Work of the Fellows: Monographs

Spirituality in Conflict: Saint Francis and Giotto’s Bardi Chapel

Goffen, Rona (Fellow, 1986-87)

University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1988

From the publisher's description:

Few saints have received so much attention as Francis of Assisi and few artists so much attention as Giotto di Bondone—and yet the master’s cycle of Saint Francis in the Bardi Chapel of Santa Croce in Florence has been little discussed. Similarly, the remarkable panel that now serves as the chapel’s altarpiece has been given only cursory consideration by historians and art historians—even though this panel, with its twenty narrative scenes of the saint’s life, represents the most complete visualization of mid-thirteenth-century Franciscan spirituality which has survived. In this book Goffen shoes how the history of Santa Croce itself, which contains both of these works of art, parallels and summarizes the early history of the Order of Friars Minor. Santa Croce was and is the most important Franciscan church of Florence and, like the order itself in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, it was bitterly divided into opposing factions, the Spirituals and the Conventuals. We see here that, tragically, the source of their disagreement lay in the character of Saint Francis himself. Unlike the Dominicans—and, indeed, unlike all other contemporary religious orders—the Friars Minor fostered a “cult of personality” of their founder. Precisely because Francis provided the example for his friars, the way in which his character was presented in art and in literature became of the utmost concern to the order, a matter requiring deep consideration and, eventually, careful control. But despite their disagreements, the factions were agreed about one central point: Francis was unique in having received the wounds of Crucifixion as a sign of divine approbation.

Subjects: Art; History; Religion; Art History; Murals; Order of Friars Minor; Italian Renaissance; Religious Art