Dominique Thiébaut: Giotto e compagni. , Paris: Musée du Louvre 2013, 276 S., ISBN 978-2-35031-417-4, 39.00 EUR
Buchcover von Giotto e compagni
rezensiert von Michael Viktor Schwarz, Institut für Kunstgeschichte, Universität Wien

For a long time, astonishingly little was known about the Louvre's monumental panel of St Francis that bears Giotto's signature. Its removal from Pisa in 1812 had pushed it beyond the visual field of local research. It is for this reason that the donor's arms, despite belonging to a leading Pisan family, were only identified in 1999. [1] Later still came the insight that Peter's appearance in the first predella scene (Dream of Innocent III) - which seemed at odds with the hagiographical texts on Francis - can be related to the apostle's local standing: according to the Pisans, it was in their city and not in Rome that Peter founded Italy's first Christian community. [2] The Louvre's decision to place the panel at the centre of an exhibition and its accompanying catalogue is thus commendable. Nonetheless, following intensified art-historical interest in questions of provenance and art looting in the last two decades (as, for instance, in the research of Bénédicte Savoy), it remains astonishing that the panel's path into the Musée Napoléon is not thematized, along with the question of why - in contrast to other works (such as the horses of S. Marco) - it was not returned after the Congress of Vienna. A focus on these aspects could also have given the enterprise a profile distinct from the Giotto exhibitions of recent years in Florence (2000) and Rome (2009).

If the exhibition catalogue pursues any specific aim, then it is the location of the panel within Giotto's œuvre and the confirmation of the frequently accepted early dating of the work to the 1290s. The catalogue is divided into three sections: Les débuts de l'artiste (where the panel finds its place), Les années de maturité, and Giotto et son atelier à Naples. Objects from the Louvre form the backbone (see below). Works from non-French collections belong to the usual suspects of Giotto exhibitions, including the few transportable panels that are secure works of the painter (nos 2 and 5) and further panels that, when viewed with a certain amount of good will, can be labelled as possible Giotto works. These attributions all raise the same problems: on the one hand, Giotto's style in his secure works does not reveal a uniform physiognomy; on the other (and here a central tenet of art-historical lore), Giotto was used systematically as a model like no other artist. His historical role would probably become more evident if undocumented works were not marked with his name. Alongside the Giotto and Giottesque works are the "compagni" panels, which can be seen as the works of painters who, in strikingly individual manners, adopted the aims and methods of the Florentine.

In as much as he gives a synopsis of the pro-arguments in his introductory article (Giotto et les Franciscains, 29-47), Donal Cooper declares himself a proponent of the "Franciscan" Giotto, first presented to scholarship by Henry Thode. By way of reminder, Thode conceived a double triad of national self-realization that today seems anything but obvious: Francis - Giotto - Michelangelo (or Raphael); Luther - Bach - Richard Wagner. [3] At the centre of Cooper's argument are the frescos of the Francis legend in the Upper Church of S. Francesco in Assisi, whose dating to before 1297 and attribution to Giotto - the one aspect as controversial as the other - the author seeks to confirm. Problematic here is his presentation of the final scene's possible connection to the Colonna family, which serves as a basis for the terminus ante quem of 1297: reference needs to be made not only to the Colonnas' banishment in that year, but also to their rehabilitation as soon as 1306. To my knowledge, one of the arguments for Giotto's authorship is new: according to Cooper, the attribution proposed by Vasari in 1568 was based on two sources in Assisi, Ludovico da Pietralunga and Dono Doni. Yet it remains impossible to prove what either individual knew or believed before 1568, or what they told Vasari. [4] And if we hear at a later point that Giotto was the painter of one picture or another, then this may derive from Vasari's authoritative book, which repressed oral and manuscript tradition. For non-specialist readers (to whom the Louvre publication is not least of all addressed), it would also have been interesting to learn what stops some art historians from seeing Giotto as a disciple of Francis and the Francis cycle as the big bang of the new painting, and whether this alternative perspective has implications for the Louvre panel.

In the actual catalogue entry on the panel (no. 3, 76-93, by Linda Pisani and Donal Cooper), the discussion of the relationship between the Francis cycle and panel implies that the latter can only be interpreted as an excerpt from the former. Arguments for a reverse relationship are not taken into account. Yet the Dream of Innocent III, as represented by Giotto on the Louvre panel, seems to have served as a model for two compositions depicting dreamers and their visions in Assisi: in the first case (Scene III: Vision of the Palace), the image was inverted and the painter reworked Peter into a Christ figure; in the second, the image served as a template for another representation of the same subject (Scene VI: Dream of Innocent III). In this version, the figure of Peter was omitted because, unlike in Pisa, his appearance was unnecessary. But it was only after the painter had executed the upper register of the fresco (as pentimenti show) that it was deemed possible or necessary to fill the void left by Peter with a closed curtain. [5] It would have been interesting to learn whether these observations, presented in 2008, can be taken to reveal anything other than the precedence of the Paris composition. That the painters in Assisi thus made use of less accessible models hardly seems astonishing, since they were faced with the task of creating the most extensive pictorial series ever made on Francis' life.

Apart from this, Donal Cooper's contribution to the catalogue also addresses the function of the panel, and here he puts forward a new thesis. He proposes that the work was not a retable, as had previously been thought, but rather an image for the choir screen of S. Francesco in Pisa. It is true that mendicant churches normally had such a screen, and that wealthy families were probably no less concerned with the pictorial decoration of screens than with the furnishing of chapels. Moreover, the form of the panel, as Cooper shows, would also be particularly well suited for installation on or above a choir screen.

Cooper's thesis will find its way into Giotto research and enter the discussion on pictorial forms of the Trecento. The exhibition catalogue is also valuable for its outstanding treatment of conservational and material aspects of the works. As Dominique Thiébaut explains in the introduction, this was part of the programme (19). Finally, the exhibition also provided an opportunity for fresh examination of the Louvre's important holdings relating to Trecento painting: I single out the highly original Giottesque croce dipinta with Mary looking up to the heavens (no. 11), which had not found the attention it deserves from researchers. Mention can also be made of the unusual calvary panel (no. 26), which has been connected to Naples; in accordance with existing research, Dominique Thiébaut situates the work among Giotto's followers, and dates it convincingly to around 1345. [6]


[1] Carl Brandon Strehlke: Francis of Assisi - His Culture, His Cult, and His Basilica, in: The Treasury of Saint Francis of Assisi, Exhibition catalogue, New York 1999, 23-51, esp. 42. And independently of this: Mariagiulia Burresi / Antonino Caleca: Pittura a Pisa da Giunta a Giotto, in: Cimabue a Pisa: La pittura Pisana del Duecento da Giunta a Giotto, Exhibition catalogue, Pisa 2005, 65-90, esp. 88.

[2] Michael Viktor Schwarz: Giottos Werke (Giottus Pictor 2), Vienna / Cologne / Weimar 2008, 394; Julian Gardner: Giotto and His Public. Three Paradigms of Patronage, Cambridge, MA / London 2011, 32-33.

[3] Henry Thode: Franz von Assisi und die Anfänge der Kunst der Renaissance in Italien, Berlin 1904, 61-63, 571-72.

[4] Fra' Lodovico da Pietralunga: Descrizione della Basilica di S. Francesco e di altri santuari di Assisi, ed. by Pietro Scarpellini, Treviso 1982, 3, 85, 117, 123.

[5] Schwarz: Giottos Werke, 391-403.

[6] Translated by Tim Juckes.

Michael Viktor Schwarz

zurück zu KUNSTFORM 15 (2014), Nr. 10

Empfohlene Zitierweise:

Michael Viktor Schwarz: Rezension von: Dominique Thiébaut: Giotto e compagni. , Paris: Musée du Louvre 2013
in KUNSTFORM 15 (2014), Nr. 10,

Rezension von:

Michael Viktor Schwarz
Institut für Kunstgeschichte, Universität Wien

Redaktionelle Betreuung:

Philippe Cordez