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St. Francis preaching to the birds of Bevagna

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The first stop of my September trip to Italy will be Assisi, followed by a few days in Bevagna. These towns are only a few kilometres apart, in the hills of Umbria, and they share a St. Francis connection. (Actually, a lot of towns in Umbria have a St. Francis connection!) It's believed that it was in Bevagna where St. Francis preached to the birds, a scene immortalized by Giotto (and reproduced here) as: Preaching to the Birds, painted sometime between 1295-1300.

It's believed St. Francis preached from atop a large stone that still rests inside the church of San Francesco in Bevagna. I intend to check this out. Meanwhile, this scene by Giotto is frescoed on the walls of the Upper Church of the Basilica di San Francesco in Assisi. I've studied it on a previous visit and I'll visit it again in just a few weeks.

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Of course, I dislike birds (except robins, but that's not important right now) yet Giotto's congregation of birds doesn't unnerve me. They're kind of beautiful, at least in fresco form. So is this fresco, again by Giotto, titled The Confirmation of the Rule, and painted sometime 1295-1300 in the Upper Church of San Francesco in Assisi. To me, the colours are wonderful.

According to a biography on the website Olga's Gallery (where I found the fresco reproductions,) Giotto di Bondone (1266-1337) was a painter and architect, born in Vespignano, near Florence. Giotto was apparently described by Dante as the foremost painter of his time, but critics suggest his influence was far greater, some judging Giotto to be a revolutionary who altered the course of painting in Western Europe, striking out of the Gothic and Byzantine styles towards the Renaissance.

His most important works are judged to include: the frescos in the Capella degli Scrovegni, in Padua; the Navicella mosaic in Saint Peter’s Basilica in Rome; the cycles of frescos depicting scenes from the life of St. Francis, in Assisi; frescos (again, of St. Francis) in Santa Croce in Florence; and the Ognissanti Madonna now in the Uffizi Gallery in Florence.

Comments (14)

Just beautiful! How did I ever miss them when I was there. Or perhaps I did see them but then forgot. I am so excited for you. I think your itinerary is just perfect!

Oh - I was suposed to be in Assisi in May this year but the trip got postponed.

I've been twice now and really love it. :)

VickyP:

I love your brief art history notes. I'm so looking forward to your trip!

Those frescoes were so awesome. When I was there, they had just recently completed the post-earthquake restorations, and the whole church looked amazing.

Have you ever watched Sister Wendy's Story of Painting series? She really emphasizes what a revolutionary Giotto was...

Every time I've been in Venice, I intend to go see the frescoes in Padua and then I don't do it. Next time!

Kathy (Trekcapri):

Hi Sandra, these are very beautiful and interesting looking frescos and I found the historical background equally so.

For Giotto to have possibly revolutionized the course of painting in western Europe. That's huge.

I hope you enjoy your time visiting and studying these wonderful frescos on your trip.

Brad'll Do It:

Is your interest in art a byproduct of your love of Italy, or vice versa? Do you have a "favorite" artistic period or artist? Is contemporary art of any interest? I ask simply because you seem to blog about art frequently, and I was wondering how you feel about art in general.

sandrac:

Thanks Girasoli! Looking at my itinerary, I've been a bit worried that it doesn't sound much like Slow Travel -- I'm staying in four different places in 15 days! But I love to see what small towns like Bevagna and Assisi are like at night, when the tour buses have left. And the best way to do that it seems, is to stay there!

Leslie, I'm sorry to hear that your trip to Assisi had to be postponed this year -- maybe you have another Italian trip in the planning stage?

Thanks, Vicky, I hope that after this trip I'll have some photos of my own of favourite works, to post on my blog, rather than reproductions of reproductions!

Annie, I'd also really love to visit Padua and see Giotto's frescoes there, while they still allow visitors at all. I hadn't before heard of Sister Wendy's painting series, was it on PBS? I must Google and find it because I really love art and would love to learn so much more about different styles and periods.

Kathy, thanks so much -- I'm really looking forward to this trip, which will be a real blend of favourite sites and new ones as well!

Brad, that's a good question. I can't remember a time I wasn't fascinated by art, but it wasn't until my first trip to Italy that I really began to focus (obsess?) on the Renaissance and Baroque in particular, on frescos and even some medieval art. So I guess the two (Italy and art) are very tightly linked for me -- I can't imagine one without the other! I appreciate some modern art, but it just doesn't touch my heart in the way earlier periods do.

One of the many things I love about Italy is how much informal art and beauty seems to be everywhere -- that is, small sculptures and frescoes on the sides of building, stunning pillars and porticos in places you might not expect. It just seems to be part of every day life in Italy!

VickyP:

What you said--"One of the many things I love about Italy is how much informal art and beauty seems to be everywhere" --Absolutely!! Nail hit on head.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sister_Wendy

Hi Sandra, here's a Wikipedia article about Sister Wendy. Yes, "Story of Painting" was a BBC series that was shown on PBS in the U.S. in the early 90's. I loved it so much that I bought the tapes. She starts in those caves in France with the oldest paintings in existence and goes all the way through to Modern art. And she's an amazingly free thinker (for a nun!).

sandrac:

Thanks, Vicky!

And thank you Annie, for the interesting link to Sister Wendy -- she sounds like quite a character! The BBC programs sound very interesting, I'm going to go on the BBC website and see if I can order the DVDs. They must be beautiful to look at, as well as interesting material.

Sandra - beautiful frescos. For us I think that the most impressive frescos we've seen were the cycle at Abbazia di Monte Oliveto Maggiore. I have never seen such vivid colours and stunning story telling. Have you been there?

sandrac:

Jerry, I haven't been there and I would really like to. I've heard so many wonderful things about those frescos! Perhaps next year, especially since I now seem to be getting in to a car-rental groove!

Anne:

Love, love this post!! I am so drawn to Giotto's work, at least what I have seen. When mom and I spent the day in Assisi, we were enthralled by the fresco cycle in the upper church. Not sure I'll make it back to Assisi this fall, but...

I am so looking forward to visiting the "Maestà" room in the Uffizi. It's fascinating to compare Giotto's Ognissanti Madonna with the earlier works by Cimabue and Duccio. I have received my Amici degli Uffizi card already, so am all set!

sandrac:

Thanks, Anne! Perhaps you'll have time for a day trip from Florence.....altho it would be a long day (perhaps not Slow Travel!) Still, I'm flying in and out of Florence on this trip, and when I land, I'm heading straight down to Assisi. I was a bit surprised to see how many trains run to Assisi, and the time isn't that long, about 2.5 hours.

On the other hand, I'll only have a few days in Florence at the end of the trip and I'm desperately debating whether to visit the Uffizi again, or use the time for other sites. I love the Uffizi, but I visit every time I'm in Florence -- and there are other places (Santa Maria Novella) which I've never seen!

So much art, so little time!

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