If you're seeing this message, it means we're having trouble loading external resources on our website.

If you're behind a web filter, please make sure that the domains *.kastatic.org and *.kasandbox.org are unblocked.

Main content

Giotto, St. Francis Receiving the Stigmata

Giotto di Bondone, St. Francis of Assisi Receiving the Stigmata with predella scenes of the Dream of Innocent III, The Pope Approving the Rule of the Order, and St. Francis Preaching to the Birds, c. 1295-1300 (originally, Church of San Francesco, Pisa), tempera and gold on panel, 3.13 x 1.63 m, original frame inscribed: "OPUS IOCTI FIORETINI.". Speakers: Dr. Beth Harris and Dr. Steven Zucker. Created by Beth Harris and Steven Zucker.

Video transcript

(piano playing) Dr. Zucker: We're in the Louve and we're looking at a large altar panel by Giotto of St. Francis. It's a really spectacular painting. Dr. Harris: It is, it shows St. Francis receiving the Stigmata from Christ who appeared to him in the form of a Seraphim. What's striking is that this is not St. Francis in a very iconic frontal way. Dr. Zucker: As we might have expected in a more Medieval tradition. Dr. Harris: Exactly. Instead Francis is kneeling, he's in a naturalistic landscape or at the beginnings, we could say, of a naturalistic landscape. As he receives the stigmata he looks up in wonder and awe and confusion, and even some anxiety, I think. Dr. Zucker: A little fear there, right? Dr. Harris: Yeah. Dr. Zucker: But they are very human emotions. It's really an expression of, you're right, not an eternal iconic image, but rather of a moment of a man responding. Dr. Harris: And his body is rendered naturalistically, too. We have modeling, so we see the folds in the drapery, we see his left knee, his right knee folded under him, the modeling in his hands where we see the stigmata, modeling in his face. So he really seems like this folky three dimensional presence, really different from the flat, transcendent figures of only a little bit earlier. Dr. Zucker: And actually other artists that are still painting. I want to go back to that point you made a moment ago of the naturalistic landscape because this is certainly not naturalism as we would expect now in the 21st Century, but it is, at the very beginning of the 14th or at the very end of the 13th Century, quite an extraordinary innovation to place this really physical figure as you had described him in an environment with trees, with mountain. Dr. Harris: Clearly his scale doesn't match the building and the trees, but there's an effort here by Giotto to place him on earth, not just in a heavenly space. Dr. Zucker: We see this extraordinary gold filled background, the light of Heaven pours down and we see that literally in the divine rays that go from the Seraphim from Christ down to Francis, down to his feet, to his hands and to the wound in his side; this gift from Heaven for his faithfulness. It's important to remember that Francis was a mendicant, a beggar, that he'd given up his worldly possessions and like the Dominican's, the Franciscan's would renounce worldly possessions in honor of Christ. Initially there are some reports that the church was not sure that it wanted to accept St. Francis' ideas. The predella below is important because it shows very much the acceptance of Francis. Dr. Harris: So, we have these three scenes below in the predella showing Pope Innocent III vision of Francis supporting a church, the next of blessing that order of the followers of St. Francis, the Franciscan's and then St. Francis preaching to the birds. Dr. Zucker: Those are all really interesting stories. This dream of the Pope, this great miracle in which he dreamt that Francis was not only supporting a church, but was supporting a church that was falling down. It's crucial allegory, of course, or metaphor. The acceptance of Francis, this central scene, very, very important; literally the embrace of the church to this mendicant order. Dr. Harris: Legitimizing. Dr. Zucker: That's right, absolutely legitimizing and if you think about it for a moment, the mendicant's did represent a kind of threat. The church was a very wealthy institution, it was a very powerful institution, and here were these followers of Christ saying, Christ preached poverty, I'm taking that on. For the church to embrace that was a very important step. Then, of course, on the right this relationship between Francis and nature. Francis living in the desert or living in the wilderness having this direct relationship with all of God's creation is placed here, One of the reasons that Francis is often linked to sort of ecological movements and often seen a patron of nature. Dr. Harris: I love the way he reaches out toward the animals, the way that the figures are it's very stark against that gold background. So there's this Heavenly realm, but simultaneously in an earthly realm. It seems to me that Giotto has united both. Dr. Zucker: There's a simplicity to Giotto's work that includes a kind of emotional directness that I think has made his work seem incredibly authentic for many, many years. Artists are constantly looking back to the so called Italian Primitives for that sort of direct vision and here we have it at it's most beautiful. (piano playing)