Giotto’s work: the Peruzzi Chapel and the Bardi Chapel II

The Peruzzi Chapel

The Peruzzi chapel

The frescos in this chapel, the second to the right of the choir adjacent to the Bardi chapel, was the first work Giotto painted in Santa Croce. The wealthy banker, Donato di Arnoldo Peruzzi, left money to his family chapel in his will in 1299. His grandson, Giovanni di Rinieri Peruzzi, is presumed to have commissioned the frescoes. At Web Gallery of Art you can see good pictures of the Peruzzi chapel and you can click here for the schematic of this fresco cycle.

The paintings are in much worse condition than those in the adjacent Bardi Chapel. The colour has largely disappeared. This is in part attributable to the fast and poor method used by Giotto: fresco a secco. As described earlier, painting on a dry plaster layer with pigment and binder will cause major problems later on. The paint is poorly absorbed and easily lets go over time. The later ‘restorations’ also contributed to the decline.

Peruzzi Chapel Santa Croce Giotto
photo: Francesco Gasparetti

In contrast to the frescos in the Bardi chapel, the architecture in the Peruzzi chapel has been placed at an angle to the picture plane. Moreover, there is often more than one building painted within one scene. In addition, Giotto also shows several stories in one image, such as the birth of John the Baptist and his naming. The architecture in the Bardi Chapel encloses the viewer much more. In this chapel, the architecture in the pictorial space expands. It’s not so much a decor, but much more a part of the story. This is particularly evident in the Dance of Salome.

The dance of Salome

Giotto Dance of Salome Peruzzi Chapel Santa Croce

The cycle is about John the Baptist (left wall) and John the Evangelist (right wall). As far as we know, this was the first time that the lives of these two were depicted in one fresco cycle.

The painted stories are based on the Legend of Aurea by Jacobus de Voragine. According to this Dominican author from the thirteenth century, John the Evangelist was taken to heaven on the day that John the Baptist was born. In addition, John was the patron saint of the client. John the Baptist was also the patron saint of Florence and the saint of the Franciscans.

The main theme of this cycle is not so much the life of John the Evangelist and John the Baptist, but the second coming of Christ on earth, as the great Judge who casts verdict over man. It was John the Baptist who predicted the coming of Christ and John the Evangelist who prophesied and described the Apocalypse in his Revelations. It is for good reason that Giotto painted the Lamb of God in the middle above the altar and the lancet.

John on the island of Patmos

Giotto 'John on the island of Patmos' Peruzzi Chapel Santa Croce

In addition, the right-hand lunette also depicts John on the island of Patmos, while the Last Judgment is revealed to him. The Apocalypse and the resurrection of man is of course a subject that fits perfectly in a chapel that serves as a family tomb. In addition, the end of the world plays a central role in Franciscan theological views.

Above the entrance arch are eight apostles in hexagons. Inside the vaulted fields are the symbols of the four evangelists. The ornamental bands between the two lower scenes, at both sides, show the faces of six figures wearing contemporary clothing. These are likely members of the Peruzzi family who look at the altar.

The stories about John the Baptist

The left wall has three painted stories about John the Baptist. In the lunette you can see the Annunciation too Zechariah. This scene seems very commonplace. Gossiping women and some musicians here and there. The way in which these figures move is very recognizable.

Giotto detail: Gossiping women Peruzzi Chapel Santa Croce

Annunciation to Zechariah

Giotto 'Annunciation to Zechariah' Peruzzi Chapel Santa Croce Giotto

Zechariah recoils from the angel who brings the cheerful message. The two buildings that are placed diagonally on the image plane divide the story into two parts. The buildings themselves are cut off by a continuous list. This creates the impression that we, the viewer, only see a part of the work and that the work continues behind the frames.

Under the lunette in the middle you can see the birth of John the Baptist on the right and the naming of John the Baptist on the left. Here Giotto uses architecture to clearly separate and frame the two different moments in the story. While silence and peace reign at birth, this is not the case with Zechariah, who writes the name of his son in a book.

Giotto ‘Birth and Naming of John the Baptist’ c. 1313 – 1314

Giotto 'Giotto 'Birth and Naming of John the Baptist' Peruzzi chapel

The Dance of Salome is painted underneath (John the Baptist left wall). Here, too, the three different moments in the story are depicted in one frame. Herod’s wife, Herodias, and their daughter Salome have been placed in a separate room. In the middle, Herod sits behind the table and is offered John’s head on a plate.

Giotto ‘Herod’s Banquet’ c. 1313 – 1314

Giotto 'Herod's Banquet' Peruzzi chapel
Giotto 'Herod's Banquet' detail: music Peruzzi chapel

Through an accumulation from bottom to top: from the hand of the executioner, the board with the head and the head of the king Herod, the eye is drawn to this gruesome event. In front of the table a little to the right is Salome. The openwork building is clearly pagan in view of the statues on the roof. Unlike the structure on the opposite wall, the Ascension of John the Evangelist depicts an early Christian church, a basilica. On the right Salome kneels to offer John the Baptist’s head to her mother. On the left is a tower and behind the grille lies the beheaded body of John.

Continuation Florence day 5: Giotto’s work: the Peruzzi Chapel and the Bardi Chapel III