BASILICA OF SAN FRANCESCO, Upper Basilica Giotto 2

Audio File length: 2.24
English / USA Language: English / USA

In the fresco of the “Nativity scene at Greccio”, Giotto offers us a glimpse of how a medieval church was furnished, taking us beyond the barrier separating the part of the church open to everyone to the part reserved for the clergy. At the top on the left, we can see the pulpit, and the back of a large crucifix on the wall, facing the nave, with wooden battens to strengthen it. A bit lower, we can see a large lectern, where Giotto attempted to give depth to the space and volume to the object by depicting them in perspective. Resting on the lectern is a choir book, with the music the friars sang together, as you can see from the four shown with their mouths wide open. In the foreground, we can see Francis inaugurating the first nativity scene, before the dignitaries and the clergy. What you can see here is one of the new techniques introduced by Giotto: the construction of space, volumes and figures, which appear more natural and authentic than anyone had managed to achieve before him.


The stories continue on the inside of the church, with the “Miracle of the Spring”. Note how the painting is constructed by Giotto: on the left, the vertical lines of the mountain in the shadows, while on the right, where the miracle occurs, the eye appears to follow the figures towards the top, from the man lying down to Saint Francis, then up to the luminous peak of the mountain. Also worth noting is the donkey with the two friars: a detail so authentic that it relegated Cimabue’s work to the past.


Now take a look at the “Sermon to the Birds”: unfortunately, although Giotto was well acquainted with the fresco technique, he often completed the works when the plaster was dry, and in many parts, the color has come off. The key element in the work, however, is still clear: the new sentiment towards nature, the air, the landscape and the animals, which Francis was one of the first to praise.


An interesting fact: Giotto was a wealthy artisan, and like all the upper-middle classes of his time, he was well aware of the value of money. He took great care of his interests, investing his earnings in land and property. He went further than this, however, hiring out frames to poor weavers who could not afford to buy such a costly instrument. It seems, in fact, that he even applied usury rates of interest.

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