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Work St. Francis of Assisi Receiving the Stigmata

Department of Paintings: Italian painting

Saint Francis of Assisi Receiving the Stigmata

© 2007 Musée du Louvre / Angèle Dequier

Italian painting

Martine Depagniat, Dominique Thiébaut

Described in 1550 and 1568 by Vasari as being found in the church of San Francesco in Pisa, this retable no doubt comes from one of the transept chapels. Often contested despite the presence of the signature, the attribution of this work to Giotto has been reaffirmed by the majority of specialists.
The scenes from the life of St. Francis of Assisi (1182-1226) are comparable to the frescoes depicting the same subject in the Basilica of San Francesco in Assisi that are also attributed to Giotto.

A non-traditional representation

For the central portion of the painting, Giotto chose not to depict a full-length, hieratic figure, as one generally sees on 13th-century retables, but rather one of the key moments in the life of St. Francis: the receiving the stigmata of Christ, whom he sees in the form of a seraph while praying on Mount Alverno.
The predella of the retable depicts four scenes from the life of the saint: to the left, the dream of Pope Innocent III wherein he sees St. Francis supporting a church about to collapse; in the center, the pope approving the rule of the Franciscan order; to the right, St. Francis preaching to the birds, demonstrating that the Word of God applies to all living creatures.

A work by Giotto

The four scenes are very similar in their iconography, composition, and style to the cycle of frescoes depicting the life of St. Francis in the Basilica of San Francesco in Assisi, which the majority of experts attribute to Giotto. The presence of the painter's signature, OPUS IOCTI FLORENTINI, on the original frame leaves no doubt as to the authenticity of the retable and moreover confirms Giotto's intervention in the early 1290s at the building site of the basilica.

The renewal of Florentine painting

Here Giotto's innovative character is evident: the work is an unprecedented expression of artistic freedom. The main register, a historic scene in a landscape, is a lesson in the evolution of pictorial language, notably in the representation of space. The principal scene is particularly elaborate, as Giotto endeavors to depict an interior. The small chapels in three-quarter profile demonstrate a budding awareness of perspective. The artist poetically depicts the different species of birds that come to listen to the saint, while demonstrating his concern for drawing closer to reality. The image of Christ, still bearing many formal similarities to the sacred figures of Byzantine art, contrasts with that of St. Francis: the intense expression, the emotion in his gaze, but also the facial features modeled by effects of light, give him a real sense of humanity.
A new world, solidly constructed, emerges from Giotto's brush. It is peopled with figures imbued with a new physical and expressive reality.

Technical description

  • GIOTTO (DI BONDONE) (Colle di Vespignano (Tuscany), c. 1265 - Florence, 1337)

    Saint Francis of Assisi Receiving the Stigmata

    c. 1295-1300

  • H. 3.13 m; W. 1.63 m

  • Entered the Louvre in 1813 , 1813

    On the predella: The Dream of Innocent III; The Pope Approving the Statues of the Order; Saint Francis Preaching to the Birds

    INV. 309

  • Paintings

    Denon wing
    1st floor
    Salon Carré
    Room 708

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Additional information about the work

Signed below in the original frame: OPUS IOCTI FIORETINI. To the right and left, a coat of arms identified as that of the Ughi family or, more recently, of the Cinquini family.