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Michelangelo, Dying Slave, c1513

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Form:  This just over lifesize sculpture of a dying or bound "slave" shows us a powerful naturalistic figure carved in marble.  The anatomy is slightly distorted in that the head is a touch too small.  The figure's posture is also an exaggerated contrapposto that was referred to as a serpenata referring to the snake like writhing and counter posture of the figure which is characteristic of Michelangelo's work.  These are some of the characteristics you can see throughout Michelangelo's works and is a quality that we also see in the artists of the Mannerist movement who follow after him. Charles Baudelaire's poem Beacons provides a description that is both a formal description and an symbolic analysis:
Michelangelo, a vague plane where one sees
Hercules mingled with Christ,
Powerful phantoms which in their twilights
Tear their shrouds by stretching their fingers;

Baudelaire's interpretation is not too far off the mark if you compare this sculpture against this stanza dedicated to Michelangelo. 

Marylin Stokstad devotes almost six pages of her survey to this giant, and if you've done the readings out of Liaisons, you've probably have an impression of Michelangelo as a moody, tortured and melancholy artist.  This sculpture is an excellent work to begin with because it in some ways is the perfect symbol of what Michelangelo strove for and often could not accomplish.

Context:  This was meant to be part of a greater work that Michelangelo was called from Florence to Rome to create by Pope Julius II in 1505.  It was meant to be a monumental work which would have been placed within the nave of the future reconstruction of St. Peter's.  It was never completed and Michelangelo was pulled off the project to work on the small chapel of Pope Sixtus called the Sistine Chapel in 1506.  Michelangelo fought against this new commission and much of the novel The Agony and the Ecstasy outlines the struggle between the Pope and Michelangelo over these two projects.  In short, Michelangelo was the loser in the battle and felt trapped and tormented by the Pope.

Iconography:  There are various interpretations of this sculpture since it was designed as one of the works that was to be on Julius' tomb.  The most apologetic to the Pope is that he freed Italy from ignorance and anarchy and that the sculpture is symbolic of the forthcoming liberation.  Another, proposed by Janson, is that the sculptures were part of a series that represented the arts and were now shackled because of the Pope's death, but I like the more contemporary psychological interpretation.  This sculpture is probably a representation of Michelangelo's emotions.  He felt enslaved to the Pope and to his projects.

There is also the possibility that Michelangelo was also tortured by a carnal desire to be with men.  This is evidenced in the poems and sonnets he composed for a you beautiful man named Tommasso Calvierri (who did not return his affections) and in the various sensuous male nudes he sculpted over his career.  One only needs to compare these images of males to his females to get the idea.


Michelangelo, Self Portrait

Michelangelo, Detail of the Last Judgment, c1535
Sistine Chapel, Rome
On the left are two images.  The top one is a documented self portrait.  In this image we can see Michelangelo uses heavy chiaroscuro and a deep penetrating gaze to create an image that is honest but also a bit dramatic.  Notice that he includes his shattered nose that you read about in both Vasari and Stone's accounts. 

One of the skills that most painters needed to develop during the Renaissance period was the ability to paint portraits and accurate likenesses.  Often this skill was developed by painting with a the only model that one might have available which is one's self.  The humanistic and platonic idea of perfectability also gave rise to self reflection and observation.  A portrait then is not just about the immediate appearance but also it is a symbol of the person.  In this image we see that the artist is studying himself and also demonstrating his ability to create a strong physical likeness as well a psychological likeness.

If the likeness is at all accurate one can then relate it to this image of St. Bartholomew from the Last Judgment in the Sistine Chapel which was painted in 1535.  More than twenty years after the completion of the Sistine Chapel ceiling (1508-1512).

The Saint was flayed alive for his troubles and if you look closely at the skin you may see that it looks a bit like Mike.  Further support for my interpretation of the Dying Slave image above.



Hagesandros, Polydoros, 
and Athanadoros of Rhodes.
Laocoon and His Sons, probably the original 
of the 1st C. CE or a Roman copy. 
Marble ht 8' Musei Vaticani, Rome
Excavated 1506

Michelangelo. MosesTomb of Julius II.
c1513-1515. Marble, height 7'8.5"
Church of San Pietro in Vincoli, Rome

Belvedere Torso
c300-50 BCE- probably 1C BCE
"Apollonius son of Nestor an Athenian"
Stokstad discusses at length the circumstances and context surrounding this sculpture for the Tomb of Julius.

Form:  This image of Moses is extremely naturalistic and also exhibits a bit of the serpentine movement that we see in his other work.  The posture of the figure and the proportions are also a bit exaggerated because this work was meant to be seen from below.  This is one of the characteristics you can see throughout Michelangelo's works and is a quality that we also see in the artists of the Mannerist movement who follow after him.

Some of the details that show Michelangelo's virtuosity are the fingers that are intertwined with the fabric and hair and the deep undercutting and details of the hair itself.  Often Michelangelo will show fingers pressed into hair, fabric or flesh and these materials seem to be responding to the pressure.  This what is referred to as an artist's conceit or concetto (italian for conceit) because it is hard to do and shows his skill as an artist.

The pose is one in which the figures seem to be on the brink of movement, almost as if they are about to rise out of the chairs.  This pose can be seen throughout the body of Michelangelo's work and can be directly related to the two classical works with which he would have been very familiar.  The Laocoon and His Sons group newly excavated in Rome in 1506 and another fragment of sculpture, also in the Vatican collection called the Belvedere torso.

Iconography:  The Renaissance understanding of classicism and its kalos is strongly represented in Moses.  Michelangelo has unified the head of Greek philosopher, with the body of an athlete to form a Christian Old Testament superman. 

The horns on Moses' head refer to a mistranslation.  As many artists, he was misled by the translation of the word keren (plural karnaim), which in Hebrew can mean both “horn” and “ray.”

Exodus xxxiv. 30, “All the children of Israel saw Moses, and the skin of his face shone,” translated in the Vulgate, “Cornta esset facies sua.” Rays of light were called horns. Hence in Habakkuk (iii. 4) we read of God, “His brightness was as the light, and He had horns [rays of light] coming out of His hand.” Michel Angelo depicted Moses with horns, following the Vulgate.


According to the Brittanica,
The Sistine Chapel is the papal chapel in the Vatican Palace that was erected in 1473-81 by the architect Giovanni dei Dolci for Pope Sixtus IV (hence its name). It is famous for its Renaissance frescoes by Michelangelo.

The Sistine Chapel is a rectangular brick building with six arched windows on each of the two main (or side) walls and a barrel-vaulted ceiling. The chapel's exterior is drab and unadorned, but its interior walls and ceiling are decorated with frescoes by many Florentine Renaissance masters. The frescoes on the side walls of the chapel were painted from 1481 to 1483. On the north wall are six frescoes depicting events from the life of Christ as painted by Perugino, Pinturicchio, Sandro Botticelli, Domenico Ghirlandajo, and Cosimo Rosselli. On the south wall are six other frescoes depicting events from the life of Moses by Perugino, Pinturicchio, Botticelli, Domenico and Benedetto Ghirlandajo, Rosselli, Luca Signorelli, and Bartolomeo della Gatta. Above these works, smaller frescoes between the windows depict various popes. For great ceremonial occasions the lowest portions of the side walls were covered with a series of tapestries depicting events from the Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles. These were designed by Raphael and woven in 1515-19 at Brussels.

. . .The frescoes on the ceiling, collectively known as the Sistine Ceiling, were commissioned by Pope Julius II in 1508 and were painted by Michelangelo in the years from 1508 to 1512. They depict incidents and personages from the Old Testament. The "Last Judgment" fresco on the west wall was painted by Michelangelo for Pope Paul III in the period from 1534 to 1541. These two gigantic frescoes are among the greatest achievements of Western painting. A 10-year-long cleaning and restoration of the Sistine Ceiling completed in 1989 removed several centuries' accumulation of dirt, smoke, and varnish. Cleaning and restoration of the "Last Judgment" was completed in 1994.

As the pope's own chapel, the Sistine Chapel is the site of the principal papal ceremonies and is used by the Sacred College of Cardinals for their election of a new pope when there is a vacancy.

 "Sistine Chapel."   Britannica 2001 Standard Edition CD-ROM.   Copyright © 1994-2001 Inc.   December 3, 2002.

The Arrangement of the Narrative A semiotic or structuralist analysis

The diagram below explains that Michelangelo actually had "program" or design for the creation and flow of the overall narrative associated with the ceiling very similar in nature to the way in which Giotto arranged the Arena Chapel and Ghiberti's doors.

The ceiling is entirely decorated with Old Testament stories, in keeping with the narrative as a typology.   Over all the divisions in the ceilings are painted trompe l’oeil frames that create distinctions between each story and allow for the organization of the panels.   In order to better understand the overall meaning of the narrative order of these stories, 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.   In this case the overall meaning of the frescoes relate to the Bible as it might have been interpreted by St. Augustine 354-430.  According to the Brittanica, Augustine's, "adaptation of classical thought to Christian teaching created a theological system of great power and lasting influence. His numerous written works, the most important of which are Confessions and City of God, shaped the practice of biblical exegesis and helped lay the foundation for much of medieval and modern Christian thought."

Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel, Built 1475-1481 painted by 
Michelangelo between 1508-12
St. Augustine, came up with a concept in which he viewed the universe and man's existence as divided in two worlds.  One was the City of Man which was temporary and fallible. 

This is represented by the way in which the ceiling and the chapel's space is divided.

Across the center of the chapel is a screen (called a rood screen).  Marked on the diagram as thick black line.  Since the Sistine Chapel was the Pope's private chapel and only he and the clergy are allowed on the side of the screen closest to the altar.  This divides the worshippers from the clergy.

On the clergy's side of the screen all the Old Testament stories deal with Heaven.  This is the "City of God" which goes on forever and in which god will provide for the faithful.  This is where man was before sin.

On the other side of the screen is where we are allowed to stand.  Notice how it is quite literally the "City of Man."  The three episodes depicted on the ceiling which depict sin are where we are allowed to stand.

Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel, Built 1475-1481 painted by Michelangelo between 1508-12
The center set of images represents scenes from the Old Testament.  The main themes are expulsion and sin.  This refers to our "original sin" and how we lost heaven. 

Surrounding these scenes are images of the prophets and Sibyls (prophets from Ancient Greece) and serve as a kind of thematic framework in which to view the center scenes. 

Beneath these stories and surrounding them are depictions of ancestors of Christ and the Old Testament prophets who guide us.  Included in this are the Sibyls (prophets from Ancient Greece) who have established the Classical foundation that all this is built on.  This  foundation is very similar in content and structure to the caryatids from the Acropolis, the seven virtues and vices from the Arena Chapel and Ghiberti's doors

All of these elements are further framed by the illusion of classical architecture which surrounds each scene.  This is very similar to the the triumphal arch that serves as the framework of Masaccio's Trinity with Donors.



God Creating Adam

Mosaic portrait from Pompeii79 CE


Form: This reproduction is one of the best for demonstrating Michelangelo's use of intense or saturated colors on the ceiling.  After the cleaning of the chapel, many art historians were disturbed by the purity and exaggerated nature of his color.  If one looks very closely at the images, Michelangelo sometimes would put pure strokes of color one next to the other so that when the viewer saw it from below the colors would mix because the eye would blend them together.  This is called optical mixing.   Mosaics also use this quality but and is one of the first instance of its use in painting that we know of. 

This is one of the central panels from the Sistine Chapel and perhaps one of the most important.  The figures are well over life size and they are muscular and idealized.  The figure of Adam is posed in a reclining languid attitude with the hand and finger extended towards God's finger.

The figure of God is surrounded by some kind of veil and contains figures that range in age from infancy to young adulthood.  God is depicted in motion as an older bearded male. God's body is draped in a semi transparent veil which allows the viewer to see the overall youthful musculature and detail without revealing the genitals.

Iconography: The idealized musculature and nudity are references to the classical humanistic tradition within which Michelangelo was working.  The concept of kalos is significant in that God is represented as both youthful and beautiful as well as aged and wise as evidenced by his beard.  The fact that God is clothed is a "nod" to the more conservative conventions of the day in which it would have been unacceptable to depict God as nude.  It could also be a reference to the Platonic concept that God is genderless.

The fingers of God and Adam do not touch.  The juxtaposition (comparison) in Adam's languid almost lazy pose and God's active one is symbolic of the moment just before Adam is brought to life.  This is one of the characteristics you can see throughout Michelangelo's works and is a quality that we also see in the artists of the Mannerist movement who follow after him.

Context:  This image, as in many others, especially his Last Judgment were always considered a bit controversial because of the nudity.  At times, Michelangelo did take some abuse for his use of nude figures.  He was accused of impropriety for them.


Belvedere Torso
c300-50 BCE- probably 
"Apollonius son of 
Nestor an Athenian"

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Form:  Scattered throughout the frescoes, almost as framing devices are the nude figures of young athletic looking men.  These ignudi (singular ignudo) all are derived somewhat from the poses of the Laocoon Group and from the Belvedere Torso.  In fact, if you look at these ignudi throughout the ceiling, they all seem to be the Belvedere torso with different arms, legs and heads pasted on them.

Iconography:  The bunches of acorns found close to each figure and scattered throughout the ceiling's decorations are symbols of Pope Julius' family name the della Rovere (oak in Italian). 

Again as in all the frescoes of the Sistine Chapel the concept of kalos is important.  The idealized musculature and nudity are references to the classical humanistic tradition within which Michelangelo was working but in addition to this these heroic figures are adjusted to fit in with a Christian point of view.   According to art historian Irwin Panofsky (remember he did the analysis of the Arnolfini portrait) these nude figures are representations of the "athletes of god" and as such they are classical wingless angels.

Libyan Sibyl


Form: Placed within regular intervals in trompe l’oeil niches are a series of female figure all with scrolls and books.  They are depicted as having extremely masculine looking musculature and form but they are actually labeled in a painted plaque underneath each figure as a "Sibyl."  It seems obvious from the preliminary drawing below that Michelangelo studied nude males for these figures.  We also know from looking at Michelangelo's Pieta that he was capable of depicting feminine looking women but he made the choice in these figures and others to depict women as extremely strong looking.

Iconography:  The appearance of strength is a depiction of symbolic strength.  These Sibyls (prophets from Ancient Greece) who have established the Classical foundation that all this is built on.  In order to "hold up" there prophetic points of view, symbolized by the large books and scrolls, these figures would have to have been powerful.  As such they are holding up the foundations of Christianity and this is very similar in content and structure to the caryatids from the Acropolis, the seven virtues and vices from the Arena Chapel and Ghiberti's doors


Charge to Saint Peter (Handling of the Keys)
1481-1483 Vatican, Sistine Chapel, fresco
On the north wall are six frescoes depicting events from the life of Christ as painted by Perugino, Pinturicchio, Sandro Botticelli, Domenico Ghirlandajo, and Cosimo Rosselli. .  . Above these works, smaller frescoes between the windows depict various popes. Above the Popes are images that represent the ancestors of Christ and they, like the Sibyls, function as symbolic caryatids who support the narrative of the images above them.



Hairy Man, 16x20 inches oil on canvas panel by Kenney Mencher

Hairy Man, 16x20 inches oil on canvas panel by Kenney Mencher

Hairy Man, 16x20 inches oil on canvas panel by Kenney Mencher

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A NEW survey reveals bears and otters are in, with 58 per cent of gay men saying they prefer chest hair on a partner.

The online survey by travel dating site surveyed more than 4,000 women and gay men about their grooming preferences.

Only 39 per cent of women said they preferred a partner with a hairy chest, with almost two thirds saying they like a manscaped look.

Often, body hair on queer men is an arbiter of masculinity. “You get to flaunt your masculinity with your body hair,” says Hamad, a 23-year old queer person living in the Middle East. “It’s like peacocking. Muscle guys who are hairy are super desirable, but that’s not the case for fat people or skinny people. There are tribes like bears and otters where it gets fetishized. When you’re supposed to be feminine, you’re not supposed to have body hair. You can only have body hair if you have the masculinity to go with it.”

This portrait of was painted in the alla prima method.  Alla prima, also called “wet-on-wet” and “direct painting,” is a very popular method of painting in which the artist applies paint to the canvas essentially in one sitting (“alla prima” is an Italian phrase that translates to “at once”).   Usually this means that I even do the drawing with a brush in paint but in this instance, I did a quick sketch with a crayon to get the drawing and proportions correct.

Alla prima allows an overall command of the whole picture because everything is being painted ‘all at once’ in the same session. It calls for virtuoso handling of the material – a boldness that can bring out an inspired response.

The main focus of alla prima is edges: soft, blended ones contrasted with those sharply defined. However, being able to control these edges and the way the paint mixes require preparation of colors and a decisive handling of the material.

The composition of this painting is based on a principle called the “rule of thirds” in which the focus or emphasis of the painting is brought off center so it is a bit more interesting. In this painting you’ll see that the smoker’s head is in the upper right quarter of the image rather than dead center.  I also thought that the asymmetrical quality of the composition made this painting have a better flow.

I’ve also introduced some non-local colors into this painting.  The blues and grays, especially in the hair are colors one wouldn’t expect to find in those areas.  This is a technique that the Impressionists used in their paintings quite a bit.

I’ve also attempted to use thick quick calligraphic brushwork to make the textures more engaging and descriptive.  I use different textures and brushworks for different areas.  I’ve also layered the paint and in some places used plastering knives to skip coat the paint over areas and pencils and the back of the brush to etch in hair like textures. 

This is painted on a canvas panel.  Why do I paint on canvas panel? Mainly for the durability.  Canvas panels are made with a rigid core with canvas glued directly to the rigid base.  Unlike stretched canvas, boards warp less and expands and contracts less.  It’s sturdier to ship and will endure the heat and cold better so the paint will crack and chip less than a stretched canvas which flexes and changes as in different temperatures and environments.


13th to 14th C Perspective St Francis Cimabue and Giotto

 Giotto and the Arena Chapel

Enrico Scrovegni  

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Context:  A quick overview provided by Brittanica:
Giotto's Arena Chapel 1305-1306 also called Scrovegni Chapel (consecrated March 25, 1305), small chapel built in the first years of the 14th century in Padua, Italy, by Enrico Scrovegni and containing frescoes by the Florentine painter Giotto.  A "Last Judgment" covers the entire west wall. The rest of the chapel is covered with frescoes in three tiers representing scenes from the lives of Saints Joachim and Anna, the life of the Virgin, the Annunciation, and the Life and Passion of Christ, concluding with the Pentecost. Below the three narrative bands is a fourth containing monochrome personifications of the virtues and vices. The frescoes were completed in or before 1309, and they are generally dated about 1305-06.

There is thus no very generally agreed picture of Giotto's early development. It is some relief, therefore, to turn to the fresco cycle in the chapel in Padua known as the Arena or Scrovegni Chapel. Its name derives from the fact that it was built on the site of a Roman amphitheatre by Enrico Scrovegni, the son of a notorious usurer mentioned by Dante. The founder is shown offering a model of the church in the huge "Last Judgment," which covers the whole west wall.

"Arena Chapel."   Britannica 2001 Standard Edition CD-ROM.   Copyright © 1994-2001 Inc.   November 16, 2002. 

 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.

The frescoes are in relatively good condition, and all that has been said of Giotto's power to render the bare essentials of a setting with a few impressive and simple figures telling the story as dramatically and yet as economically as possible is usually based on the narrative power that is the fundamental characteristic of these frescoes. These dominating figures, simple and severe, similar to those in the Assisi cycle but placed in settings of more formal abstraction and rendered with more grandeur, are the quintessence of his style, and anatomy and perspective were used--or even invented--by him as adjuncts to his narrative gifts. He never attained to the skill that so often, in fact, misled the men of the 15th and 16th centuries. In the Padua frescoes the details are always significant, whereas it is a characteristic of the Assisi cycle that there occurs from time to time a delighted dwelling on details that are not absolutely essential to the story.

 "Paduan period."   Britannica 2001 Standard Edition CD-ROM.   Copyright © 1994-2001 Inc.   November 16, 2002. 

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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
16. Visitation

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
33. Flagellation
34. Road to Calvary
35. Crucifixion
36. Lamentation (The Mourning of Christ)
37. Resurrection (Noli me tangere)
38. Ascension
39. Pentecost


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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

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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. 

The model of the chapel presented by Scrovegni differs in a few details from the real chapel, a fact which suggests that the Last Judgment may have been painted before the exterior of the chapel was completed. This is a strong possibility since the most pictorially advanced parts of the cycle, i.e. those most similar to Giotto's later works, appear on the wall opposite the Last Judgment, above and on each side of the chancel arch. The warm, rich coloures of the angels surrounding God, and of the figures of Gabriel and Mary are related to the fresco decorations in the Magdalen Chapel in the Lower Church at Assisi, which are the closest to the Paduan frescoes of all of Giotto's surviving cycles.

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:

The family wealth had been amassed by Enrico's father, Reginaldo, whom Dante singled out as the arch usurer in his Inferno. Usury, the lending of money for profit, was considered a sin during the Middle Ages. It is likely that Enrico constructed the chapel as a means to expiate the father's sin. The dedication of the Chapel to the Virgin of Charity, referred to in a document of March of 1304 in which Pope Benedict XI granted indulgences to those who visited "Santa Maria del Carità de Arena," was an obvious choice to disassociate the family from taint of greed and miserliness.


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. 

(It seems these two sites copied from each other, I'm not sure which is the original source so here's links to both.)

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

When they drew near Jerusalem and came to Bethphage on the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples,
saying to them, "Go into the village opposite you, and immediately you will find an ass tethered, and a colt with her. Untie them and bring them here to me.
And if anyone should say anything to you, reply, 'The master has need of them.' Then he will send them at once."
This happened so that what had been spoken through the prophet might be fulfilled:
"Say to daughter Zion, 'Behold, your king comes to you, meek and riding on an ass, and on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden.'"
The disciples went and did as Jesus had ordered them.
They brought the ass and the colt and laid their cloaks over them, and he sat upon them.
The very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, while others cut branches from the trees and strewed them on the road.
The crowds preceding him and those following kept crying out and saying: "Hosanna to the Son of David; blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord; hosanna in the highest."
And when he entered Jerusalem the whole city was shaken and asked, "Who is this?"

11     And the crowds replied, "This is Jesus the prophet, from Nazareth in Galilee."
Iconography:  Most of the iconography is fairly standard in this image.  Jesus is depicted in he usual manner, he has a beard and is depicted, as his apostles with a beautiful nimbus of gold around his head.  His halo is literally the light of divine knowledge which radiates from him.  The royal red and blue colors he wears and the gold leaf are all meant to emphasize his status, however, he is also humble.  He rides a common beast of burden to show his connection to all men.  However, Giotto has a sense of humor about the whole thing.  If you look at the figure in the far right hand corner of Giotto's image, you may notice that one of the figures seems to be having some trouble removing his cloak.

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 
3: complaint 

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. 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.

According to the Brittanica, 

Chiaroscuro (from Italian chiaro, "light"; scuro, "dark"),
technique employed in the visual arts to represent light and shadow as they define three-dimensional objects.

Some evidence exists that ancient Greek and Roman artists used chiaroscuro effects, but in European painting the technique was first brought to its full potential by Leonardo da Vinci in the late 15th century in such paintings as his "Adoration of the Magi" (1481; Uffizi, Florence). Thereafter, chiaroscuro became a primary technique for many painters, and by the late 17th century the term was routinely used to describe any painting, drawing, or print that depends for its effect on an extensive gradation of light and darkness.

 "chiaroscuro."  and  Britannica 2001 Standard Edition CD-ROM.   Copyright © 1994-2001 Inc.   November 19, 2002. 

Dado:  lower part of the interior wall that is decorated differently than the top.
Didactic:  a painting or piece of literature that contains a moral lesson.

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 -- adj -- adv -- di.dac.ti.cism n 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

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. 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 -- n or adj -- adj -- 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)


What’s important about Bonaventura Berlinghieri’s altarpiece depicting St. Francis?


Probably the main idea why we study Bonaventura Berlinghieri’s is altarpiece is because it was created in a transitional time between the Gothic period of time and the early Renaissance. Because of its placement at a pivotal time and its subject matter, which is St. Francis of Assisi, in both sets the standards as well as represents the changes that occur both physically in terms of how things look and changes in thought during that period.

The physical qualities of altar painting from before 1300 or so in Europe are heavily influenced by a style that was developed in what we call the Byzantine Empire starting as early as the fourth century, especially in Greece and the region we know today as Turkey. There are many physical and visual characteristics that this altarpiece represents.

This altarpiece was probably made on a piece of recycled what or panel. Most likely, it was assembled from a series of older pieces of furniture or panels of what that had time to petrify, another term for “age.” The reason why very old wood was used is that it was more stable than new work or greener would because it contained less moisture and the wood becomes harder and more stable as it ages.

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The panel was then coated with a series of alternating layers of a glue referred to as “gesso,” which is basically boiled animal hide which creates a type of glue or binder. Affixed to the panel with this gesso was plaster and canvas. Plaster is made usually from calcium carbonate also referred to as marble dust, and has a brilliant white sheen to it which allows for a consistent smooth surface on top of the wood that the paint can adhered to without any kind of chemical interactions occurring.
The paint used on the surface of this panel was made out of a medium, a medium is literally a type of paint, called egg tempera. Egg tempera uses a combination of water, glue, and sometimes the egg whites or egg yolks to create a kind of binder that glues particles of pigment permanently to the surface of a panel painting. If you’ve ever tried to clean a plate that has dried egg on it, you’ll know why it makes a good medium.
The pigments, also referred to as colorants or dyes, were often made by grinding up minerals or semiprecious stones. Sometimes other substances such as dyes made from plant or vegetal matter would be used as color mixed with the medium of egg and glue.

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This type of medium, egg tempera, would then be applied in small patches or hatch marks, that would be layered over time to create shading, tone, and color.

Egg tempera was the primary type of color or medium used up until around 1400 when oil paint began to be used more often.

The physical size of this altarpiece is also part of why we study it. It’s a little bit taller than 5 feet and so the central figure, which represent St. Francis, is life-size for the time. The composition could be described as bilaterally symmetrical. Which means that the figures St. Francis is flanked by an equal number of scenes or images on either side of him making the overall image appear even or symmetrical. Furthermore, the composition is subdivided on either side of Francis with three smaller scenes in which he appears over and over again.
The way in which Francis and the scenes are painted is not very realistic or illusionistic. The anatomy of the figures is stiff and un–lifelike. We can recognize that these are people however, they are not standing in naturalistic poses such as the “contrapposto” pose that we saw in ancient Greece and Rome. The proportions of the figure are slightly elongated, and the proportions of the face are also stylized or incorrect according to today’s standards of realism.

The proportions of the face for all the figures, adheres to a type of style, or visual convention, that comes from the Byzantine style. Sometimes this is referred to as “maniera greca.” Roughly translated as “the Greek manner,” the proportions of the face in the maniera greca style are that the eyes are located a little too far up in the fore head, the nose is a little too long and ends too far down the face, and the mouth is located a little too far towards the bottom of the chin.

The scenes are not very realistic in terms of the illusion of space. The buildings and the figures sizes are not in proportion to one another. There is no illusion of space, there is no background behind the figures that would contain things like a horizon line, clouds, or a change in scale as things move further back. Today, we are used to something called linear perspective. This makes all of the parallel lines and straight lines on buildings makes sense to us, however, linear perspective was not used until 1400 and that’s why these buildings look odd. It is almost as if all of the figures are standing up against the front of the picture in a single line and the buildings, the small hill in one of the scenes, are not the right sizes when compared to the figures.

There is also no light and shadow, or shading, that describe the figures for the buildings in a realistic way. There are some tonal variations or shading variations however, these are almost cartoons of what light and shadow look like and this will change about 70 years later after this altar was completed.

The background of the altar and of the scenes on the left and right sides are made with thin sheets of gold glued onto the background and have very little or no variation in them.

All of these distortions, stylizations, and rendering are part of a consistent tradition that had lasted for nearly 1000 years until the 1300s.

Moving from physical description to an analysis of the content and meaning of this altar, it’s important to realize that the unrealistic way in which this was painted is part of its meaning. When Christianity, and specifically Catholicism, began to be organized and codified in the fourth century, eventually there was a controversy concerning the use of images because of the second commandment which states that, one should not worship idols or may graven images. Basically, what this means is that, Catholics believed that it was essentially wrong to make images of religious figures because of the idea that they might be worshiped as idols. This is referred to as the iconoclastic controversy. Eventually it was decided that the creation of “icons” and religious art was acceptable because it allowed people to learn from the imagery.

As the Roman Catholic Church became more powerful, and there was a call or a demand for religious imagery, a kind of cartoon style, the maniera greca, was chosen because it was not illusionistic and therefore not like the Greeks and Romans “pagan” style of art. Probably, also because it could be mistaken for something real.

The creation of religious art and religious icons such as this altarpiece, was then seen as a way of educating people about religion, and the religious figures one was supposed to emulate. By the time of St. Francis of Assisi, some social and economic changes began to occur. St. Francis represents many of these changes in the viewpoints of Catholics at this time and so this painting of him and the scenes of his life represent many of the concepts that the common important during the Renaissance.

For example, St. Francis to stands in the center of the painting, was important reformer of the Catholic Church. He is represented here with a haircut that’s called a monks tonsure. This style of cutting a religious person’s hair was meant as a way to make them humble because it was considered to be a less attractive hairstyle than a full head of hair. In this way it would humble people involved in the church, by making priests and monks less attractive. Part of this is probably because priests and monks at this time were supposed to be celibate.

St. Francis also holds a book which is very similar to the “book of the world” or “libris mundi” that is depicted in many representations of Jesus from the Byzantine Empire. He also has wounds on his hands and feet, called the “stigmata,” which were bestowed upon him by God in honor of his religious sacrifice and integrity. People who received the stigmata were thought to be blessed by God because the wounds were in emulation of the ones that Christ received on the cross.

Francis is represented wearing a simple robe, barefoot, and a Baroque belt with three knots in it.  This clothing represents the main ideas behind the order of Catholicism called the Franciscan order he began. The main tenets or concepts are poverty, chastity, and obedience. Francis is not wearing expensive clothing and this is part of the value system he believed in.

The life and times of St. Francis are depicted almost as if they are a comic book on his right and left hand sides. The various scenes represent important episodes in which Francis acted in a way that led him to a kind of spiritual enlightenment.

Here’s a summary of the main events that led to Francis becoming a monk. Francis was born into a fairly wealthy family when she left to go fight a crusade against heretics and infidels. At one point he was taken hostage or prisoner and while imprisoned he had visions and visitations by spiritual entities that instructed him that he should “rebuild God’s house.”

After Francis was freed, as he was returning home Francis gave away his cloak and other worldly possessions. He then proceeded to give away many of his father’s possessions all in emulation of the charity and non-materialism that Jesus espoused in the New Testament.

After he did this, Francis was given the right to start a new type of “order” in the Catholic Church now called the Franciscan Order.  The main concepts being, poverty chastity and obedience but more importantly a life given to acting or emulating Jesus Christ when he was on the earth. There are other stories after she becomes a monk in which he receives the stigmata from a type of angelic creature called the seraphim. We see this in the upper left-hand corner of the altarpiece. There are also other scenes of Francis is good works circulating around him one of most notable is his sermon to the animals in the garden in which she expressed the idea that while animals may not have a soul like humans have they are part of God’s creation and should be honored and should be aware of God.

The take away from all this, and why this altarpiece and St. Francis are particularly important is that this altarpiece represents a fusion of some of the traditional imagery and art styles from earlier periods with some new radical ideas concerning religious reform that Francis brought about. The most important being that Francis advocated that all people should live and behave in such a way that they are copying or living life in the way that Jesus would.

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