Members' Research Report Archive
What's in a Name? Giotto di Bondone
Julian Gardner, University of Warwick (emeritus)
Samuel H. Kress Professor, 2011–2012
Anthroponymy, the study of names, has made impressive progress as an area of research on medieval Italy. It has been aided by remarkable documentary survivals but has neglected the abundant surviving visual evidence, which clarifies the seismic changes that transformed the Italian onomastic repertory. Names are more than merely whispers from the past. The monuments may be mute, but the pictures continue to speak to us if we learn how to listen.
Many thirteenth-century artists possessed
The Libro de Montaperti, which lists Florentine combatants at the battle against Siena in September 1260, records an overwhelming majority of male artisan names. Two important Florentine painters
Francis (Francesco) was a new saint with a nickname prompted by his draper father’s activity in France. The name Dominic was rare in Tuscany and clearly linked to names like Sabbatinus. The Dominican General Chapter of 1250 encouraged church dedications in honor of Dominic, and in 1253, the year of Peter Martyr’s canonization, Dominicans were enjoined to press for his insertion into the calendars of cities and dioceses where the order was established. As saints’ names became predominant, the vigorous thirteenth-century sprawl of names markedly contracted.
Naming changes coincided with the development of altarpieces. The new high altarpieces resembled Gothic church elevations, often more advanced than their architectural settings. The community of saints now inhabited a Gothic building. A
The forenames of Giotto’s followers—Taddeo Gaddi, Bernardo Daddi, and Maso di Banco—reflect these onomastic trends. (Maso is a hypocoristic for Tommaso.) Simone Martini and Pietro Lorenzetti have apostolic forenames, while their surnames possess a saintly substratum.
The second strand of my research at CASVA was the painting of Giotto. What are the present-day problems confronting research on Giotto? In brief, structure, chronology, and patronage. The earlier, predominantly stylistic approaches continue to ship water. Difficulties with the traditional attribution (and dating) of
Despite the lack of surviving evidence to support any biographical approach, the
Growing understanding of Giotto’s patrons complicates the picture. The Franciscan Order of about 1300 regarded its founder as a historic figure; he would barely have recognized the order he founded, now the preserve of university graduates and of priests rather than the laymen who initially flocked to him. The dominant conventual faction harshly persecuted a spiritual wing, which strove to return to Francis’ original rule. The conventuals commissioned the complex allegory for the crossing of the Lower Church. The spirituals bitterly criticized these gaudy, painted decorations to which Giotto contributed with his Pisa Stigmatization and the Bardi cycle in Santa Croce. One of Giotto’s institutional patrons, the papacy, changed fundamentally in his lifetime. Boniface VIII (r. 1294–1303) ruled a church immemorially based in Rome; John XXII (r. 1316–1334), a Gascon canonist who never visited Italy, was determined to bring the Franciscan Order to heel. Thus if Giotto executed either the Navicella mosaic or the Stefaneschi altarpiece after 1305, as some claim, they would have been for a city deserted by the popes. Achieving a better understanding of Giotto’s patrons is thus an urgent task.