This probing analysis of three works by Giotto and the patrons who commissioned them goes far beyond the clichés of Giotto as the founding figure of Western painting. It traces the interactions between Franciscan friars and powerful bankers, illuminating the complex interplay between mercantile wealth and the iconography of poverty.
Political strife and religious faction lacerated fourteenth-century Italy. Giotto’s commissions are best understood against the background of this social turmoil. They reflected the demands of his patrons, the requirements of the Franciscan Order, and the restlessly inventive genius of the painter. Julian Gardner examines this important period of Giotto’s path-breaking career through works originally created for Franciscan churches: Stigmatization of Saint Francis from San Francesco at Pisa, now in the Louvre, the Bardi Chapel cycle of the Life of St. Francis in Santa Croce at Florence, and the frescoes of the crossing vault above the tomb of Saint Francis in the Lower Church of San Francesco at Assisi.
These murals were executed during a twenty-year period when internal tensions divided the friars themselves and when the Order was confronted by a radical change of papal policy toward its defining vow of poverty. The Order had amassed great wealth and built ostentatious churches, alienating many Franciscans in the process and incurring the hostility of other Orders. Many elements in Giotto’s frescoes, including references to St. Peter, Florentine politics, and church architecture, were included to satisfy patrons, redefine the figure of Francis, and celebrate the dominant group within the Franciscan brotherhood.
One of Julian Gardner’s most significant contributions to the study of late medieval Italian art has been to move the focus of discussion away from style and attribution to context and patronage, and readers expecting such a treatment of Giotto will not be disappointed… It examines the reciprocal relationship between painter and patron, and how the ingenuity of the former satisfied the intellectual, religious and social needs of the latter… It represents a sort of summa, building on the author’s research over some forty years, each word chosen carefully for maximum impact, and each sentence concise yet pregnant with meaning. The text is accompanied by an exceptionally rich scholarly apparatus.
The expertise of distinguished scholar Gardner reveals itself in every page of this small volume… Gardner has numerous insights about content, patronage, and historical background, and he is especially sensitive to the artistic expression of Franciscan values and concerns. His characterization of the absence of minoritas, or Franciscan humility, in the paintings in Assisi and Florence seems particularly apt. His essays lead readers to look at the paintings anew—both the familiar images, such as the Bardi Chapel frescoes, and the often-overlooked Assisi allegories.
- 256 pages
- 5-1/4 x 8 inches
- Harvard University Press
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