GiottoGiotto di Bondone (his name is Latinised as Giottus, Joctus or Gioctus in contemporary documents and spelt Jocti on signed pictures) was the first great personality in Italian art. He was famous in his lifetime. A fleeting mention in Dante (Purgatorio, XI, 94) is much quoted; but references to Giotto can also be found in Boccaccio's Decameron, Petrarch's letters, Villani's Cronica and a good many other contemporary and nearly contemporary chronicles and poems. Considering his fame, hard information about his life and works is surprisingly thin. According to Pucci’s Centiloquio (1373) he was seventy at his death in 1337, implying that he was born in 1266-67. Vasari (1568), perhaps less reliably, gives 1276 as his date of birth. He is traditionally supposed to have been the son of a poor peasant from the village of Vespignano, near Vicchio (some 25 km northeast of Florence). However, legal records (analysed by Michael Schwarz and Pia Theis in a note in the November 1999 Burlington Magazine) suggest that Giotto's father was a blacksmith living in the Santa Maria Novella quarter of the city of Florence.
Giotto is first documented in 1301 as a homeowner in the Santa Maria Novella quarter. He travelled extensively. By about 1313, he had already worked in Assisi, Rimini, Padua and Rome. One early writer even refers to work by Giotto at Avignon. In 1328-33 he was in Naples working for Robert of Anjou. He was not merely employed by the King but appointed familiaris (one of the royal household). His frescoes in the Castel Nuovo and Santa Chiara (where he painted a cycle of the Apocalypse) have all perished. By 1334 he was back in Florence; on 12 April he was appointed ‘master of works of the Cathedral and architect of the city walls and fortifications’ and on 18 July he laid the foundation stone of the Campanile (‘Giotto’s Tower’). The Florentine commune then sent him to Milan, where he is said to have painted frescoes in Azzone Visconti’s palazzo (now destroyed). After returning to Florence, he died on 8 January 1337 and was buried in the Cathedral.
There are no surviving securely documented works. The frescoes in the Arena Chapel at Padua and in two chapels in Santa Croce in Florence are universally accepted as Giotto’s on the basis of old traditions, but the attribution of the frescoes of the Life of St Francis in the Upper Church at Assisi has been subject to endless controversy. The distinction between Giotto’s own panel paintings and those of his workshop and his school has also been much disputed. Three pictures are signed (the Stigmatisation of St Francis in the Louvre and altarpieces in Santa Croce, Florence, and at Bologna), and two pictures have a degree of documentary support (the crucifix in Santa Maria Novella and the Stefaneschi Altarpiece in the Vatican). But all these are sometimes ascribed to Giotto’s shop or circle. Only the Ognissanti Madonna in the Uffizi (which is neither documented nor signed) has been universally admitted as a panel painting by the master himself.
He is said to have been a pupil of Cimabue – a tradition first explicitly recorded in about 1376 in Benevenuto da Imola’s commentary on Dante. But he appears to have owed more to late medieval Roman painters, such as Pietro Cavallini, than to his Tuscan predecessors. His reputation as the founder of modern painting, who ‘made the decisive break with the crude traditional Byzantine style’, was already well established in Vasari’s day. It may exaggerate the extent to which he single-handedly broke the mould; similar innovations had begun to appear earlier in the work of the Roman School. But his importance can be gauged by his immense influence on artists in Florence and throughout Northern Italy.
His numerous Florentine assistants included: Taddeo Gaddi, who is said to have spent twenty-four years in his workshop; Bernardo Daddi, whose graceful, more Gothic style suggests that he was influenced by contemporary Sienese painting; Maso di Banco, who painted the impressive Life of St Sylvester cycle in Santa Croce; Giotto di Maestro Stefano, alias Giottino (conflated with Maso by Vasari), who probably painted the famous San Remigio Deposition in the Uffizi; Buonamico Buffalmacco, remembered by Boccaccio and Vasari as a practical joker, who has recently been identified as the ‘Master of the Triumph of Death’, the painter of a famous cycle of frescoes in the Campo Santo at Pisa; the shadowy Stefano Fiorentino, called the ‘ape of nature’ by the fourteenth-century chronicler Filippo Villani; and Puccio Capanna, who seems to have trained with Giotto at Assisi.
Assisi. San Francesco.
Nave of the Upper Church.
**Twenty-eight Scenes from the Life of St Francis. Each roughly, 270 x 230.
Early references to Giotto's activity at Assisi are frustratingly imprecise. As early as 1312-13 a Ferrarese chronicler (Riccobaldo) states that Giotto worked in San Francesco, but he does not say where in the church. In his Commentaries of about 1450 (which are remarkably reliable on early artists), the Florentine sculptor Lorenzo Ghiberti also says that Giotto worked in the church and 'painted almost all the lower part'. However, it is unclear whether he is referring to the lower part of the walls of the Upper Church (ie. the St Francis cycle) or to frescoes in the Lower Church. In the first (1550) edition of his Lives, Vasari merely mentions that Giotto acquired 'very great fame' at Assisi, without describing his works there. The second, greatly expanded edition of the LIves (1568) contains the first explicit attribution of the St Francis cycle to Giotto; but it also includes a good number of attributions to Giotto that are indisputably false.
The traditional attribution of the St Francis cycle has been accepted by almost all Italian scholars (including Roberto Longhi, Giovanni Previtali and Luciano Bellosi), but has been rejected by some (mostly non-Italian) critics (including Robert Offner, John White and Alastair Smart) because the cycle differs so markedly in style from Giotto's frescoes at Padua. The doubters fall into two distinct groups. Some have seen the frescoes as derivative works, painted by unidentified followers of Giotto sometime between the early and mid-fourteenth century. (The first and last four of the twenty-eight scenes have sometimes been attributed to the "Master of St Cecilia', who takes his name from the St Cecilia Altarpiece now in the Uffizi.) Others have seen the frescoes as the work of independent pioneers, probably from Rome, working in the late thirteenth century or very early fourteenth century. Evidence for this latter view is contained in a technical report published in 1996 by Bruno Zanardi (Il Cantiere di Giotto). Zanardi concludes, from a close technical study of the frescoes, that three different workshops were involved, and he ascribes a large part of the cycle to a team of painters led by Pietro Cavallini.
For those (still the majority) who accept the traditional attribution, the frescoes are Giotto's early masterpiece, the work in which he made the decisive break with the Byzantine style. On the strength of Vasari’s statement that Giotto was summoned to Assisi by Fra Giovanni di Murro della Marca, the frescoes have often been dated between 1296, when Fra Giovanni was elected Minister General of the Franciscan Order, and 1304, when he died. However some recent writers put them as early as 1290-95. An earlier dating allows more time for an evolution in Giotto's style between Assisi and Padua, where Giotto worked around 1303-5. To judge from the number of giornate – 323 on the left wall and 188 on the right – the cycle might have taken around fifteen months to complete.
Isaac Scenes. Each roughly 300 x 300.
Above the St Francis cycle are two tiers of thirty-four frescoes of Old Testament subjects, many very damaged. These are generally thought to be by pupils of Cimabue and painters of the Roman School (including Jacopo Torriti). But two of the best-preserved scenes on the right wall – showing Jacob tricking Isaac into giving him his blessing and Esau offering Isaac the savoury meat – have been controversially attributed to Giotto as very early works. This attribution was suggested by some nineteenth-century writers and revived by Millard Meiss in 1960. Outside Italy, the attribution has not gained general acceptance, and the ‘Isaac Master’ has usually been regarded as an unknown Roman-trained painter of the school of Cavallini. Zanardi (1996) discovered that the heads of Jacob and Esau were taken from the same drawing as some of the heads in the St Francis cycle, suggesting that the two cycles of frescoes were painted at the same time.
Also ascribed to the youthful Giotto or the Isaac Master are the frescoes of the Four Doctors of the Church in the first vault upon entering the church. The section of vault showing St Jerome collapsed during the earthquake of 26 September 1997. The fresco, broken into 40,000 fragments, was pieced together in 2002.
Assisi. San Francesco. Lower Church.
There is also disagreement about which works in the Lower Church might be Giotto’s, although modern scholars tend to focus on the chapels dedicated to Mary Magdalen and to St Nicholas.
Magdalen Chapel (third side chapel on right). Frescoes: Life of the Saint.
The chapel was probably built and decorated for Tebaldo Pontano of Todi, Bishop of Assisi from 1314 to 1329, whose arms are on the two smaller arches. He appears in two donor portraits. In one (left of the entrance) he is dressed as a bishop and kneels before St Rufinus, patron saint of Assisi. In the other (on the right) he is dressed as a Franciscan friar and kneels at the feet of the Magdalen, grasping her hand. Vasari does not explicitly mention the frescoes, which were attributed to Giotto only at the very end of the nineteenth century (by Thode and Berenson). More recent opinion has been divided between those who believe that Giotto contributed to the execution of some of the scenes (including the Raising of Lazarus and Noli Me Tangere, which closely resemble the frescoes of the same subjects by Giotto at Padua) and those who regard the whole cycle as the work of assistants or followers, who may have used Giotto’s cartoons for some scenes.
St Nicholas Chapel (end of right transept). Frescoes: Legend of St Nicholas.
The chapel (also known as La Cappella del Sacramento) is decorated with frescoes illustrating the legend of St Nicholas of Bari. The tomb of Giovanni Orsini (who died in 1292-94) has a fictive altarpiece of the Madonna and Child with SS. Francis and Nicholas. On the untrustworthy authority of Vasari, the frescoes were traditionally ascribed to Giottino. They are now generally believed to be the earliest of the Giottesque frescoes in the Lower Church: there is reason to believe they were finished by 1307, and they have sometimes been considered even earlier (about 1300). The figures in the frescoed altarpiece resemble those in the Badia Polyptych (Uffizi), attributed to Giotto as an early work. The chapel, which had been closed for restoration for many years, was reopened to the public in December 2012. On a spandrel of the frescoed altarpiece, restorers discovered the remains of a letter 'B', with another indecipherable letter below it. It has been claimed that the damaged letters could represent Giotto's initials.
Right Transept. Frescoes: Ten Scenes from the Infancy of Christ; Three Miracles of St Francis.
The painters responsible for these frescoes were clearly different from those who decorated the St Nicholas Chapel. Vasari says that Giotto painted in the lower transept, but specifically mentions only a fresco of St Francis receiving the Stigmata (above the sacristy door) and a self-portrait (in the scene of the Miracle of the Child of Suessa to the left of the staircase to the Upper Church). Until the early twentieth century, the entire group of frescoes was attributed to Giotto as early works. It is now usually regarded as largely the work of assistants or associates, and dated after Giotto’s frescoes in Padua (eg. around 1309, when Giotto’s recent presence in Assisi is established by a document recording the payment of a debt).
Crossing vaults. Frescoes: Franciscan Virtues and Triumph of St Francis.
The four angles of the vault above the high altar and tomb of St Francis (‘Quattro Vele’) contain allegories of the Franciscan vows of poverty, chastity and obedience and a Vision of St Francis in Glory. The frescoes are described in detail by Vasari, who says they were painted after those in the Upper Church. Once among the most famous of Giotto’s works, the attribution was questioned at the beginning of the twentieth century. The name ‘Maestro delle Vele’ was given by Venturi to the unknown artist from Giotto’s circle.
*Dormition of the Virgin. Wood, 75 x 179.
Identified with a picture mentioned both by Ghiberti and by Vasari in the church of the Ognissanti in Florence (‘a small panel in tempera which had been painted by Giotto with great care and showed the death of Our Lady, with a group of apostles and Christ receiving her soul into his arms’). In 1550, Vasari says that it was on the tramezzo (choir screen) of the church. By the time of the second edition of the Lives (1568), the tramezzo had been destroyed and Vasari was unsure what had happened to the picture. Ghiberti and Vasari mention three other panel painting by Giotto in the church (including the Ognissanti Madonna, now in the Uffizi) and a large crucifix (still in the sacristy of the church and usually ascribed to Giotto’s workshop). In spite of its provenance, the Berlin picture is not as widely accepted as an authentic work of Giotto as the Ognissanti Madonna. It was in the enormous collection amassed in the early nineteenth century by Cardinal Joseph Fesch, Napoleon's uncle. At the sale of the collection at Rome in 1845, it was one of more than forty Italian pictures purchsed for the relatively modest sum of 5,000 scudi by the Revd Walter Bromley-Davenport, Vicar of Fanshawe, near Capesthorne, Cheshire. Acquired by the art historian Langton Douglas in 1913, and bought by the Berlin Museum at auction the following year.
Crucifixion. Wood, 56 x 34.
One of two similar panels – the other, around the same width but with a flat rather than triangular top, is at Strasbourg. Now generally ascribed to an assistant or follower of Giotto (sometimes identified as the ‘Stefaneschi Master’ or ‘Parente di Giotto’, a hypothetical assistant employed on the Vatican’s Stefaneschi Altarpiece). Acquired in 1821 with the Solly collection.
Bologna. Pinacoteca Nazionale.
*Polyptych. Wood, 148 x 218.
Central panel: Virgin enthroned; side panels: full-length panels of St Peter (with the double key), the Angel Gabriel (turning to the Virgin as if to announce Christ’s conception), St Michael (trampling the dragon underfoot) and St Paul (with his sword); predella: medallions containing half-length figures of the Ecce Homo, between the Virgin and John the Evangelist, and John the Baptist and Mary Magdalene. The altarpiece is first recorded in 1732 in the church of Santa Maria degli Angeli, outside Bologna. It could conceivably have been painted for the chapel of the papal castle, which was frescoed by Giotto according to fourteenth-century and fifteenth-century sources. Later in the eighteenth century it was moved to a private chapel in the Collegio Montalto. It was broken up in 1808, and the central panel was for a time in the Brera. It was reassembled in 1894. Signed on the throne footstool: OP. MAGISTRI JOCTI DI FLORI. The polyptych is usually considered a late work of Giotto and/or his workshop of the 1330s. Some of the figures in the predella have been ascribed to the ‘Pseudo-Dalmasio’ (who is thought to have frescoed the chapel of St Gregory in the Florentine church of Santa Maria Novella in about 1336).
Borgo San Lorenzo (30 km north of Florence). Pieve di San Lorenzo.
Virgin and Child. Wood, 82 x 41.
A very damaged fragment: the Virgin is preserved to the waist; the Child, who reaches up to touch her cheek, is largely lost. Discovered in 1985 in the Oratorio di Sant’Omobrono in Borgo San Lorenzo (which closed in 1933 but reopened in 2003). Before restoration, the fragment was so darkened and repainted that it was known as the ‘Black Madonna’. Ascribed to Giotto as a youthful work (about 1290-5?). Giotto’s traditional birthplace, the tiny hamlet of Vespignano, is just a few kilometres from Borgo San Lorenzo. The panel was treated in 2018 for woodworm.
Boston. Gardner Museum.
*Presentation in the Temple. Wood, 45 x 44.
The Temple of Jerusalem is represented as an elegant marble ciborium. The aged Simeon holds the Christ Child. To his left stands the eighty-four-year-old prophetess Anna with a scroll. Joseph holds the doves that were part of the purification ritual required by Mosaic law. This small square painting is one of a series of seven small panels with scenes from Christ’s life; the others are at Munich (three), New York, London and Florence (Villa I Tatti). All seven were originally painted on the same plank of wood, and they may originally have formed a predella or an independent low rectangular altarpiece of exceptional width (at least 305 cm.). Together with the panels now in New York, London and I Tatti, the Presentation was first recorded in 1839 at the London sale of Prince Poniatowski of Florence. It later belonged to Henry Willett of Brighton and the art historian Jean Paul Richter, who is said to have bought it for £80. Mrs Gardner paid £1,500 for it. It has sometimes been attributed to Giotto himself, but more often to his workshop.
Boville Ernica (near Frosinone). San Pietro Ispano.
Angel. Mosaic, 65 in dia.
This bust of an angel in a medallion is a fragment of the Navicella, the enormous mosaic originally located above the entrance to the atrium of the Old St Peter’s. The mosaic is now inside the portico of the new basilica, but has been so restored and reset as to be virtually a copy. The fragment was given to the church in 1610. There is another Angel, similar but less well preserved, in the Vatican Grottoes. While Giotto is believed to have designed the Navicella, there is no evidence that he worked in mosaic.
Budapest. Fine Arts Museum.
Female Head. Fresco, 27 x 16.
This small oval fragment is said to have come from a fresco (now completely destroyed) in the apse of the Lower Church of San Francesco at Assisi. Variously ascribed to Giotto, his workshop, a follower or Stefano Fiorentino. Part of a gift of paintings in 1872 by the Hungarian bishop and historian Arnold Ipolyi, who acquired it when the collection of Johann Anton Ramboux was auctioned at Cologne in 1867.
Chaalis (Abbaye Royale, near Senlis in Picardie). Institut de France.
*St John the Evangelist; St Lawrence. Wood, 81 x 55.
The aged John the Evangelist holds a pen and scroll. St Lawrence, dressed as a deacon, has a book and martyr's palm. Half-length angels in the pinnacles hold sceptres and orbs. As first suggested in 1930 by Roberto Longhi, these two much-restored panels probably belonged to the same altarpiece as the Virgin and Child in the National Gallery, Washington, and the St Stephen in the Horne Museum, Florence. Some critics have ascribed the Virgin and Child and the St Stephen to Giotto, but the Chaalis panels to an assistant. The picture collection at Chaalis was formed by Nélie Jacquemart-André – a French painter and wife of the wealthy banker Edouard André. It was bequeathed to the Institut de France in 1912.
**Madonna in Majesty (‘Ognissanti Madonna’). Wood, 325 x 204.
The two angels standing at the sides hold a gold crown (alluding to the Virgin as Queen of Heaven) and a gold box or jar (perhaps alluding to the Eucharist or to the gifts of the Magi). The two kneeling angels hold vases containing red and white roses (symbolising charity and virginity) and lilies (a familiar symbol of the Virgin). Their greyish white robes probably refer to the monastic habits worn by the Umiliati friars that commissioned the picture. The saints in the background may include Paul (at the left of the throne), Lucy (far left), Benedict (at the right of the throne) and Catherine of Alexandria (on the right with a gold crown). Although it is neither signed nor dated, this famous and imposing picture is the only panel painting universally accepted to be by Giotto’s own hand. It may be the panel (of unspecified subject) by the ‘famous painter Giotto’ recorded in a deed of 1418 on an altar, dedicated to the Virgin, on the tramezzo (choir screen) of the church of the Ognissanti. It is subsequently recorded in the church by Ghiberti and Vasari, though neither specifies its location there. Because of its great size – it is over ten feet high – it is often assumed that it was painted for the high altar. If so, it would have been moved as early as 1363 to make way for Giovanni da Milano’s Coronation of the Virgin polyptych (also now in the Uffizi). It is usually dated around 1310. It was placed in the Academia after the dissolution of the religious houses in the eighteenth century, and transferred to the Uffizi in 1919. Restored in 1992.
*Badia Polyptych. Centre panel, 91 x 76; side panels, each 91 x 66.
In the centre panel, the lively Child grips his mother's fingers with one hand and reaches up with the other hand to grasp the neck of her mantle. The half-length saints in the four side panels are identified by inscriptions. The bishop on the left is St Nicholas of Bari; St John the Evangelist holds a quill and his Gospel; St Peter has his keys; and St Benedict wears the black habit of the order he founded. The tondi in the triangular gables depict God the Father and angels. The polyptych was identified in 1943 (by Ugo Procacci) as the high altarpiece of the Badia – the Benedictine Abbey in the centre of Florence. Both Ghiberti and Vasari say that Giotto’s first independent works were painted for the church. Fragments of frescoes were recovered from whitewash there in 1958 (one showing the Head of a Shepherd is now exhibited in the Accademia). In 1451-53, the polyptych was adapted to fit a rectangular Renaissance-style frame. Gothic pinnacles were removed, and the triangular spaces between the gables were filled in with pieces of wood painted with cherubs' heads. The polyptych was moved from the high altar to the convent when Vasari remodelled the Badia; it was transferred to Santa Croce when the convent was suppressed in Napoleonic times, and it remained in the museum there in a sorry state (abraded, peeling and repainted) until it was restored in 1957-58. The mid-fifteenth-century framing additions were removed during the restoration. The polyptych has hung in the Uffizi since 1966. It has been generally dated quite early (around 1300) on grounds on style, and has sometimes been attributed, wholly or in part, to the painter of the St Nicholas frescoes in the Lower Church at Assisi. The most recent restoration was in 2009.
Head of a Shepherd. Fresco fragment, 250 x 130.
According to Ghiberti and other early sources, Giotto painted the altarpiece and frescoed the Cappella Maggiore in the Florentine Badia. The altarpiece has been identified as the polyptych now in the Uffizi. The frescoes, which illustrated scenes from the Life of the Virgin, were almost completely destroyed in 1627, when the Badia was reconstructed. The fragment with the Head of a Shepherd came from the scene of Joachim among the Shepherds, and was discovered in 1958 in the right-hand corner of a lunette. Only two other small fragments survive: one from the Presentation of the Virgin in the Temple and the other from the Annunciation. On an undertaking of such size, Giotto would have employed assistants, and the few small surviving fragments are not necessarily attributable to his own hand. One would have expected the altarpiece and frescoes to have been produced at the same time. However, while the Badia polyptych is generally dated around 1300, the Head of a Shepherd is often judged substantially later.
Florence. Museo Nazionale del Bargello.
Cappella del Podestà.
Remains of frescoes.
There are ruins of frescoes of a Paradise on the altar wall, an Inferno on the entrance wall, and scenes from the lives of the Magdalen and Baptist on the side walls. In the bottom row of figures in the Paradise, to the right of the window, is the famous portrait of Dante, which was completely repainted when the frescoes were recovered from whitewash in the nineteenth century. According to an inscription on the right wall, the chapel was decorated for the Podestà Fidemini di Varano in 1337 – the year of Giotto’s death. Filippo Villani, in his brief life of Giotto written in about 1395-96, and Gianozzo Manetti, in his life of Dante written in the early fifteenth century, mention Giotto’s portrait of Dante in the chapel, and Ghiberti and Vasari ascribe the frescoes to Giotto. Almost all modern critics reject the possibility that he played any part in executing the frescoes, but it is possible that they were planned by his workshop and that he contributed to some of the designs. The frescoes disappeared in the late sixteenth century, when the building was converted into a prison, and their remains were uncovered in 1839-42 by the neoclassical painter Antonio Marini. Restored in 2007-9.
Virgin and Child Enthroned. Detached fresco.
A fragment: most of the fresco to the sides of the Virgin's throne is now lost. Two allegorical figures (now headless) present the Virgin with lilies and the Christ Child with a heart. Diminutive representives of the Sestieri (the six ancient divisions of Florence) kneel to the left of the throne holding symbols of their districts (the wheel of San Pier Scheraggio, Baptistery, keys of San Pier Maggiore, goat of Borgo, lion's paw of San Pancrazio, and Ponte Vecchio). In the past, the fresco was classed as a work of Giotto's workshop/school or attributed to Taddeo Gaddi. However, some recent opinion has favoured an attribution to Giotto himself as a very late work (1334-36?). The Virgin and Child resemble those in the signed Bologna polyptych and also those in the Virgin and Child with Four Angels in the Florentine church of Santa Maria a Ricorboli. The fresco was restored in 2001.
Florence. Museo dell’Opera del Duomo.
Santa Reparata Polyptych. Wood, 94 x 242.
A pentaptych with triangular gables, painted on both sides. Front: Madonna and Child between half-length figures of SS. Eugenius, Miniatus, Zanobius and Crescentius. Back: Annunciation between full-length figures of SS. Reparata, John the Baptist, Mary Magdalene and Nicholas of Bari. From the Cathedral: it is recorded in 1757 on the altar of the Chapel of San Zanobi, the dark crypt under the apse, but it may originally have stood on the high altar. Ignored by early writers. Once ascribed to Pacino di Bonaguida (whose signed polyptych from San Firenze is in the Accadema), and listed by Berenson (1963) under Giotto’s contemporaries or immediate followers. The attribution to Giotto is comparatively recent, and is controversial. The altarpiece was included as a work of Giotto in the 2005 Cimabue a Pisa exhibition at Pisa.
Florence. Museo Horne.
*Saint Stephen. Wood, 84 x 54.
This almost perfectly preserved panel shows the deacon saint half-length, holding a richly bound book and with stones in his head symbolising his martyrdom. Attributed to Giotto by Mason Perkins in 1918. Probably from the same altarpiece as the Virgin and Child in Washington and the two panels of saints in Chaalis (Senlis).
Florence. Museo Diocesano (Santo Stefano al Ponte).
Madonna and Child Enthroned with Two Angels. Wood, 180 x 90.
This imposing but damaged picture has been cut down, removing the sides and steps of the Virgin’s throne. It comes from the obscure little church of San Giorgio alla Costa on the Costa San Giorgio, up the hillside on the south bank of the Arno. Though Ghiberti mentions a panel painting and a crucifix by Giotto in the church, the attribution of the Madonna to Giotto was made only in 1937 (by Robert Oertel on the occasion of the Mostra Giottesca at the Uffizi, where the painting was exhibited as a work of the ‘Master of St Cecilia’). The attribution has been generally accepted by those (including Roberto Longhi and Giovanni Previtali) that have accepted the St Francis cycle in the Upper Church at Assisi. For other critics, the picture is the work of a contemporary painter (identified by Offner at first with the ‘St Cecilia Master’ and later with the ‘Master of the Santa Maria Novella Crucifix’) or the work of some unknown follower, perhaps derived from a lost original by Giotto. The picture was removed from the church after restoration and placed on deposit at Santo Stefano. It was damaged by the car bomb that killed five people on 27 May 1993, and was subsequently restored again in 1995. Exhibited as an early Giotto in 2004 at the Accademia in Florence (L’Arte a Firenze nell’Eta di Dante) and in 2009 at the Complesso del Vittoriano in Rome (Giotto e Il Trecento). Since February 2018, it has been on permanent display at the Museo dell'Opera del Duomo.
Crucifix. Wood, 468 x 375.
The Redeemer blessing in the medallion at the top; the grieving Virgin and St John at the ends of the arms. One of four great Giottesque crucifixes in Florentine churches – the others are in Santa Maria Novella, San Felice and San Marco. Ghiberti and Vasari say that Giotto painted a large crucifix for the Umiliati friars of the Ognissanti, as well as four other panel paintings (two of which are almost certainly the Ognissanti Madonna, now in the Uffizi, and the Dormition of the Virgin, now at Berlin). The crucifix has been usually ascribed to Giotto’s workshop. It was grouped by Previtali (1967) with the altarpieces from the Vatican and Florence Cathedral and the frescoes of Franciscan allegories in the Lower Church at Assisi as works executed partly or wholly by a distinct personality, assistant or follower, whom he christened ‘Parente di Giotto’ (relative of Giotto). However, there has been a tendency in recent years for Italian art historians to accept the two altarpieces and the crucifix as authentic works of Giotto dating from the 1310s and 1320s. The crucifix was restored in 2006-9. The removal of layers of grime and dust showed the painting to be generally well preserved (though a section – at least a metre long and believed to have shown the skull of Adam – is thought to have been lost from the bottom). Christ’s halo of coloured glass was ‘stabilised’. Previously housed in the sacristy, the crucifix has been moved to a transept chapel.
Florence. Santa Croce.
According to Ghiberti and Vasari, Giotto painted four chapels and four altarpieces for the great Franciscan church. Of these works, damaged frescoes survive in the Bardi and Peruzzi Chapels (immediately to the right of the choir), and there is an altarpiece with Giotto’s signature still in its original location in the Baroncelli Chapel (right transept). Frescoes of the Life of the Virgin in the Tosinghi-Spinelli Chapel (1st chapel in the left transept) and of the Martyrdoms of Apostles in the Giugni Chapel (3rd chapel in the right transept) are lost.
Bardi Chapel (1st chapel to right of choir).
**Life of St Francis. Frescoes, each 280 x 450.
Six scenes from the life of the saint are depicted in three courses on the sidewalls. Running from top to bottom and from left to right, the subjects are: Renunciation of Worldly Goods and Confirmation of the Rule by Innocent III (in the lunettes); Apparition of St Francis at Arles and Trial by Fire before the Sultan (middle course); and Death of St Francis and Visions of the Saint’s Death to Fra Agostino and to Bishop Guido (at eye level). The four sections of the ceiling show St Francis in Glory and allegorical figures representing the Three Franciscan Virtues (poverty, chastity and obedience). At the sides of the window, three Franciscan saints (Louis of Toulouse, Clare, and Elizabeth of Hungary) are depicted under trefoil arches; a fourth saint (possibly Louis of France) is missing. On the outside wall, over the entrance arch, is a fresco (390 x 370) of St Francis receiving the Stigmata. The probable patron was the banker Ridolfo (or Dosso) de’ Bardi. He was an agent of King Robert of Naples, whose sainted older brother, Louis of Toulouse, is represented on the window wall. The presence of the saint, who was canonised in 1317, has been taken as evidence that the frescoes cannot have been painted before that year. By 1730, the frescoes had been covered by whitewash, which was removed in the early 1850s. The two lowest scenes, the Death of St Francis and Visions of the Saint’s Death, were damaged when monuments mounted against the walls were ripped out. The frescoes were then thoroughly repainted by the painter-restorer Gaetano Bianchi, who ‘re-created’ the missing parts. All the nineteenth-century repaint was removed in a restoration of 1958-59. A new three-year restoration was underway in 2019.
It seems that a crucifix by Ugolino di Nerio, a Sienese contemporary of Giotto, was originally on the chapel’s altar. (The Bardi Dossal of about 1245 was moved there in 1595.)
Peruzzi Chapel (2nd chapel to right of choir).
**Lives of SS. John the Baptist and John the Evangelist. Frescoes, each 280 x 450.
The left side of the chapel is devoted to the life of John the Baptist (the Angel appears to Zacharias in the lunette; Birth of the Saint in the middle tier; and the Feast of Herod at the bottom). The right side is devoted to the life of John the Evangelist (Vision on Patmos; Raising of Drusiana; and Ascension of the Saint). On the ceiling are symbols of the Four Evangelists, and on the vaulting of the entrance arch eight busts of prophets. The original patron was Donato di Arnoldo Peruzzi, of the Florentine banking dynasty, who left money in his will to found a chapel in the church. The decoration of the chapel was probably commissioned by his grandson Giovanni di Rinieri Peruzzi. The frescoes have usually been considered either roughly contemporary with, or somewhat later than, those in the adjacent Bardi Chapel, with datings spanning the 1320s and early 1330s. But there is now a tendency, particularly among Italian historians, to place the Peruzzi frescoes before the Bardi ones, and they have recently been dated as early as round 1310-15. Like the Bardi frescoes, they were once whitewashed (possibly when the chapel was restored in 1714 and almost certainly before 1754). In 1841 the Feast of Herod was rediscovered, and by 1863 all the frescoes had been uncovered. They were completely repainted in the subsequent restoration by the painter Antonio Marini and his pupil Pietro Prezzati. Cleaning in the late 1950s and early 1960s revealed only ghostly remains of the original frescoes – which had been painted largely a secco (ie. on dry plaster), rather than in true fresco as in the Bardi Chapel. A five-part polyptych now at Raleigh (North Carolina), attributed to Giotto and/or his workshop and containing representations of both the St Johns, is often identified as the altarpiece from the chapel.
*Baroncelli Polyptych. Wood, 185 x 323.
The polyptych stands in the chapel of the Baroncelli (a local great mercantile family) at the end of the right transept. It sits on the original stone altar, and is the only altarpiece from Giotto's workshop to remain in its original location. The five main panels depict the Coronation of the Virgin with Saints, Prophets and Angels. The five hexagons of the predella contain an Ecce Homo (in the centre) and Saints Francis, John the Baptist, Peter and Paul the Hermit. The present rectangular Renaissance frame dates from the late fifteenth century. The altarpiece would originally have had pointed Gothic arches and probably pinnacles. It was topped with a small triangular panel, now in San Diego, of God the Father and Angels. Signed on the cornice: OPUS MAGISTRI JOCTI. The altarpiece was presumably painted after 1327 when the Baroncelli Chapel was completed. The altarpiece was once considered Giotto’s last work. It is now generally thought to have been executed largely or wholly by assistants – perhaps including Taddeo Gaddi, who probably took charge of Giotto’s Florentine workshop when Giotto went to Naples in 1328 and who frescoed the walls of the Baroncelli Chapel from 1332 to 1338.
Florence. San Felice.
Crucifix. Wood, 390 x 220.
As in most crucifixes attributed to Giotto or his workshop, Christ is depicted against an ornamental background imitating precious cloth. At the top of the cross, a pelican feeds its brood with its own blood. (The legend of the pelican 'in its piety' pecking its breast and causing the blood to flow in order to feed its hungry young is told in early medieval bestiaries, and was linked with Christ's blood sacrifice on behalf of mankind.) At the ends of the arms of the cross, the Virgin and St John grieve. The crucifix, recently restored, still hangs over the high altar. Unlike the crucifixes in the Florentine churches of Santa Maria Novella, the Ognissanti and San Marco, it was not mentioned by either Ghiberti or Vasari. Generally ascribed to Giotto’s workshop.
Florence. San Marco.
Crucifix. Wood, 580 x 408.
The pelican at the top of the cross, the Virgin and St John at the ends of the arms, and two diminutive donors at the foot. The huge crucifix normally hangs over the principal entrance. It is recorded in the church as early as 1357, and was mentioned as a work of Giotto by Vasari. Usually regarded as a studio work of the 1310s or 1320s. However, a tentative attribution has been recently made to Simone di Puccio (also known as ‘Master of the Fabriano Altarpiece’), who worked in Florence around the mid-fourteenth century.
Florence. Santa Maria Novella.
*Crucifixion. Wood, 578 x 406.
The Virgin and St John are shown as mourners at the ends of the arms of the cross, and the skull of Adam buried at Golgotha is shown in the base. The pseudo-Arabic inscriptions on the Virgin's and St John's haloes appear to be merely ornamental, but real Hebrew letters appear on the titulus (the plaque affixed to the top of the cross). This monumental crucifix is thought to be that mentioned in a will drawn up on 15 June 1312 by a certain Riccuccio di Puccio. The will included a legacy of five pounds in small florins for the purchase of oil to keep lamps burning all the year round before two paintings in the church: a large panel of the Virgin and Child (presumably Duccio’s Rucellai Madonna) and a ‘crucifix … painted by the illustrious painter Giotto di Bondone’. Despite this documentation, and the inclusion by Ghiberti of the crucifix in his (generally reliable) list of Giotto’s works, the attribution has often been challenged by modern critics on stylistic grounds. Vasari says that the crucifix was painted with the assistance of Puccio Capanna (which is impossible) and that it hung over the right entrance door. It may originally have hung from the rood screen, suspended by chains or ropes. In recent times it hung in the sacristy of the church. After twelve years of careful restoration, completed in 2001, it was moved to its present position, high above the centre of the nave. Stylistic similarities have been noted between the figures and those in the Isaac Scenes in the Upper Church at Assisi, and the crucifix has recently been dated as early as about 1290.
Florence. Santa Maria a Ricorboli.
Virgin and Child enthroned with Four Angels. Wood, 82 x 66.
The church, rebuilt in the early twentieth century, is on the Via Carlo Marsuppini, outside the Porta San Niccolò. The painting, popularly called the 'Madonna del Rifugio', was greatly venerated, and large jewelled crowns were previously attached to the heads of the Virgin and Child. It has been cut down substantially at the bottom and appears originally to have included the figure of a donor. The Virgin and Child are very like those in the Bologna polyptych. There is no old literature on the picture, which has been attributed to Giotto and/or his studio as a very late work (post-1334?). Restored in 2005 and returned to the church in 2010. Previously hung very high, above an altarpiece by the twentieth-century painter Baccio Maria Bacci, it is now displayed in a specially constructed glass case.
Florence (Settignano). Villa I Tatti.
*The Entombment. Wood, 45 x 43.
Christ is laid in a sarcophagus of red porphyry. The mourners include the Virgin (fainting), two Holy Women (one supporting the Virgin), the grey-bearded Joseph of Arimathea, the youthful St John (kissing Christ's wounded hand) and Mary Magdalene (with her hands clasped in grief). Nicodemus could be either the figure in red holding Christ's feet or the halo-less figure in the centre background. Grieving angels wheel overhead. One of a series of seven small, square narrative panels ascribed to Giotto and/or his workshop; the others are at Munich (three), Boston, New York and London. The Entombment was sold with the Boston, New York and London panels by Prince Poniatowski in London in 1839. It was later in the celebrated collection of William Fuller Maitland at Stansted Hall in Essex. Acquired in 1907 by Berenson (who attributed it to an 'assistant of Giotto').
Franciscan Saint (Anthony of Padua?) holding a Book. Wood, 54 x 39.
Nothing is known of the provenance of this panel, which was discovered by Berenson just before the First World War. Berenson's attribution to Giotto is retained in the 2015 I Tatti catalogue (edited by Carl Strehike and Machtelt Israëls). The gold background has been restored, removing the saint’s halo. The solidly modelled figure is similar in style to the half-length saints of the Badia Altarpiece (Uffizi), and it has been considered a comparatively early work, predating the Paduan frescoes.
London. National Gallery.
*Pentecost. Wood, 46 x 44.
The Holy Spirit, in the form of 'cloven tongues of fire', appears on the heads of the twelve Apostles, who are grouped inside a small room with a coffered ceiling. Outside the room, behind a low wall inlaid with marble, onlookers listen to the Apostles' words, which 'every man heard them speak in their own language' (Acts 2: 1-13). The small square panel is from the same series as panels at Boston, Florence (I Tatti), Munich and New York. Their original location and format is uncertain. It has been suggested that they decorated sacristy cupboard doors or (more likely) formed a predella or were arranged as an independent long, low horizontal altarpiece. The series is ascribed to Giotto by Hendy (1931) and Longhi (1948) and to Giotto in part by Dillian Gordon (1989), but to his workshop by most other critics. The Pentecost, which was first recorded in 1839 in the London sale of Prince Poniatowski of Florence, was bequeathed to the National Gallery by the Coningham family in 1942.
Munich. Alte Pinakothek.
*Crucifixion. Wood, 45 x 43.
St Francis and two donors kneel at the foot of the cross. (The male donor appears to be a priest, while the female donor is probably a member of a lay order.) To the left, the fainting Virgin is supported by three Holy Women. To the right, St John the Evangelist stands with an old grey-bearded man (possibly Joseph of Arimathea, though he has no halo). The blood dripping from the nail wounds in Christ's hands is caught in cups by angels.
*Christ in Hell. Wood, 45 x 44.
The righteous of the Old Testament wait in the mouth of Hell. Christ, bearing the red-cross banner of the Resurrection and accompanied by the Good Thief, takes Adam by the hand. On the rocks above, devils claim the souls of the damned. The Crucifixion and the Christ in Hell were bought by King Maximilian I of Bavaria from Count Lucchesi in 1813.
*Last Supper. Wood, 43 x 43.
The twelve apostles are seated round a rectangular table, with Christ on the left and St John reclining on his bosom. Christ is passing to Judas Iscariot – the apostle in yellow without a halo – the piece of bread he had dipped in the dish (John: 13, 26). The Last Supper was a gift to the Munich museum from Crown Prince Ludwig in 1805.
These three small square panels are from a series of seven scenes from Christ's life; the four other panels are at Boston, Florence (I Tatti), London and New York. The presence of St Francis, kneeling at the foot of the cross in the Crucifixion, suggests a Franciscan connection, and it has been suggested that the panels may have come from the Bardi or Peruzzi Chapels (frescoed by Giotto) in Santa Croce, from the high altar of the Franciscan church in Sansepolcro (where according to Vasari there was ‘a panel by Giotto showing various small figures’), or from San Francesco at Rimini (where Giotto painted according to Vasari and there is a large Crucifix attributed to him). Dillian Gordon (1989), who proposed the Riminese provenance, tentatively suggested that the two donors kneeling with St Francis in the Crucifixion might be Malatesta di Verucchio (who died in 1312, leaving money for a chapel in San Francesco) and either his wife or sister.
Naples. Castel Nuovo. Palatine Chapel (Cappella di Santa Barbara).
Traces of Frescoes.
There is evidence that Giotto was in Naples in 1328-33, working for King Robert of Anjou. Ghiberti and Vasari say he painted in the Castel dell'Uovo; but this is thought to be a mistake for the Castel Nuovo, which was Robert's royal residence and the seat of his court. Some scanty remains of decoration (saints' heads and floral motifs) survive on the splays of the tall windows of the lofty Gothic chapel. These have been attributed to Giotto's assistants or followers (including Maso di Banco?).
Early sources refer to paintings by Giotto in the great vaulted hall (Sala dei Baroni) of the castle. Nothing remains of these frescoes, which are said to have represented famous men from the Old Testament and antiquity.
New York. Metropolitan Museum.
*Epiphany. Wood, 45 x 44.
The leading Magus has taken off his golden crown and knelt to pick up the infant from the manger. Upper left, an angel announces Christ's birth to two shepherds with bagpipes. From the same series as the small panels attributed to Giotto and/or his workshop at Boston, Florence (I Tatti), London and Munich. The New York Epiphany was framed with the I Tatti Entombment when they were sold at the General Fox sale in1874. It was acquired by the Metropolitan Museum in1911 from the art historian Langton Douglas.
Virgin and Child. Wood, 29 x 20.
The lively Child grasps the neck of the Virgin’s mantle with his left hand and reaches up with his right to touch her cheek. The letters on the border appear purely ornamental. There have been occasional attributions to Giotto himself (eg. by Previtali in his lavish 1967 monograph on the artist), but the little panel is usually classed as the work of an assistant or close follower. It might date from around 1310. Presented in 1913 by Mrs James Reddie Anderson, who had bought it in Perugia in 1887.
Padua. Arena Chapel.
**Frescoes: Lives of the Virgin and of Christ.
Along the sidewalls and on the choir arch, the lives of the Virgin and of Christ are illustrated by thirty-eight scenes (mostly about 200 x 185), arranged in three rows. The scenes run from left to right, beginning on the right wall at the top. The first six, above the windows of the right wall, give the apocryphal legend of Joachim and Anna and the next six, on the upper row of the wall opposite, the life of the Virgin. The Angel and Virgin of the Annunciation are shown on the sides of the choir arch, with God the Father dispatching the Angel above and the Visitation below on the right of the arch. The twelve scenes of the middle row show the life and ministry of Christ, beginning with the Nativity on the right wall and ending with the Pact of Judas on the left of the choir arch. The lowest row shows eleven scenes from Christ’s Passion, beginning with the Last Supper on the right wall and ending with the Pentecost on the left wall.
A vast Last Judgement (10 x 8.5 metres) entirely fills the entrance wall. At the top, on either side of the window, archangels scroll back the heavens to reveal the golden Gates of Paradise. In the centre, Christ sits on the judgement seat, with the Apostles on each side and legions of angels above. Below, the dead, rising from their graves, are guided towards Heaven (left) or cast into Hell (right). (The representation of the torments of Hell is sometimes supposed to have been inspired by the Divine Comedy, but Dante had probably not yet begun to write his great poem when the fresco was painted.) Above the entrance arch, the kneeling patron Enrico Scrovegni piously offers a highly recognisable model of his chapel to the Virgin and two other saints (one probably John the Evangelist and the other variously identified as Mary Magdalene, Ursula, Catherine or an angel). While the Arena Chapel frescoes are generally remarkably consistent in style, the quality of drawing and execution varies considerably throughout the Last Judgement, suggesting that a good many of the numerous figures were painted by assistants.
Along the skirting of the walls, painted to imitate veined marble, are fourteen celebrated monochrome figures of Virtues and Vices imitating sculptural reliefs. On the right-hand side are the Seven Virtues: Hope (flying upwards to receive her crown from an angel); Charity (offering a heart with one hand and holding a bowl of fruit and flowers with the other); Faith (holding a cross and standing on a heap of heretical writings); Justice (enthroned with a pair of scales); Temperance (tying a sword to its scabbard); Fortitude (in breastplate and lion’s skin and holding a shield and mace); and Prudence (gazing into a mirror). On the left-hand side are the corresponding Vices: Despair (hanging herself); Envy (bitten by a snake issuing from her own mouth); Infidelity (holding a small idol that is attached to him by a noose); Injustice (presiding in a fortress over scenes of robbery and violence); Wrath (tearing open her garment); Inconstancy (trying to balance on a wheel rolling on polished marble); and Folly (foolishly dressed and holding a club).
On the barrel vault, coloured deep blue and studded with gold stars, are two large central medallions of the Virgin and Child and of Christ Blessing and eight smaller ones of prophets.
The small brick chapel is the only remaining part of the palazzo built by Enrico Scrovegni, who was a moneylender, financier, landowner, and heir to the greatest fortune in Padua. (His father, Riginaldo, was placed in the seventh circle of hell by Dante for practising usury.) He purchased the site of the ruined Roman Arena in February 1300, and over the next few years he built his grand palazzo there, together with its private chapel and mausoleum dedicated to the Virgin. The chapel appears to have been consecrated, as Santa Maria della Carità, on the Feast of the Annunciation, 25 March 1305. The exact date of the frescoes – which could have been painted either before or after the chapel’s dedication – is not known. To judge from the number of giornate, the whole cycle might have been completed in about two years. The earliest reference to the frescoes was made around 1313 by Francesco da Barberino, who praised the figure of Envy in his allegorical poem Documenti d’Amore. Ghiberti and Vasari mention them only briefly.
By the early nineteenth century, the chapel had fallen into serious neglect. The portico collapsed in 1817 and the palazzo itself, built alongside the chapel, had to be demolished ten years later. However, the frescoes escaped serious damage, and are remarkable for their completeness and state of preservation. They are now regarded as Giotto’s key surviving work, and the modern conception of his style is largely based on them. There were major restorations in the 1880s (after the chapel was acquired by the City Council), 1961-64 and 2001-2. During the last restoration, a ‘micro-climatic control unit’ was installed to protect the frescoes from heat, humidity, dust and pollution.
Padua. Museo Civico.
*Crucifix. Wood, 223 x 164.
The Redeemer blessing at the top of the cross; the grief- stricken Virgin and St John at the ends of the arms; and the skull of Adam at the foot. From the Arena Chapel, but not mentioned in the earliest sources. Of the half-dozen or so painted wooden crucifixes that have been associated with Giotto, it is the only one that has always been acknowledged as autograph (though some modern critics have suspected workshop involvement). The figure of Christ – head sagging in death and the weight of the body painfully suspended on the arms – is almost identical to that in the frescoes of the Crucifixion in the Arena Chapel and in the right transept of the Lower Church at Assisi. On the back is a painting (probably by Giotto’s workshop) of the Mystical Lamb and symbols of the Four Evangelists. Restored in the early 1990s.
*St Francis Altarpiece. Wood, 314 x 162.
The large gabled panel combines a large image of St Francis receiving the Stigmata with three smaller scenes (the Dream of Innocent III, Approval of the Rule of the Franciscan Order and St Francis Preaching to the Birds) in a ‘predella’ along the bottom. All four scenes repeat, with some variations, frescoes at Assisi. Signed on the lower border of the original frame: OPUS IOCTI FLORENTINI. The coat-of-arms has been identified as that of the Florentine Ughi family or (more recently) the Pisan Cinquina family. From the church of San Francesco at Pisa, where it was recorded by Vasari on a pillar at the side of the high altar; it had already been moved from its original setting and may originally have been the altarpiece of one of the two Cinquina family chapels situated in the transept of the church. It was afterwards in San Nicola and then in the chapel of the Campo Santo at Pisa. Acquired by Vivant-Denon, Director of the Musée Napoleon, on his visit to Italy in 1811. Despite its credentials, it has sometimes been regarded as a product of Giotto’s workshop. There is no agreed dating: some critics have placed it at the beginning of the fourteenth century, while others have argued for a date in the late 1320s. The commission might perhaps have been associated with the Feast of the Stigmata, which was instituted by Benedict XI in 1304 and henceforth observed on 17 September. A slightly earlier dating of around 1298 has recently been proposed (by Chiara Frugoni in Ricerche di Storia dell'Arte (2010)) on the argument that the broken column in the scene of the Dream of Innocent III alludes to the crusade declared that year by Boniface VIII against the Colonna family.
Crucifix. Wood, 272 x 225.
At the top of the cross, the pelican feeds its young; at the ends of the arms, St John the Evangelist and the Virgin. This monumental crucifix was one of nearly 150 early Italian paintings acquired by Napoleon III in Rome in 1861 from the disgraced collector Giampietro Campana. Catalogued as a work of Pietro Cavallini in the Campana collection, it entered the Louvre in 1863 with an attribution to the school of Giotto. In recent times it has been ascribed either to Giotto himself or, more commonly, his workshop. Much restored.
Crucifixion. Wood, 135 x 118.
A crowded composition. Angels take the soul of the good thief (left) and a devil claims the soul of the bad thief (right). The mounted Longinus pierces Christ's side with his spear. The swooning Virgin is attended by the Holy Women (left foreground) and the soldiers cast lots (right foreground). The picture is said to have come from the chapel of a French château. It was purchsed by the Louvre at auction in 1999 with an attribution to the 'Master of Giovanni Barrile' (the name given to an anonymous follower of Giotto who painted frescoes in the church of San Lorenzo Maggiore at Naples). The picture was in very poor condition and underwent a long restoration. The background had been overpainted at some early date (the fifteenth century?) and no attempt was made to recover the original gold ground. The restored panel was the focus of an exhibition, Giotto e Compagni, held at the Louvre in 2013, when it was classed as a work of 'Giotto(?) and workshop' and dated around 1330-35.
Paris (Issy-les-Moulineaux). Seminary of Saint-Sulpice.
Crucifix. Wood, 348 x 262.
This large crucifix was donated to the Parisian seminary in 1880 by Abbé Léon-Jean Gounelle. It has been heavily repainted (first in the seventeenth century and again in the nineteenth century) and, until recently, it was very little known. Technical analysis, including X-ray photography and the taking of cleaning samples, was carried out in 2009. The results (published by Elisabeth Ravaud and others in the journal Technè) reveal similarities with two of Giotto's attributed early panel pictures – the Santa Maria Novella crucifix and the Madonna from San Giorgio alla Costa. It has been tentatively suggested (by Andrea De Marchi in the catalogue to the 2015 Giotto, I'Italia exhibition at Milan) that the crucifix in the Parisian seminary could be the one seen by Ghiberti in San Giorgio alla Costa. Further conservation work is pending.
Raleigh. North Carolina Museum of Art.
*Pentaptych (‘Peruzzi Altarpiece’).
Middle panel (67 x 49): Christ Blessing; side panels (62 x 42): St John the Evangelist; the Virgin; St John the Baptist; and St Francis. The altarpiece seems to be complete, apart from the frame. It is possibly the altarpiece from the Peruzzi Chapel in Santa Croce, Florence. The inclusion of the two St Johns would be appropriate for the dedication of the chapel, which was frescoed by Giotto with scenes from their lives. The execution is often ascribed to Giotto’s workshop. Samuel H. Kress acquired the middle panel (formerly in the collection of Mrs Frederic Stephens, New York) in 1946 and the side panels (first recorded in about 1920 in the C. W. Mori collection, Paris) a year later. The reconstructed altarpiece was exhibited in the National Gallery, Washington, from 1951 to 1960, and transferred to Raleigh in 1960.
Rimini. Tempio Malatestiano.
*Crucifix. Wood, 430 x 303.
Riccobaldo Ferrarese, writing in 1312-13, says that Giotto painted in San Francesco. Vasari also says that ‘Giotto painted many pictures in San Francesco, which were later torn down and destroyed by Gismondo, the son of Pandolfo Malatesta, when he completely rebuilt the church’. The crucifix is first mentioned specifically only in 1864 in a guidebook to Rimini. The figure of Christ had been crudely repainted in oils, and it was only after cleaning in 1934 that Longhi first attributed the crucifix to Giotto. It is closely similar to the crucifix from the Arena Chapel at Padua. The type of crucifix became popular with local painters, including Pietro da Rimini and Giovanni da Rimini. A crucifix by Giovanni at Mercatello (San Francesco) is signed and dated 1309 (or 1314), which fixes the latest date at which the Tempio Malatestiano crucifix is likely to have been painted. Like other crucifixes of the time, there would have been panels at the ends of the cross showing the grieving Virgin and St John; these have been sawn off and are presumed lost. A quatrefoil panel of the Redeemer Blessing in a British private collection has been identified (by Federico Zeri in Paragone (1957)) as the medallion cut from the top of the crucifix.
Rome. Vatican Pinacoteca.
A triptych painted on both sides. On the front, the central panel (178 x 89) shows Christ Enthroned (with the donor Cardinal Giacomo Gaetano Stefaneschi, a nephew of Pope Boniface, kneeling before the throne) and the two side panels (168 x 83) contain representations of the Crucifixion of St Peter and Beheading of St Paul. Three predella panels (each 45 x 83) show the Twelve Apostles and two angels standing on either side of the enthroned Virgin and Child. On the back, the central panel shows St Peter Enthroned (with Cardinal Stefaneschi offering a model of the altarpiece and another kneeling figure, possibly Celestine V, holding a manuscript) and the two side panels depict pairs of full-length saints (James the Great and Paul on the left and Andrew and John the Evangelist on the right). Three saints hold large leather-bound books decorated with gold-mounted semi-precious stones. The sole surviving predella panel on the back shows three half-length saints. The panels were originally set in a much more elaborate frame. (According to the model depicted in the back centre panel, the gables, spires and pinnacles had crockets with a leaf motif.)
The altarpiece was painted for the Old St Peter’s. Its original location in the basilica is uncertain. The traditional assumption is that it stood over the high altar, but a recent theory places it over a side altar in the canons' choir. Cardinal Stefaneschi’s obituary of 1342 states that the altarpiece was commissioned from Giotto. Ghiberti confirms the attribution, and a sixteenth-century historian (Giacomo Grimaldi) states that the frame of the altarpiece was signed and dated 1320. However, modern critics have often ascribed the execution to an assistant or associate of Giotto (the ‘Stefaneschi Master’ or ‘Parente di Giotto). On grounds of style, the altarpiece has been variously dated as early as the 1290s and as late as the 1330s. Some recent opinion favours the early 1310s, when there is documentary evidence that Giotto was probably in Rome. (A notarial document, drawn up in Florence on 8 December 1313, refers to the appointment of an agent in Rome to recover property that Giotto had left there.)
By 1500, the polyptych had been moved to the sacristy, where Vasari described it in 1568. It appears to have been still intact in 1601, but by 1618 it had been broken up. In 1784, the seven surviving panels were moved to the new Chapter Hall of the basilica. They remained there until 1931, when they were restored, reassembled as a polyptych and transferred to the Vatican Pinacoteca.
Rome. San Giovanni in Laterano.
Boniface VIII Proclaiming the Jubilee. Fresco, 110 x 110.
A damaged and restored fragment of a fresco from the exterior loggia of the old basilica, now framed and glazed and exhibited on a pillar on the right of the nave. It shows the Pope, standing on a balcony between two attendants, reading the bull proclaiming the Jubilee of 1300. The fresco is not documented and Ghiberti and Vasari both fail to mention it. The fragment was saved when the loggia was demolished in 1586 to make way for the new Latern Palace. The Pope is portrayed very much in the attitude of Arnolfo di Cambio’s portrait bust in the Vatican Grottoes. There is a watercolour copy of the whole fresco in the Biblioteca Ambrosiana, Milan.
Rome. Saint Peter’s.
*Navicella. Mosaic over the central portral.
According to the Necrologium in the Vatican archives, the mosaic was executed by Giotto for Cardinal Giacomo Gaetano Stefaneschi in 1298. However, the date is much debated, and some modern scholars believe that the mosaic was executed in about 1313 (when Giotto’s recent presence in Rome is suggested by his dispatch of an agent to retrieve property from his landlady there). The mosaic represents Christ walking on the water and saving Peter from drowning, with the ship of the Apostles in the background. The head and shoulders of Cardinal Stefaneschi in prayer appear in the right-hand corner. The mosaic originally stood above the entrance to the atrium of the old basilica. It was moved several times. Under Clement X (1670-76), it was reset and restored by Orazio Manetti, and transferred to its present position over the central entrance. It had to be cut down considerably to fit the arch. (The original mosaic was some 10 metres high by 16 metres wide.) Two fragments of angel’s heads have survived from the original; one (very damaged) is in the Vatican Grottoes and the other (better preserved) is in the church of San Pietro Ispano at Boville Ernica (Frosinone). A pen-and-ink sketch, once owned by Vasari and now preserved in the Metropolitan Museum, New York, was made when the mosaic was still in its original position. Once believed to be Giotto’s original drawing for the mosaic, it is now ascribed to the early fifteenth-century artist Parri Spinelli.
Vatican Grottoes (Chapel of Madonna of Partorienti) . Angel. Mosaic, 60 in dia.
This bust of an angel in a roundel is a fragment of the original Navicella, the mosaic designed by Giotto for the atrium of the Old St Peter’s. It was discovered in 1911 under an eighteenth-century copy. It has been heavily restored. A similar Angel in the church of San Pietro Ispano at Boville Ernica is better preserved.
According to Ghiberti and Vasari, Giotto also produced other works for the Old St Peter's, including an altarpiece (the Stefaneschi Triptych, now in the Vatican Pinacoteca) and a fresco cycle in the choir. A detached fresco in a private collection has been claimed to be the sole surviving fragment from the fresco cycle, which represented five scenes from the Life of Christ. The fresco – representing two small bust-length figures of saints or apostles – was exhibited in public for the first time in 2015, when it was included in the Giotto, I'Italia exhibition at Milan.
San Diego (California). Gallery of Fine Arts.
God the Father and Angels. Wood, 83 x 79.
This damaged triangular panel was attributed to Giotto by Bernard Berenson in 1932, when it was in the collection of Arthur Berenson in New York. It was identified in 1957 by Federico Zeri as the central pinnacle of the Baroncelli Altarpiece in Santa Croce, Florence. It was removed in the late fifteenth century when the picture was reframed, and little is known of its subsequent history. The altarpiece is signed by Giotto but often regarded as a product of his workshop. The pinnacle was displayed alongside the altarpiece in the exhibition, Giotto L'Italia, held at the Palazzo Reale, Milan, in 2015-16.
Siena. Museo dell'Opera del Duomo.
Drawing of a Campanile. Parchment, 222 x 32.
This beautiful and very large drawing was discovered in the nineteenth century and identified as Giotto's original design for the Florentine Campanile, begun under his supervision in 1334. The lowest storey of the Campanile, as built, corresponds closely with the drawing, but the upper stories are quite different, and the Campanile lacks the tall Gothic spire which is such a prominent feature in the drawing. In order to account for the differences between the drawing and the Campanile, it was supposed that only the first storey had been built when Giotto died in 1334, and his successors – first Andrea Pisano and then Francesco Talenti – radically altered his design. An alternative theory was advanced in 1968 by Degenhart and Schmidt in their monumental Corpus of early Italian drawings. The attribution to Giotto was rejected, and the draughtsman was identified as a Sienese architect (Lando di Pietro?) who had taken the base of the Florentine Campanile as the point of departure for the design for a new bell-tower for Siena Cathedral. This theory has won substantial critical support – but the drawing is still sometimes reproduced as Giotto's Campanile design.
Strasbourg. Musée des Beaux-Arts.
Crucifixion. Wood, 45 x 33.
This small panel is thought to have formed one half of a diptych. The other half has been identified (by Roberto Longhi in 1952) as a Madonna with the Baptist and St Francis, Angels and Allegories of the Virtues in a private American collection. (The two panels were brought together in 2000 for the Giotto exhibition at the Accademia, Florence.) While there have been attributions to Giotto himself, the panel is more often ascribed to his workshop. It is often thought to have been executed by the same hand as a similar Crucifixion at Berlin. Acquired by Bode from the Pre-Raphaelite painter and dealer Charles Fairfax-Murray in London in 1890.
Troyes (northern France). Musée d'Art.
Crucifixion. Wood, 31 x 23.
This little known panel, attributed to Giotto's late workshop, was included in the exhibition Giotto e Compagni held at the Louvre in 2013. It is rather damaged and the flying angels, catching blood from Christ's wounds, are largely effaced. There are other small Crucifixions attributed to Giotto and/or his workshop at Berlin, Munich and Strasbourg. While there are common features, the panels differ in size and none is a replica of any of the others. Acquired in 1908 from the collection of the local poet Albert Mérat.
Venice. Fondazione Cini.
Two Saints. Wood, 43 x 32.
The two standing figures have no distinguishing attributes but are likely to represent apostles – perhaps Thomas and Matthew or Jude and Simon the Zealot. The small panel was possibly a fragment of a composition (predella?) representing all twelve apostles. It was acquired by Vittorio Cini, possibly from a Florentine dealer, in the early 1960s. It came to general notice only in 2008, when it was exhibited at the Uffizi (L'Eredita di Giotto) as a product of Giotto's late workshop.
Washington. National Gallery.
*Virgin and Child. Wood, 86 x 62.
The Christ Child, seated in the crook of his mother's arm and clutching the index finger of her supporting hand, playfully reaches out to touch the white rose she is holding. The middle panel of an altarpiece (probably a pentaptych or heptaptych). Three side panels have been identified: the St Stephen in the Horne Museum, Florence, and the St John the Evangelist and the St Lawrence in Chaalis (Senlis). At least one panel is presumably lost. The altarpiece is now usually agreed to be at least partly by Giotto, and has been dated around 1315-30. It is possibly one of four altarpieces by Giotto mentioned by Ghiberti in the church of Santa Croce at Florence. (The Pulci-Beraldi Chapel, in the left transept, is dedicated to St Lawrence and St Stephen.) The Virgin and Child is first recorded only around the time of the First World War, when it was in the Paris collection of Edouard-Alexandre Max. (Max, a film actor in France, claimed that the Pope had given it to his great aunt.) It was acquired in 1920 by Henry Goldman of New York (from Duveen) and in 1937 by Samuel H. Kress (also from Duveen). There were formerly attributions to Bernardo Daddi and to Taddeo Gaddi.