory, has ironically become the basis for Cimabue's reputation, for, embroidering on it, later writers made him into the discoverer and teacher of Giotto and regarded him as the first in the long line of great Italian painters, the pioneer of the movement from Byzantine stylization towards Renaissance realism. Vasari, for example, places Cimabue's biography at the very beginning of his Lives and says that he gave ‘the first light to the art of painting’.
Text source: The Oxford Dictionary of Art and Artists (Oxford University Press)