Giotto di Bondone

Frescoes of the Upper Church at Assisi

Legend of Saint Francis
        The Expulsion of the Demons from Arezzo

The Madonna of San Giorgio alla Costa

The Crucifix in Santa Maria Novella

The Scrovegni Chapel

       Scenes from the Life of Christ

       Resurrection (Noli me tangere)

       Last Judgment

Ognissanti Madonna

Peruzzi and Bardi Chapels at Santa Croce

       Frescoes in the Bardi Chapel

       Frescoes in the Peruzzi Chapel

Giorgio Vasari's Lives of the Artists | Giotto di Bondone



Giotto di Bondone, Crucifix (detail), about 1290-1300, gold and tempera on panel, 578 x 406 cm, Firenze, Santa Maria Novella


The Crucifix by Giotto


At the center of the nave, high above the steps that separate the lower from the upper church, is the magnificent crucifix by Giotto, who, probably painted it between 1288 and 1289.[1]

Far from Santa Maria Novella for over twenty years, it was masterfully restored in 2000 and came back to the church where, except for the relatively short period of its stay in the sacristy, it had always been, albeit in different locations. Originally above the high altar or, more likely looking out over the faithful, on the “bridge” demolished by Vasari – more or less at the place and height where it is today – in the first half of the 16th century it was moved to the inner facade, above the central portal where it remained until 1937 supported by stone foundations made during the 19th century restoration and still visible.[2]


The crucifix, which is nineteen feet high, is part of a choir screen. It has the same shape as the famous San Damiano crucifix, which was supposed to have spoken to St. Francis of Assisi. The figure of the dead Christ bears a strong resemblance to the depiction in the Arena Chapel in Padua, as well as the Rimini Crucifix. At the end of each arm of the cross are square panels depicting the Virgin and St. John, each of whom looks inward at the figure of Christ. There is evidence that the crucifix was attributed to Giotto even in his own time; the will of a Florentine nobleman, Ricuccio Pucci (drawn up in 1312) requests that funds be delegated for a lamp to burn perpetually before a crucifix " the illustrious painter, Giotto" in the chapel of Santa Maria Novella.

The Crucifix was inspired by the School of Franciscan spirituality of Christus patiens which highlights the theme of love rather than glory hence its colors are black, white and red, representing respectively death, pure innocence, blood and, consequently, the Passion. The image shows Christ's body caught at the moment of the ebbing away of life symbolized by the blood flowing from his limbs, and of the personal matter of the soul exalted by divine incarnation and, therefore, ready for the Resurrection.

Here, the extraordinary beauty lies in the realism of the figure, which no longer fits the idealized form of Byzantine art, but is a truer reflection of reality.

In Florence, there are two crucifixes by Giotto. The first one is in the church of Santa Maria Novella, the second one in the Ognissanti church.

The Ognissanti Crucifix was a neglected Italian treasure which a team of experts have now repaired and identified. After long being attributed to a relative or school of the early Renaissance artist Giotto, the Ognissanti crucifix is now believed to be the work of the 14th-century Italian himself. The painted cross, which hangs in the Ognissanti church in Florence, underwent extensive cleaning by the local restoration lab Opificio delle Pietre Dure. The project was led by art historian Marco Ciatti, who has concluded that the crucifix is a Giotto masterpiece dating from the 1320s.


Giotto di Bondone, Crucifix Firenze,
Santa Maria Novella

Also this work was carried out according to the criteria canons of Florentine painting of the time: the wooden board is made of solid poplar, on it there are different layers: linen cloth, plaster and glue, then there are layers of egg tempera painting and gilding for the decoration effect. Finally something typical of Giotto, the inclusion of decorative glass in the halo of Christ - found as well in the Crucifix of Santa Maria Novella.

Giotto shows the human body of Jesus. Through subtle, delicate and velvety brush strokes he describes the man, his suffering: the skin is thin and shows the structure of his chest and of his muscles, look at the weight of the body that is abandoning itself in death. He tells about a human body that is won by pain, ages away from the sacred and idealized figures that were the fashion of that time.

Giotto represents for the first time the truth of suffering and the drama of the moment.
His characters are humanized: Christ has died (note the pallor of the flesh), the Madonna show his face ravaged by pain as well as that of the young St. John.

The restoration of Giotto's Ognissanti Crucifix was started by Paola Bracco in 2002. The majestic tempera on panel realised by Giotto and his workshop around 1310-1320 had been sadly neglected for centuries. Kept in the sacristy of the church of Ognissanti, it was rarely seen and the vigorous modelling of the flesh tones of the figures, and the many precious details of the pictorial surface, were hidden by a severely altered layer due to a treatment of the past and century-old grime.

Formerly in the sacristy for 84 years, this monumental work is now back in the Florentine church, the Chiesa di Ognissanti, for which it was painted in 1310-1315, after a careful 8-year long restoration.
In the Crucifix (painted in egg tempera), Christ is represented as Christus patiens, suffering, about to expire. The tension in the muscles of the arms is treated with delicacy, but the ashen colour is so imprinted in the flesh that it is a "true body", of a sculptural consistency that suggests it was modelled from life. The tips of the fingers are of "purest white", and the lips flushed. The body hangs on a more intimate Cross, the 'heart' of the triumphant Cross painted with gilded bands; at its centre an overflowing mosaic of starred crosses, squares and ellipses. The 'beams' of the Cross are painted in "bright, but deep and intense blue," the precious lapis lazuli inlaid with greater or lesser amounts of lead white, as in the sloping pedestal to which Christ's feet are pinned (by a single nail). The blue is crossed by thin red lines, cinnabar blood with more purplish glazes. On the forehead are a few drops of "pure red lacquer."

Art in Tuscany | The return of Giotto's Crucifix

Source: Opera per Santa Maria Novella |Piazza S. Maria Novella 18 - 50123 Firenze
Santa Maria Novella | Opera per Santa Maria Novella | Guide to all the works of art
The Crucifix painted by Giotto, the wooden Crucifix sculpted by Brunelleschi and Masaccio’s Holy Trinity would suffice in themselves to establish the glory of the Church of Santa Maria Novella, and bear witness to the highest values of Western Christian civilization. However, the reality is somewhat otherwise since the church boasts many other works of art both in painting and sculpture and architecture, as evidenced by the beautiful facade designed by Leon Battista Alberti.
It is impossible to confine the breadth of works of art in this wonderful building within a specified art-historical period. Here the sense and weight of art constitute an extraordinary anthology, a wonderful overview not merely artistic, but also theological and philosophical, over the course of almost six centuries since its beginning. It is a story that was, and still remains, especially rich in facts, ideas and content, the receipt of which well-educated and well-prepared visitors are able to identify with a keen critical sense and with subtle intuition the charm and value of what was achieved here.
Santa Maria Novella | Interactive map

Art in Tuscany | The church of Santa Maria Novella

Marco Ciatti, Max Seidel, Giotto: The Crucifix in Santa Maria Novella, Deutscher Kunstverlag (April 1, 2005)

[1] The authorship of a large number of panel paintings ascribed to Giotto by Vasari, among others, is as broadly disputed as the Assisi frescoes. According to Vasari, Giotto's earliest works were for the Dominicans at Santa Maria Novella. These include a fresco of the Annunciation and the enormous suspended Crucifix, which is about 5 metres high. It has been dated around 1290 and is therefore contemporary with the Assisi frescoes.

Giotto di Bondone was a Florentine painter and architect. He was already recognized by Dante as the leading artist of his day. His significance to the Renaissance can be gauged from the fact that not only the leaders in the early 15th-century transformation of the arts, such as Masaccio, but the key figures of the High Renaissance, such as Raphael and Michelangelo - one of whose early studies of Giotto's frescoes in the Peruzzi Chapel, Santa Croce, has survived - were still learning from him and partly founding their style on his example. The reasons for this are twofold. Firstly, his art is notable for its clear, grave, simple solutions to the basic problems of the representation of space and of the volume, structure, and solidity of 3-dimensional forms, and above all of the human figure. Secondly, he was a genius at getting to the heart of whatever episode from sacred history he was representing, at cutting it down to its essential, dramatic core, and at finding the compositional means to express its innermost spiritual meaning and its psychological effects in terms of simple areas of paint. His solutions to many of the problems of dramatic narrative were fundamental. They have subsequently been elaborated on in many ways, but they have never been surpassed.

Part of the secret of Giotto's success in the representation of the fundamentals of human form and human spiritual and psychological reaction to events was his close attention to, and deep understanding of, the achievements of the sculptors Nicola Pisano, Arnolfo di Cambio and, above all, Giovanni Pisano, who were tackling the same basic representational problems in a naturally 3-dimensional medium. The essential unity of the arts in Giotto's day is even more dramatically illustrated by the fact that in the last years of his life he was assigned the major architectural commission in Florence, namely the building of the Campanile ('Giotto's Tower') of the cathedral (1344). The fact that it would almost certainly have fallen down if his successor, Andrea Pisano, had not immediately doubled the thickness of the walls is, in its way, no less informative of the nature of late medieval attitudes and of the triumphs and disasters that attended them.

There can be no doubt whatsoever about Giotto's artistic stature and historical importance. Indeed, he so dominated the Florentine Trecento through his collaborators and followers, from Taddeo Gaddi onwards, that there was until relatively recently a thoroughly misleading tendency to lump together almost every artist in sight under the somewhat derogatory title of 'Giotteschi'. On the other hand, almost everything else about Giotto's career is problematic. His cut down mosaic of the Navicella (c. 1300) in Rome, which was for his contemporaries by far his most important work, is now a ghostly echo of its former self. His signed altarpieces, the Stigmatization of St Francis (Paris, Louvre), the Baroncelli Altarpiece (Florence, Santa Croce) and the polyptych of the Madonna and Saints (Bologna, Pinacoteca Nazionale), seem to be very largely shop work protected by his signature. However, the Ognissanti Madonna (Florence, Uffizi) is universally accepted as his although it is neither signed nor documented. Other works with a good claim to be considered as his include the Dormition of the Virgin (Berlin) and a Crucifix in Santa Maria Novella, Florence.

The frescoes in the Arena Chapel, Padua (c. 1304-13), depict scenes from the lives of St Joachim and St Anne and the Virgin, and from the Life and Passion of Christ. These frescoes, the masterpiece on which the whole modern concept of his style is based, are unsigned and undocumented, as are those in the Bardi and Peruzzi Chapels (Life of St Francis and Lives of Sts John Baptist and Evangelist) in Santa Croce, which are generally accepted as the only reasonable foundation for an idea of his stylistic evolution during his maturity.

All this, however, is as nothing to the endless controversy which surrounds his date of birth and the attribution to him of the frescoes of the Life of St Francis, painted, probably in the mid-1290s, on the lower walls of the Upper Church of San Francesco at Assisi. For virtually all Italian scholars they constitute the early work of Giotto. For the majority of non-Italian specialists on the subject they do not, and a daunting proportion of the almost 2000 major items in the ever more rapidly accumulating Giotto bibliography is largely devoted to fanning the flames. Fortunately, perhaps, for the sanity of the earnest and discriminating inquirer only a handful of these outpourings can be said to clarify the issue in any substantial way. What should at least be obvious by now is that the frescoes at Assisi are, in detail and as an entire, coherent, carefully planned scheme, like the Arena Chapel frescoes, amongst the seminal achievements in the history of Italian late medieval painting. They stand at the dawning of a new age and their appeal as works of art is not one whit diminished if, as may well be the case, they are not in fact by Giotto.
[2] 'After a long period of restoration carried out by the Opifico delle Pietre Dure, Giotto’s Crucifix has been returned to the central nave of the Santa Maria Novella church. It has been verified that the cross was made originally for the Dominican church. For centuries, it was positioned in the counter façade and thus less visible to both art experts and the parishioners. Only thanks to a large exhibition on Giotto in 1937 did the Crucifix attract the attention it deserved from the art world. However, almost immediately, art critics formed two separate currents of thought on attribution of the cross: Robert Oertel and others claimed it was the work of Giotto, while Richard Offner and others attributed the masterwork to an “unknown maestro”. Offner had also failed to attribute the frescos in the Superior Basilica in Assisi to Giotto.
In the decades that followed, the first hypothesis would be deemed correct — that the Santa Maria Novella Crucifix was indeed Giotto’s. Studies on the crucifix that were carried out during its restoration would confirm this. In fact, the work is characteristic of Giotto’s style: the concreteness of the figures, particularly that of Christ, who seems ‘weighed down’ by death, his muscles tense and stomach sagging. By comparing this work with the artist’s other paintings, and especially his other crucifixes, scholars suspect Giotto may have painted the Santa Maria Novella crucifix in his early years. On the other hand, the iconography is perhaps the most interesting aspect of this artwork. With this cross, Giotto modified the 13th-century model of the Dying Christ on the Cross, exemplified in the artworks of Cimabue and Giunta Pisano. In the works of his predecessors, the bi-dimensional figure of Christ is much more slumped on the cross and the two nails at Christ’s feet are different. Giotto changed this model, after he saw the change in sculptures by Nicola and Giovanni Pisano. In Giotto’s new model of the Dying Christ, he overlapped Christ’s feet, making this the point in which Christ’s physical and moral sufferance converges. He also included the trilingual inscription (in Greek, Hebrew and Latin) at the top of the cross. On the extremes of the arms of the cross, he painted the Virgin Mary and Saint John. At Christ’s feet, there is the image of Calvary hill and the skull of Adam.'
Giotto, Crucifix in Santa Maria Novella |

This article incorporates material from the Wikipedia article Giotto di Bondone published under the GNU Free Documentation License.
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The Museum of Santa Maria Novella

The first of the great Florentine basilicas and the first large-scale Gothic building in the city, the Dominicans began constructing Santa Maria Novella soon after 1240. It was finished in 1357 but was not consecrated until 1420. In the following centuries it underwent various modifications, in particular the remodelling begun by Giorgio Vasari in 1566 and the 19th-century interventions designed to restore the Gothic appearance of the building. There are a number of important artworks in the church: Giotto’s Crucifix and a wooden Crucifix by Filippo Brunelleschi, Masaccio’s fresco of the Trinity and two chapels frescoed respectively by Domenico Ghirlandaio and Filippino Lippi. The rich polychrome-marble façade was completed in the second half of the 15th century by Leon Battista Alberti.

Museum and Cloister at Santa Maria Novella
Piazza Santa Maria Novella

Opening Hours:
Weekdays: 9-17; Holidays: 9-14; Closed: Fridays, Sundays. The ticket offices close 30 minutes before the museum closing time, 1 hour before at Palazzo Vecchio. Yearly closing day: Jan 1st, Easter, May 1st, Aug 15th, Dec 25th

Chiesa di Ognissanti

Address: Firenze, Borgo Ognissanti, 42

Opening times: 7.45-12.00 / 16.45-18.30 (Mon – Sat) 7.45-12.00 / 16.45-19.30 (Sun)
During mass it is not possible to visit the Church and masses are normally at 11,00 am and 6 pm