The devil is in Giotto’s details

A restorer working on a fresco by Giotto di Bondone in the Basilica of St. Francis in Assisi has discovered a the face of a devil hidden in the clouds. Medievalist and St. Francis expert Chiara Frugoni divined the demonic presence in fresco number 20 out of a series of 28 depicting the life of St. Francis as written by St. Bonaventure. Bonaventure was the seventh Minister General of the Order of Friars Minor and was commissioned by the Order to write the official biography of St. Francis in 1260. Fresco 20 is the death and ascension of St. Francis, painted by Giotto between 1296 and 1304.

St. Francis is shown lying on his death bier, surrounded by mourning friars while his soul is taken to heaven by a host of angels. Bonaventure described the scene in Chapter XIV of the hagiography: “In the hour of transit of the blessed Francis a friar saw his soul ascend to the heavens in the form of an enormously bright star.” The profile of the demon is on the right side of a cloud underneath the bright star, staring at the crotch of an angel.

“It’s a powerful portrait, with a hooked nose, sunken eyes and two dark horns,” Ms Frugoni said in an article in a forthcoming issue of the St Francis art history periodical.

“The significance of the image still needs to be delved into. In the Middle Ages it was believed that demons lived in the sky and that they could impede the ascension of human souls to Heaven.

“Until now it was thought that the first painter to use clouds in this way was Andrea Mantegna, with a painting of St Sebastian from 1460, in which high up in the sky there’s a cloud from which a knight on horseback emerges. Now we know that Giotto was the first (to use this technique).”

The figure hasn’t been seen until now because it’s almost impossible to spot looking up from the floor of the basilica. It took carefully examination of close-up photographs to find the little devil.

Sergio Fusetti, the chief restorer of the basilica, notes that theology may not have been Giotto’s entire motivation. He could have included the demon as a private joke, perhaps to spite someone who had done him wrong, or perhaps just for the fun of having a hidden image in the clouds.

There are some more pictures — unfortunately all of them small — on the Franciscan website.

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12 Comments »

Comment by edahstip
2011-11-07 06:34:33

Ah, yes. The Medieval version of Where’s Waldo?

Comment by livius drusus
2011-11-07 16:02:35

I would totally buy that book.

 
 
Comment by Wicked yankee
2011-11-07 08:13:31

At first, I thought people might be seeing things, but its pretty clear in the pic that it was a purposeful addition.

Now, I’m not sure, but is the little devil taking a peak up the angel’s toga? Seems like a devily thing to do. This might account for the smirk.

Comment by livius drusus
2011-11-07 16:03:33

He’s certainly looking right at that angel’s swimsuit area. The under tunic probably keeps the goods out of view, though.

 
 
Comment by miss_sophie
2011-11-07 09:07:49

Nice one – … VADE RETRO, SATANAS ! :angry:

:hattip:

Comment by livius drusus
2011-11-07 16:04:38

:lol: I had to stare at that KitKat for a good 10 minutes before I saw it.

 
 
Comment by Alberti's Window
2011-11-07 14:00:24

Fascinating! Giotto had a little devilish side, it seems.

I don’t comment often, but I just also wanted to say how much I love your blog. I’m always excited to see when a new post pops up in my Google Reader.

-Monica

Comment by livius drusus
2011-11-07 16:05:22

Thank you so much, Monica. I love it when a reader who hasn’t commented before says hello. :)

 
 
Comment by Ghulam
2011-11-07 14:33:52

“Until now it was thought that the first painter to use clouds in this way was Andrea Mantegna, with a painting of St Sebastian from 1460, in which high up in the sky there’s a cloud from which a knight on horseback emerges. Now we know that Giotto was the first (to use this technique).”

This morning, before reading this, I showed my wife a print from a 35mm slide that I had done the night before. The scene was of a mountain peak with dramatic clouds and rough granite rocks, and as I stared at it late at night I began to see faces. Just for amusement I carefully burned just a little here and there to bring out the faces that I saw. The result was not the kind of work that I do, since I have always regarded the self-centeredness of modernism to be self-indulgent if not downright evil. However, it was an amusing way to play around as I wound down at the end of a long day of work. Halloween is amusing for a few hours once a year.

My point is that making faces out of the clouds or in the rocks or tree leaves – this is a logical enough thing for humans to do when they draw. Anyone with a flair for drawing has done this many times. It is always depressing to hear fairly intelligent and worldly people in the West go on about who was the first to do this or that, when it is obvious that the modern Western world did not invent life itself or culture or civilization. In fact they are rather new to the game of civilization and still do not have some of the basics. We can be quite sure that Giotto was not the first person to paint a face in the clouds. What a profoundly childish notion.

 
Comment by Rowan
2011-11-09 21:56:55

The article about this image in the Daily Mail has an extreme close up.

Looks like a purpose painted face to me and not a trick of the eye.

Comment by livius drusus
2011-11-10 03:37:25

Agreed. Thank you for the link to the detail. :thanks:

 
 
Comment by Cece
2011-12-06 12:08:37

This is soo not cool :angry: :( :facepalm: :skull: its against some peoples religion why did he do this thats what i wanna know :no: :shifty: NOT COOL GIOTTO IM MAD :giggle: TILL NEXTB TIME :hattip:

 
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