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The Bardi and Peruzzi Chapels in the Basilica of Santa Croce in Florence: A Reconsideration of Giotto's Technique, Chronology, and Patronage

Cecilia Frosinini, Opificio delle Pietre Dure e Laboratori di Restauro, Florence
Ailsa Mellon Bruce Visiting Senior Fellow, March 15–May 15, 2012

The wall painting cycles in the Bardi and Peruzzi chapels in the basilica of Santa Croce occupy a precise position in the artistic evolution of Giotto di Bondone (c. 1267–1337) and are the traditional touchstones of his post-Paduan phase. Although by the second decade of the fourteenth century his workshop was well established and included important collaborators such as Taddeo Gaddi, Bernardo Daddi, the anonymous Master of the Fogg Pietà, and the young Maso di Banco, this period of Giotto’s career has received less attention than his earlier work, probably because of the fragmentary state of the chapels’ conservation and the lack of consensus on the dating of the paintings. In refurbishing the transept of Santa Croce in the first half of the eighteenth century, the paintings were whitewashed; and during the early nineteenth century funerary monuments were installed on the walls of the Bardi Chapel, causing the loss of significant portions of the lower narrative cycle.

A campaign to uncover the frescoes in the Peruzzi Chapel began in 1841. The treatment, carried out by Antonio Marini, was particularly long and difficult because of the original painting technique, found to be almost entirely a secco. The removal of the lime-based whitewash caused a large amount of damage to the weak, original painting layers, and marks left by the tools used for the task are still visible. The treatment was finished with an intrusive pictorial integration consisting of general repainting in tempera over the original.

In 1850–1853 Gaetano Bianchi uncovered the Bardi Chapel frescoes. The treatment was easy compared with that of the Peruzzi Chapel paintings: the technique and execution in this case were buon fresco, and the paintings’ intact condition allowed for more even and consistent restoration. The pictorial integration, however, was complex and invasive, since the frescoes had significant losses from the insertion of the funerary monuments. Large losses interfered with the legibility of two scenes in the first register, and the restorers decided to make a complete reconstruction in which the missing scenes were arbitrarily re-created in buon fresco.

After a maintenance restoration at the time of the Mostra Giottesca in 1937, in 1958–1961 both chapels were the focus of a new campaign. Carried out by Leonetto Tintori under the direction of Ugo Procacci, the treatment resulted in the removal of all the repainted areas. Since then, however, little attention has been paid to the chapels from a technical point of view. My project focuses on the elaboration of new results from an investigation carried out in 2009–2012 by the Opificio delle Pietre Dure and partners (Università degli Studi di Firenze and institutes of the Consiglio Nazionale delle Ricerche), with the support of a grant from the Getty Foundation. The goal was to examine the collected data in order to make a comprehensive study of Giotto’s technique and materials. The analytical research aimed to identify the original painting materials used by Giotto and his workshop, initially through noninvasive investigations that did not require samples and later by collecting microsamples for analysis.

The team of experts chose as case studies two scenes, one from each chapel, which incorporate the main technical features and the conservation problems of the painted cycles: The Apparition of Saint Francis at Arles in the Bardi Chapel and The Resurrection of Drusiana in the Peruzzi Chapel. Analyses have been performed on these to obtain more precise knowledge of artistic techniques and conservation issues. The documentation that I am using consists of both overall digital photography of each complete cycle in diffused visible light and graphic documentation of Giotto’s original technique and its subsequent deterioration. Through close-up examination of the paintings under visible, raking, and ultraviolet light, the conservators have observed and recorded information regarding the original technique—such as evidence of preparatory drawings, snap lines, giornate, metal leaf, and different painting methods—and the presence of salts, flaking, losses, detachment, and so forth. All the information has been digitized so that it can be analyzed and archived. This new technical knowledge will help us understand the management of the large-scale worksite of Giotto’s time and the organization of the team working there. Nowhere in these paintings does the average level of execution show any sign of weakness or compromise; this consistency suggests that Giotto’s young collaborators were intimately familiar with his technique.

During my time at CASVA, I studied in depth the results of these investigations, linking the technical and material evidence with art-historical questions of dating and workshop practice. The opportunity to reflect allowed me to outline a new and long-overdue book on the techniques of Giotto’s late period. Such a publication will also be very useful for a reconsideration of the chronology of Giotto’s works and the key role of his late wall paintings in the later development of Florentine Trecento art.

Center 32 (includes image not shown here)

Italian, 1265 - 1337
Daddi, Bernardo
Italian, 1320 - 1348

Giotto in Florence: Shedding New Light on the Peruzzi Chapel
Cecilia Frosinini, Opificio delle Pietre Dure e Laboratori di Restauro, Florence
Edmond J. Safra Visiting Professor, spring 2013