Giotto and the Arena Chapel
The rest of the small, bare church is covered with frescoes in three tiers representing scenes from the lives of Joachim and Anna, the life of the Virgin, the Annunciation (on the chancel arch), and the life and Passion of Christ, concluding with Pentecost. Below these three narrative bands is a fourth containing monochrome personifications of the Virtues and Vices. The chapel was apparently founded in 1303 and consecrated on March 25, 1305. It is known that the frescoes were completed in or before 1309, and they are generally dated c. 1305-06, but even with several assistants it must have taken at least two years to complete so large a cycle.
|Form: The frescos are executed in a combination of buon fresco and fresco secco. According to Webster's Dictionary, fresco is "the art of painting on freshly spread moist lime plaster with water-based pigments." |
Fresco is a term that literally means "fresh." There are two kinds, buon fresco and fresco secco. This painting painting is made by coating a wall with plaster and while the wall is still damp, ground up pigments are mixed with water and lime and painted on the wall. The paint soaks in and literally stains the wall up to a half an inch and becomes permanent. This is called buon fresco (good fresh). Details with more expensive colors (such as blue made from lapis lazuli) are added with tempera paint (egg yolks and glue) when the fresco is dry. This is called secco fresco (dry fresh).
This technique was first developed in Rome and you can still see some really good examples of early fresco dating from 79 CE in Pompeii.
The arrangement of the frescoes in the Arena Chapel actually adds to the frescoes meanings. In order to better understand the frescoes art historians use a the same theory that literary analysts do to study the interrelationship of the stories or narratives. This kind of analysis is called a semiotic or structural analysis. By looking at this wall as a whole, and interpreting the relationship of panel image to the others, it is possible to come up with a deeper understanding of the set of frescoes as a whole.
For example, the top set of images represents scenes from the life of Joachim, Mary's father. This top set of scenes acts as a kind of thematic framework in which to view the life of Jesus which is set in the central section, beneath these stories, acting almost like a foundation or the caryatids from the Acropolis are the seven virtues and vices. See the diagram below.
|Scenes from the Life of Joachim |
1. Expulsion of Joachim from the Temple
2. Joachim among the Shepherds
3. Annunciation to St. Anne
4. Joachim's Sacrificial Offering
5. Joachim's Dream
6. Meeting at the Golden Gate
Scenes from the Life of the Virgin
7. The Birth of the Virgin
8. Presentation of the Virgin in the Temple
9. The Rods Brought to the Temple
10. Prayer of the Suitors
11. Marriage of the Virgin
12. The Wedding Procession
13. God Sends Gabriel to the Virgin
14. Annunciation: The Angel Gabriel Sent by God
15. Annunciation: The Virgin Receiving the Message
Scenes From the Life of Christ
17. Nativity: Birth of Jesus
18. Adoration of the Magi
19. Presentation at the Temple
20. Flight into Egypt
21. Massacre of the Innocents
22. Christ among the Doctors
23. Baptism of Christ
24. Marriage at Cana
25. Raising of Lazarus
26. Entry into Jerusalem
27. Expulsion of the Money-changers from the Temple
28. Judas Receiving Payment for his Betrayal
29. Last Supper
30. Washing of Feet
31. Kiss of Judas
32. Christ before Caiaphas
34. Road to Calvary
36. Lamentation (The Mourning of Christ)
37. Resurrection (Noli me tangere)
|Virtues and Vices |
Justice and Injustice
Form: This is a monochromatic fresco. It resembles a marble relief sculpture. Giotto's genius is also seen in his perspective and visual depth. Light and shadow of the gown she wears resembles the type of gown a Roman woman would wear. Perhaps this is an allusion to Roman art and law. The personification of Justice (as well as Injustice) is slightly larger than the rest of the vices and virtues.
Giotto uses chiaroscuro (the play of light and shadow or shading) to create realism in this work. The drapery is no longer rendered in the cartoonish or awkward manner of earlier paintings and the light source seems consistent across the entire picture plane.
Iconography: The pointed domes surrounding her throne resemble the arches of a gothic cathedral. Though wearing a crown that is a symbol of royalty, this religious backdrop would indicate that she is Godly. Some people also believe that this is Mary. The procession of people at the bottom of this image shows people living prosperous lives. They are dancing, tending their animals and conversing amongst themselves. The lesson being subtly portrayed would be that if one lives a moral life, he will enjoy happiness and prosperity.
Context: Literacy of the Middle Ages was very low. Only the clergy could read the scriptures. Therefore, the paintings inside the temples during this period were for didactic purposes. They were meant to tell a story. In the Arena Chapel the stories are of Jesus’ parents, His life, and then running around the bottom of the church (at eye level) are the Virtues and Vices so that all could see them. Virtues consisted of: Justice (above) prudence, fortitude, temperance, faith, charity, and hope.
by Annette Abbotte
|Form: Marble during this period was very expensive, so to cut down on costs, Giotto painted the virtues and vices in a way that made them look like marble. It is also a monochromatic fresco. Though he sits quite close to the fore of the picture plane, Giotto's use of light, shadow and perspective make this ruler appear to be receding beneath the arches of his throne.|
Iconography: The crumbling castle that serves as a backdrop to this ruler’s throne would suggest that he is a tyrant. He rules his kingdom with a sword. There are trees growing up in front of him. They symbolize the idiomatic expression of one not being able to “see the forest for the trees” – not that this is of any value because, with his head tilted away from the viewer, it appears as if he does not wish to see them at all. The procession of people running along the bottom of this painting indicates these people live in a place of unrest - perhaps a civilization in decline. We see them pillaging, stealing and fighting amongst each other.
Context: The seven vices are personified on one side of the temple facing the virtues. The vices are: Injustice, desperation, envy, infidelity, wrath, inconstancy and foolishness.
Semiotic or structural analysis: The seven vices and virtues are positioned around lowest part of the cathedral. They are intentionally at eye level so that every man who enters the temple can look at and be reminded of the constant and equal struggle of these characteristics in everyone. Justice and Injustice both occupy a central position on the dado. The inside of the Arena Chapel is a didactic text. The higher the eye rises when viewing these frescos, the loftier are the images or stories being portrayed. We can look up to see Christ's parents and his life, but then when we look at the images on the bottom – the ones nearest to ourselves, we see our own souls. The Virtues are on the right side of the chapel. The right in such paintings always represents good (“right hand of God”) or Godliness. The Vices are located along the left side.
by Annette Abbotte
Take a virtual tour of the Arena chapel here:
St. Lazare, Autun Cathedral, France
West Portal, sculpted by Gislebertus c1130CE
|Form: Compare this image to Gislebertus' carving at Autun Cathedral. The composition is symmetrical and organized using hieratic scale. The picture plane is also organized according to horizontal bands but in this image, unlike its Romanesque predecessor, there is overlapping and some sense of space created. The structure of the composition is still standard according to depictions of a "Last Judgment." |
According to the Brittanica,
Typically, the figure of Christ appears in the centre of the composition, dominant in size and usually enclosed in a mandorla (an oval, nimbus-like form). At his right and left are the four Evangelists, sometimes represented or accompanied by their animal symbols. To the sides, smaller figures of angels and demons weigh sins of the resurrected dead, who are ranked along the lowest and smallest section of the tympanum, directly above the lintel.
Iconography: What makes St. Lazare an interesting example of Romanesque architecture and art is the fact that the west portal, which depicts a "sermon in stone," was originally painted. It is exceedingly well organized and stylized. This means that the figures represented in the relief sculpture are non naturalistic, this is akin to what one would see in Byzantine art. The figures relative size is based not on reality, but on their spiritual importance.
Jesus, as the central figure is shown impossibly huge the figures around him are depicting judgment, heaven and hell, and good and evil. The organization of the composition is designed so that all of the other figures relate in some way to the central figure of Jesus. Figures who are to the right of Christ are literally on his good side while the figures to his left are not. Likewise there is a hierarchy according to placement in the three bands. The correlation between left and right (good and evil) does not exist in the topmost band. Anything placed in the uppermost register of the composition is "good" or heavenly.
According to the Brittanica,
Christianity, further developing the concept of the Last Judgment, teaches that it will occur at the Parousia (the Second Coming, or Second Advent, of Christ in glory), when all men will stand before a judging God. In early Christian art the scene is one of Christ the judge, the resurrection of the dead, the weighing of souls, the separation of the saved and the damned, and representations of paradise and hell. Romanesque artists produced a more terrible vision of the Last Judgment: Christ is shown as a stern judge, sometimes carrying a sword and surrounded by the four mystical beasts--eagle, lion, ox, and winged man--of the apocalypse; the contrast between paradise and hell is between the awesome and the ferocious. In the gentler, more humanistic art of the Gothic period, a beautiful Christ is shown as the Redeemer, his right side undraped to reveal the wound of the lance, and both wounded hands raised high in a gesture that emphasizes his sacrifice. He is surrounded by the instruments of his Passion--cross, nails, lance, and crown of thorns. The intercessors are restored, and the scene of the Judgment is treated with optimism. In the 16th century, Michelangelo produced a radically different version of the Last Judgment in his fresco in the Sistine Chapel in Rome (1533-41): a vengeful Christ, nude like a pagan god, gestures menacingly toward the damned.
|The iconography of this "Last Judgment" does change a bit also by the inclusion of the patron of the image just to the left of center (Christ's right.) The inclusion of a patron or donor to the chapel actually is very significant, it tells us that there is a new class of people on the scene and that they consider themselves important. It also indicates some ideas concerning the sale of indulgences and usury that are later on considered suspicious during the 1500's. See professor Farber's page for a more complete discussion. Dr. Farber's Lecture on the Arena Chapel |
Below the cross, on the left, is the dedicatory scene, in which Enrico Scrovegni kneels before the Virgin and two saints, offering a model of the Arena Chapel upheld by an Augustinian friar. The portrait of Scrovegni, who is shown in sharp profile, is a faithful representation of the youthful features of the same man shown in old age on his marble tomb in the same chapel. His clothing and hair style reflect the fashions of the day, and provide valuable information on contemporary costume. The figure of Scrovegni is on the same scale as the sacred figures he is addressing - it was evidently enough to show him kneeling before these figures to indicate his 'inferior' status.
Context: According to Professor Farber,
In 1300, the wealthy Paduan merchant Enrico Scrovegni bought a piece of land on the site of a former Roman arena. Included in the palace that he built on the site was a chapel dedicated to the Virgin of the Annunciation, Santa Maria Annunziata, and the Virgin of Charity, Santa Maria del Carità. Enrico is shown in the fresco of the Last Judgment presenting a model of the chapel to the Virgin:
|Form: This is a detail of the lower right hand corner (to Christ's left) of the Last Judgment. In this section the coloring shifts radically with its flames and lava. The figure of the devil is placed in the center of the sub region of hell. |
The damned, who are shown in the lower right hand corner, fall into a hell dominated by the figure of Satan. This hell teems with hopeless diminutive figures being subjected to a variety of comically indecent humiliations and torments by apish devils. It is a far cry from Dante's tragic vision of hell and recalls only a few verses of the Inferno about the area of hell known as the Malebolge. Almost all these figures can be attributed to Giotto's assistants, though here, too, the guiding hand of the master can be perceived in the rich play of imagination which characterizes the whole, and in the execution of certain parts, which suggest his direct intervention. This is true of the wonderfully immediate episode that takes place on the brink of hell, below the cross, where two devils conduct a struggling man back to the damned, tugging him by his clothes, which are being pulled over his head to reveal his disproportionate genitals.
According to Dr. Farber, In hell . . .
the theme of usury is also developed in the adjacent image of Christ expelling the merchants from the Temple and the detail of usurers hanging from the their money bags in the Hell scene included in the Last Judgment:
Giotto's walls and paintings are done in fresco, According to the Brittanica,
Fresco is a method of painting water-based pigments on freshly applied plaster, usually on wall surfaces. The colours, which are made by grinding dry-powder pigments in pure water, dry and set with the plaster to become a permanent part of the wall. Fresco painting is ideal for making murals because it lends itself to a monumental style, is durable, and has a matte surface.
Buon', or "true," fresco is the most durable technique and consists of the following process. Three successive coats of specially prepared plaster, sand, and sometimes marble dust are troweled onto a wall. Each of the first two rough coats is applied and then allowed to set (dry and harden). In the meantime, the artist, who has made a full-scale cartoon (preparatory drawing) of the image that he intends to paint, transfers the outlines of the design onto the wall from a tracing made of the cartoon. The final, smooth coat (intonaco) of plaster is then troweled onto as much of the wall as can be painted in one session. The boundaries of this area are confined carefully along contour lines, so that the edges, or joints, of each successive section of fresh plastering are imperceptible. The tracing is then held against the fresh intonaco and lined up carefully with the adjacent sections of painted wall, and its pertinent contours and interior lines are traced onto the fresh plaster; this faint but accurate drawing serves as a guide for painting the image in colour.
A correctly prepared intonaco will hold its moisture for many hours. When the painter dilutes his colours with water and applies them with brushstrokes to the plaster, the colours are imbibed into the surface, and as the wall dries and sets, the pigment particles become bound or cemented along with the lime and sand particles. This gives the colours great permanence and resistance to aging, since they are an integral part of the wall surface, rather than a superimposed layer of paint on it. The medium of fresco makes great demands on a painter's technical skill, since he must work fast (while the plaster is wet) but cannot correct mistakes by overpainting; this must be done on a fresh coat of plaster or by using the secco method.
Secco ("dry") fresco is a somewhat superficial process that dispenses with the complex preparation of the wall with wet plaster. Instead, dry, finished walls are soaked with limewater and painted while wet. The colours do not penetrate into the plaster but form a surface film, like any other paint. Secco has always held an inferior position to true fresco, but it is useful for retouching the latter.
The origins of fresco painting are unknown, but it was used as early as the Minoan civilization (at Knossos on Crete) and by the ancient Romans (at Pompeii). The Italian Renaissance was the great period of fresco painting, as seen in the works of Cimabue, Giotto, Masaccio, Fra Angelico, Correggio, and many other painters from the late 13th to the mid-16th century. Michelangelo's paintings in the Sistine Chapel and Raphael's Stanza murals in the Vatican are the most famous of all frescoes. By the mid-16th century, however, the use of fresco had largely been supplanted by oil painting. The technique was briefly revived by Diego Rivera and other Mexican Muralists in the first half of the 20th century.
Christ Entering Jerusalem
Duccio di Buoninsegna, (Maestà)
detail Christ Entering Jerusalem
(Maestà, reverse of the top panel called "verso")
1308-11Tempera on wood
Museo dell'Opera del Duomo, Siena
|Form: Giotto is known for his ability to create a rational sense of space, even though he hasn't really formulated or learned the laws of perspective as they are known by 1400. |
He does use vertical perspective to create space initially. He places the figures that are closest to the viewer the lowest in the picture plane and those further back higher up but, he places the figures more on a horizontal and logical plane.
He also uses overlapping and a size scale difference between foreground and background. Some of the figures in the crowd overlap and hide the figure's behind them. The figures in the background are significantly smaller but the scale of the building is a bit illogical.
Compare this image to Duccio's rendition of the same image.
Giotto also uses chiaroscuro (the play of light and shadow or shading) to create realism in this work. According to the Brittanica, chiaroscuro (from Italian chiaro, "light"; scuro, "dark"), which is technique employed in the visual arts to represent light and shadow as they define three-dimensional objects. The drapery is no longer rendered in the cartoonish or awkward manner of earlier paintings and the light source seems consistent across the entire picture plane.
Context: In order to understand the iconography of this scene one needs to go to the Bible passage on which it is modeled first:
Matthew Chapter 21
Giotto, The Lamentation, c1305 Arena Chapel, Padua, Italy
¹la.ment vb [ME lementen, fr. MF & L; MF lamenter,
fr. L lamentari, fr. lamentum, n., lament] vi (15c): to mourn aloud:
wail ~ vt 1: to express sorrow, mourning, or regret for often
demonstratively: mourn 2: to regret strongly syn see deplore
²lament n (1591) 1: a crying out in grief: wailing 2: dirge, elegy
|Form: Giotto is known for his ability to create a rational sense of space, even though he hasn't really formulated or learned the laws of perspective as they are known by 1400. In this image, he does not really rely on vertical perspective to create space initially but rather he overlaps the figures. |
Giotto uses chiaroscuro (the play of light and shadow or shading) to create realism in this work. According to the Brittanica, chiaroscuro (from Italian chiaro, "light"; scuro, "dark"), which is technique employed in the visual arts to represent light and shadow as they define three-dimensional objects. The drapery is no longer rendered in the cartoonish or awkward manner of earlier paintings and the light source seems consistent across the entire picture plane.
The gesture and the creation of space are combined by Giotto in the figure of St. John (?) whose arms he shows as being thrown wide and in the attitudes and poses of the angels and the figures with their backs to the viewer. The torsos of both the angels who fly above and the figures in the foreground are foreshortened. Foreshortening, is when something like an arm, or a finger or even the trunk of the bodies of the angels project forward into the viewer's face. As things move towards the front (the fore ground) of the picture plane, they actually look shorter, hence, foreshortened.
The figures with their backs to the viewer also create space by placing the viewer in the position in which they are literally looking over the shoulder of someone else to get a better view.
Iconography: Giotto especially uses the language of humanism to get the viewer to identify with the participants in this scene. Gesture and the use of the back turned figures in the foreground are both iconographic as well as formal. In this case, Giotto is attempting to demonstrate or provide for the viewer every emotion one might feel as they looked on the body of Christ just after it was deposed (taken down from the cross) and before it was entombed. The audience is invited to imagine how they might have felt at this event and are asked to match themselves up with one of the characters in the image.
chiar.oscu.ro n, pl -ros [It, fr. chiaro clear, light + oscuro obscure, dark] (1686) 1: pictorial representation in terms of light and shade without regard to color 2 a: the arrangement or treatment of light and dark parts in a pictorial work of art b: the interplay or contrast of dissimilar qualities (as of mood or character) 3: a 16th century woodcut technique involving the use of several blocks to print different tones of the same color; also: a print made by this technique 4: the interplay of light and shadow on or as if on a surface 5: the quality of being veiled or partly in shadow
The picture plane is further unified and made consistent by the use of light and shadow referred to as chiaroscuro.
di.dac.tic adj [Gk didaktikos, fr. didaskein to teach] (1658) 1 a: designed or intended to teach b: intended to convey instruction and information as well as pleasure and entertainment 2: making moral observations -- di.dac.ti.cal adj -- di.dac.ti.cal.ly adv -- di.dac.ti.cism n
fres.co n, pl frescoes
[It, fr. fresco fresh, of Gmc origin; akin to OHG frisc fresh] (1598)
1: the art of painting on freshly spread moist lime plaster with water-based pigments
2: a painting executed in fresco -- fresco vt
[It, fr. fresco fresh, of Gmc origin; akin to OHG frisc fresh] (1598)
1: the art of painting on freshly spread moist lime plaster with water-based pigments
2: a painting executed in fresco -- fresco vt
fresco comes from the Italian word for fresh. The paint is applied quickly in fresh patches of plaster that haven't had a chance to dry yet. This allows the paint to sink into the plaster and stain it sometimes up to a quarter of an inch below the surface of the wall.
buon fresco, which literally means "good fresh," the water color and lime (the mineral not the fruit) are painted directly on damp plaster that has just been applied.
fresco secco (Italian for "dry fresh") is a little less permanent and the paint sometimes can flake off the walls. Paint and especially details and expensive colors are applied to sections of the mural that have already dried. The medium in this case is either tempera (egg and water) or some kind of glue usually made from animal skin or some sort of dairy product.
hu.man.ism n (1832) 1 a: devotion to the humanities: literary culture b: the revival of classical letters, individualistic and critical spirit, and emphasis on secular concerns characteristic of the Renaissance 2: humanitarianism 3: a doctrine, attitude, or way of life centered on human interests or values; esp: a philosophy that usu. rejects supernaturalism and stresses an individual's dignity and worth and capacity for self-realization through reason -- hu.man.ist n or adj -- hu.man.is.tic adj -- hu.man.is.ti.cal.ly adv
monochromatic "mono" means one or single. "Chroma" refers to color. So this means painted in one color or a single color.
Trompe l'oeil - (French: "deceive the eye"), in painting, the representation of an object with such verisimilitude as to deceive the viewer concerning the material reality of the object. This idea appealed to the ancient Greeks who were newly emancipated from the conventional stylizations of earlier art. Zeuxis, for example, reportedly painted such realistic grapes that birds tried to eat them. The technique was also popular with Roman muralists. Although trompe l'oeil never achieved the status of a major artistic aim, from the early Renaissance on, European painters occasionally fostered illusionism by painting false frames out of which the contents of a still life or portrait appeared to spill, or by creating window-like images suggesting actual openings in the wall or ceiling. (Brittanica)