Assisi: Basilica di San Francesco

The Basilica di San Francesco.

“Of all the Roman monuments at the end of the thirteenth century, the most Roman was, paradoxically, the double basilica of San Francesco in Assisi, the mother church of the new order of Franciscan friars”.[1]

I can only agree with this assessment by Giotto expert Francesca Flores d’Arcais. The Basilica di San Francesco d’Assisi is a papal basilica, and it has therefore always been directly dependent on the Pope in Rome rather than on a local bishop or even the Minister General of the Franciscans. There are just seven papal basilicas in Italy, five in Rome and two in Assisi.[2] The San Francesco is by far the most beautiful church in Umbria and a serious contender for the title of most beautiful church in all of Italy. You simply cannot visit Assisi and skip the San Francesco with its gorgeous architecture and amazing frescoes. But beware: this is a church, not a museum. Taking pictures inside is strictly prohibited. If you ignore this rule, you are likely to be admonished and perhaps ejected by the staff for showing a serious lack of respect. The custodians take this “no photo” rule very seriously; even a tourist who had his camera around his neck with the lens uncovered was given a warning. Keep in mind that the rule applies to both parts of the church, the Upper and Lower Basilica.


The San Francesco owes its existence to Pope Gregorius IX (1227-1241). It was this pope who, less than two years after Franciscus of Assisi’s death in 1226, had the man canonised on 16 July 1228. Construction of the Lower Basilica started the next day, the Pope having previously expressed a desire to construct a special church to house the relics of the man who had founded the mendicant order of Friars Minor. Gregorius personally laid the first stone. By May 1230 enough of the Lower Basilica had been completed to have the body of Saint Franciscus exhumed from its temporary resting place in the small church of San Giorgio (later incorporated into the Basilica di Santa Chiara) and translated to a secret location under the high altar of the still unfinished San Francesco. The church authorities were clearly fearful that someone would try to steal Franciscus’ relics and disperse them all over Europe. Such was the reputation of this remarkable saint.

The basilica seen from the Piazza Inferiore.

The remains of Saint Franciscus of Assisi were only rediscovered in 1818 and then laid to rest in a new crypt fitted out by order of Pope Pius VII (1800-1823). So although the crypt is undoubtedly the holiest spot in the entire complex nowadays, visitors should keep in mind that it is also a relatively recent addition. It does seem that the church of San Francesco has always been conceived as comprising a Lower Basilica and an Upper Basilica, one church above the other. The Lower Basilica was intended as the original crypt, albeit a particularly large one. This was where pilgrims from all over the Catholic world gathered to venerate one of the most remarkable saints in the history of the Church. The light and spacious Upper Basilica was meant for religious services. For obvious reasons construction of this part of the church could only commence once the Lower Basilica had been completed. We do not know when exactly the Lower Basilica was finished, but it must have been in 1239 at the latest. The Upper Basilica was completed in 1253. In that year the high altars of both parts of the church of San Francesco were consecrated by Pope Innocentius IV (1243-1254).[3]

Beautiful rose window of the basilica.

Pope Gregorius’ decision to build a splendid but hideously expensive new basilica to house the remains of a man who had been a lifelong devotee to radical poverty, manual labour and barefoot preaching was controversial for obvious reasons. The project seemed like the ultimate Franciscan paradox. To add insult to injury, the Pope had entrusted the project to a man who was himself controversial. Brother Elias Bombarone (ca. 1180-1253), also known as Elias of Cortona, was an early follower of Franciscus. Even in some modern sources he is described as “a man of tyrannical temperament” and “despotic and self-indulgent”.[4] Whether this assessment is entirely fair is up for debate. In early 1209, Franciscus had had a mere 10 followers. That number had grown to 5,000 in 1220 and exploded after Franciscus’ canonisation in 1228. While some of Franciscus’ earliest followers, such as Brother Masseo and the priest Leo, wanted the Friars Minor to remain a strictly non-hierarchical community founded on the principle of poverty, it was members like Elias who realised that this was simply not feasible. If the Franciscans wanted to achieve anything, they had to integrate into the real world. They needed churches and convents of their own, professorships at universities and ultimately the papacy.

Elias served as Vicar General of the Order until 1227. In that year, the General Chapter of the Franciscans did not elect him their first Minister General. Although it has been argued that this meant that he could focus on construction of the San Francesco, the fact that he had lost out to Giovanni Parenti (died ca. 1250) was not to his liking. In 1230, Elias tried to have his rival deposed, but he was unsuccessful. Only his second attempt in 1232 succeeded and Elias served as Minister General of the Order until 1239. In that year he was himself deposed by the General Chapter and the next year he was even excommunicated by his old ally Pope Gregorius IX. It was only in 1253, shortly before his death, that he was pardoned and reconciled to the Church.

The basilica at night.

An interesting question is whether Brother Elias was also the architect of the San Francesco. While he was probably involved in the design of the church, the most reasonable conclusion seems to be that the actual architect is unknown. Giorgio Vasari (1511-1574) attributed the basilica to a German master named Jacob, which would be Jacopo Tedesco in Italian. If this Jacopo Tedesco was indeed the architect, then nothing about his life is known. Vasari claims he moved to Florence after completing the basilica and began calling himself Lapo instead of Jacopo. He supposedly died in 1262, but surely Vasari’s claim that he was the father of the sculptor and architect Arnolfo di Lapo, also known as Arnolfo di Cambio (ca. 1240-1300/10), is a fanciful fabrication. It is sometimes suggested that Filippo da Campello, who may have built the Santa Chiara elsewhere in Assisi, was involved in the project, but there is not much evidence to back up that claim.

After its completion in 1253, the basilica was decorated and subsequently restored and expanded on many occasions. The most relevant events will be discussed below. Here I will just mention the earthquake that struck Assisi on 26 September 1997. Four people inspecting the damage were killed during an aftershock when part of the vault in the Upper Basilica collapsed and precious frescoes were dashed to pieces. However, visitors today will hardly notice that something horrible has happened over twenty years ago. They will simply be awestruck by the amazing basilica, which has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2000.

The basilica seen from the valley below.


Gothic portal with the main entrance to the Upper Basilica.

The church of San Francesco rests precariously on the edge of a steep slope of Monte Subasio. It is buttressed by the arches of the Sacro Convento, the sacred convent that partially surrounds it (see the image above). If we admire the church from the Rocca Maggiore, the citadel that towers over the town of Assisi, we can also clearly see the cylindrical towers and extra arches on both sides, which together provide the building with extra stability. From the Rocca we can also see that the church was built in the shape of a Tau Cross. Tau-shaped churches lack a regular sanctuary and their transept is located at the end of the nave, giving the church the form of a large T. This is typical for Franciscan churches (see here, here and here for other examples): Franciscus had adopted the Tau as his personal sign.

The Tau or Tav can be found in both the Greek and Hebrew alphabets and is therefore part of both the New and the Old Testament. It is mentioned in Ezekiel 9:4[5] and for Christians it also symbolises the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ.[6] One can understand why: the letter T closely resembles the cross on which the Saviour died. You will encounter Tau Crosses everywhere in Assisi, even on the lawn in front of the San Francesco. Here the Tau is accompanied by the word Pax, a reference to Franciscus’ regular greeting “May the Lord give you Peace” and his status as a symbol of Peace.

Gothic portal with the entrance to the Lower Basilica.

The façade of the Upper Basilica is beautiful in its simplicity. It has three storeys, all of which are made of whitewashed stone. The lower storey has a Gothic portal with a blind rose window and twin doors. The middle storey is dominated by a large and intricately carved rose window with the symbols of the four Evangelists, a man for Matthew, an eagle for John, an ox for Luke and a lion for Mark (see the image above). The top storey is a triangular pediment with an oculus. To the left of the façade is a loggia that allows the Pope to give his blessing to large crowds. The loggia is a seventeenth century addition. The Romanesque bell tower may have been completed as early as 1239. It was originally provided with a spire, but this was demolished in the sixteenth century.

The approach to the Lower Basilica is called the Piazza Inferiore. On either side of the piazza are the arches of the rooms where pilgrims could rest, recover and buy refreshments after the long and tiresome journey to Assisi. The arches were built in 1474, during the pontificate of Pope Sixtus IV (1471-1484). He had been born Francesco della Rovere and had served as Minister General of the Franciscan Order from 1464 until 1469. The Piazza Inferiore leads to the side entrance of the church, which gives access to the Lower Basilica. The entrance consists of an ornate Gothic portal with another exquisite rose window. The portal is surrounded by an early Renaissance loggia added in 1487. At the back of the church is a set of stairs which connects the Upper and Lower Basilicas.

Crucifixion – Tiberio d’Assisi.

Once pope, Sixtus IV played an important role in expanding the Sacro Convento as well. Part of the convent nowadays houses the Museo del Tesoro, which can be visited for free. Perhaps even more importantly, in this part of the complex photography seems to be allowed (it is, after all, a museum, not a church). The collection to be found here is not very large, but there are a few interesting items on display nonetheless. Expect to find works by painters from the fourteenth to sixteenth centuries, such as Pietro Lorenzetti, Tiberio d’Assisi and Lo Spagna. Part of the collection was donated to the Franciscans by the American art historian Frederick Mason Perkins, who died in Assisi in 1955.

Upper Basilica

The light and spacious Upper Basilica is best known for its cycles of frescoes which cover just about every inch of the walls and the vault.[7] The right transept focuses on stories of the Apostles, the left transept deals with the Crucifixion and the Apocalypse. Then there is the choir, with stories of the Virgin, and the central vault, with a focus on the Evangelists. The most famous frescoes can be found in the nave. The upper parts of the walls have frescoes featuring stories from the Old Testament (on the right as one enters) and from the New Testament (on the left). We can admire a total of 32 scenes surrounding eight stained glass windows, but many of the frescoes are unfortunately badly damaged. By far the most impressive and important frescoes were painted on the lower parts of the nave walls. Here we find the Franciscan cycle, with 28 scenes from the life of Saint Franciscus himself. Images of the whole cycle can be found here.

Interior of the Upper Basilica (photo: Starlight/Wikimedia Commons).

When studying all of these frescoes, we are faced with the problem of who painted what and when. In other words, we have a problem of authorship and of dating. Decoration of the Upper Basilica certainly started after 1253, when this part of the double church was completed. The stained glass windows were added first. Perhaps it was Pope Nicholas III (1277-1280) who commissioned the first frescoes. He was certainly very much involved in the Franciscan Order. Nicholas had been Cardinal Protector of the Order and for much of his pontificate had to deal with conflicts pertaining to the interpretation of the Franciscan Rule (the struggle between the radicals and the moderates was still ongoing). But perhaps decoration of the Upper Basilica only commenced when Girolamo Masci ascended the Throne of Saint Peter as Pope Nicholas IV in 1288. This fourth Nicholas, who reigned until his death in 1292, was the first Franciscan pope in history. There are good reasons to assume that the Franciscan cycle on the nave walls was painted last. Since the fresco of the Homage of a Simple Man – the first of the cycle – shows the church of Santa Maria sopra Minerva and a still unfinished Torre del Popolo in Assisi, we may assume that these frescoes were painted before 1305, the year in which the tower was completed.

Decoration of the Upper Basilica started at the back, in the right transept. The artist who was active here is often called the Master from beyond the Mountains, the Northern Master or the Maestro Oltremontano. Whoever he was, he was not Italian. It has been speculated that he and his assistants were from France, Germany or England. The Master from beyond the Mountains was succeeded by Cimabue (ca. 1240-1302), the Florentine master who frescoed much of the rest of the transept and the choir. Depending on which pope commissioned them, his frescoes can be dated to ca. 1280 or after 1288. One of his most impressive works is his Crucifixion in the left transept[8], which shows a kneeling Saint Franciscus at the base of the cross. An image can be found here. Note that the colours have basically gone berserk. This is unfortunately the case with most of his other frescoes as well. Cimabue used lead white in his pigments, which turns black after a while as a result of oxidation. While it is a pity that the original colours have not been preserved, the haunting black figures do add to the dramatic effect. Another problem with the frescoes is that they were painted onto dried plaster (a secco instead of buon fresco). As a result, their state of conservation is rather poor.

Pope Innocentius III approves the Franciscan Rule (Giotto or Master of the Legend of Saint Francis). The temporary rule was approved in 1209, the definitive rule in 1223 (image: Wikimedia Commons).

When the transept and choir were finished, a new artist entered the scene. He was almost certainly Jacopo Torriti, himself a Franciscan friar. Starting in the bay closest to the altar, Torriti and his assistants began painting frescoes with scenes from the Old and New Testament on the upper parts of both nave walls. They probably also decorated the vault of the third bay with medallions featuring the busts of Christ, the Virgin Mary, Saint John the Evangelist and Saint Franciscus. Torriti never completed what he had begun. It seems that he suddenly had to abandon the project and the most plausible explanation is that Pope Nicholas IV summoned him to Rome to work in the cathedral of San Giovanni in Laterano, where he made the apse mosaic (which includes a self-portrait). This was done in ca. 1291. Torriti was subsequently commissioned to execute the apse mosaic of the Coronation of the Virgin in the Santa Maria Maggiore, also in Rome and completed in about 1295. So to sum up, his activities in the Eternal City prevented him from returning to Assisi to finish his work there.

Jacopo Torriti was replaced with an artist often referred to as the Isaac Master. To quote Francesca Flores d’Arcais: “Whoever the painter, he was very mature, rich in experience and accustomed to thinking in architectonic terms (…) He was certainly a Roman artist, but with a sensibility more modern than Jacopo Torriti’s”.[9] Could he have been Pietro Cavallini (ca. 1259-1330), that great representative of the school called Roman naturalism? It would certainly make sense, but the jury is still out. Cavallini was responsible for a brilliant fresco in the church of Santa Cecilia in Trastevere (ca. 1293) and made equally brilliant mosaics for the church of Santa Maria in Trastevere (ca. 1290-1291). But more importantly for our story, he was also active in two churches of the Franciscan Order in Rome. Cavallini painted a now lost Franciscan cycle (ca. 1290) for the church of San Francesco a Ripa, the first base of the Franciscans in Rome. He was also almost certainly the artist responsible for the fresco gracing the tomb of cardinal Matteo d’Acquasparta (1240-1302), eleventh Minister General of the Order of the Franciscans, which is in the church of Santa Maria in Aracoeli. Cavallini executed other works in this church as well, which happened to be the second headquarters of the Franciscans in the Eternal City.

Saint Franciscus preaches to the birds (Giotto or Master of the Legend of Saint Francis; image: Wikimedia Commons).

The two frescoes featuring Isaac are – alternatively – often attributed to a young Giotto (ca. 1266-1337), who would have been in his late twenties or early thirties when he executed them. If he did execute them, as this is very much up for debate. Giotto expert Flores d’Arcais certainly believes he did and she also attributes the vault of the Doctors of the Church to him as well as several New Testament scenes, such as the Deposition on the left wall of the first bay. This is a very interesting, though largely academic debate which cannot be discussed in great detail here. Instead I will now focus on the highlight of the Upper Basilica, the Franciscan cycle with 28 scenes from the life of Saint Franciscus. They are based on the Legenda Maior, the ‘official’ biography of the saint, written between 1260 and 1263 by Giovanni di Fidanza, seventh Minister General of the Franciscans and now generally known as Saint Bonaventura (he was canonised in 1482 by Pope Sixtus IV, himself the former 37th Minister General; see above).

As was already explained above, the Franciscan cycle must have been painted before 1305, because it shows the Torre del Popolo still incomplete (see the image of the Homage of a Simple Man below). The earliest source for Giotto’s activities in Assisi is probably the notary Riccobaldo of Ferrara (ca. 1246-1320), but he does not specifically attribute the Franciscan cycle to him. A firm attribution to Giotto can be found in a work by Lorenzo Ghiberti (1378-1455), who is best known for his doors for the Baptistery of San Giovanni in Florence. Ghiberti wrote that Giotto “painted almost the entire lower part [of the walls] in the Church of Assisi, in the order of minor friars”.[10] Giorgio Vasari, already mentioned above, was also fairly certain that it was Giotto who painted the frescoes. He claims that the Florentine artist had been summoned to Assisi by Giovanni da Morrovalle[11], who served as the thirteenth Minister General of the Franciscans between 1296 and 1304. The involvement of Giovanni may very well be correct, and the period 1296-1304 seems just about right. However, Vasari also claims that Giotto painted 32 scenes regarding the life and works of Franciscus, which is a rather silly mistake: there are and have always been just 28 scenes (Vasari must have confused these with the Biblical scenes, of which there are indeed 32).

Homage of a Simple Man – Giotto or Master of the Legend of Saint Francis (image: Wikimedia Commons).

Giotto’s authorship of the Franciscan cycle seems to have been generally accepted until art historians started to challenge it in the early nineteenth century. The debate was continued in the twentieth century and focuses on differences in style between the Assisi cycle and the frescoes – executed in 1303-1305 and certainly by Giotto – in the Cappella degli Scrovegni in Padova. There does not seem to be consensus yet. Authors such as Francesca Flores d’Arcais still attribute the cycle to Giotto. Flores d’Arcais even claims that “Giotto’s paternity of the cycle is generally accepted”.[12] However, she also concedes that the final three scenes of the cycle on the left wall, which are of mediocre quality, are certainly not by Giotto. The Healing of the Wounded Man, Confession of the Woman of Benevento and Liberation of the Prisoner are attributed to the Cecilia Master or perhaps the Master of the Crucifix of Montefalco (they may be the same person).[13] Flores d’Arcais also observes that some of the other scenes on the same left wall, starting with the Death of Saint Franciscus, show a heavy involvement of assistants. Perhaps Giotto had to abandon the project as well, as we know that Pope Bonifatius VIII (1294-1303) summoned him to Rome in about 1297 to fresco his new Loggia of Benedictions, part of the cathedral of San Giovanni in Laterano.

To sum up, while some authorities continue to support Giotto’s authorship of most of the cycle, others see the hands of three separate painters. In this theory, the anonymous Master of the Legend of Saint Francis was responsible for most of the frescoes, until he was replaced by another Master who was the lead painter of the scenes about the death and funeral of Franciscus, while the less competent Cecilia Master finished the cycle. This three-part division matches perfectly with the theory that Giotto painted much of the cycle himself, then had to rely more heavily on his assistants, until finally abandoning the project altogether, taking even his assistants with him and leaving the cycle to be finished by someone else. The debate about whether or not Giotto was responsible for the Franciscan cycle – and if so, to what degree – will no doubt continue for decades to come. If you visit the Upper Basilica, my advice would be to ignore this discussion and just enjoy the frescoes. Whether Giotto painted them or not, most are of superb quality and the true highlight of the church.

Lower Basilica

Interior of the Lower Basilica (photo: Starlight/Wikimedia Commons).

While the Upper Basilica is light and spacious, the Lower Basilica is dark and the space feels cramped because of the low vault. This Romanesque lower part of the church was where pilgrims would gather to venerate Saint Franciscus. Like the Upper Basilica, the Lower Basilica was built in the shape of a Tau Cross. However, it largely lost this form when lateral chapels were added to the church in the late thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. A good plan of the Lower Basilica can be found here.

The entrance to the Lower Basilica leads to a vestibule which has a few interesting tombs. One may belong to John of Brienne, titular king of Jerusalem (1210-1225) and Latin emperor of Constantinople  from 1229 until his death in 1237. John and Franciscus had met in Egypt during the Fifth Crusade (1217-1221) and John was said to have become a Franciscan friar shortly before he died. However, since he breathed his last in what is now Istanbul, Turkey, it is not impossible that the tomb of the Lower Basilica in Assisi is in fact not his. At the end of the vestibule is the Cappella di Santa Caterina, now reserved for prayer. The Spanish cardinal Gil Álvarez Carrillo de Albornoz (1310-1367), the papal warhorse who built the Rocca Maggiore in Assisi, was originally buried here. Later his body was repatriated to Toledo, Spain.

The walls of the nave of the Lower Basilica were provided with frescoes featuring five scenes from the life of Christ (on the right) and five from that of Franciscus (on the left; Franciscus was actually seen as a sort of second Christ at the time). These may have been painted as early as 1260. They are attributed to the anonymous Master of Saint Francis (Maestro di San Francesco) and time has not been kind to them. More importantly, people have not been kind to them: most were damaged during the construction of the side chapels, as the builders simply knocked through the walls of the nave.

Saint Franciscus – Cimabue.

I will not discuss all the chapels in the Lower Basilica; some are more interesting than others. Let us start in the right transept, where in about 1294 the Cappella di San Nicola, dedicated to Saint Nicholas of Bari, was created. The chapel belonged to the Roman Orsini family and was presumably commissioned by cardinal Napoleone Orsini. The reason for dedicating the chapel to Saint Nicholas was likely the fact that Pope Nicholas III – already mentioned above – had been a scion of the Orsinis as well; he had been born Giovanni Gaetano Orsini. The chapel contains the tomb of another Giovanni Gaetano Orsini, who was the cardinal’s brother, not the Pope. The chapel was decorated in the early 1300s by a group of artists, “all of them bound to Giotto”.[14] They may have been assistants from his workshop or former students working independently. Whether the master was involved as well is hard to say, but it seems rather unlikely he picked up the brush himself.

Giotto’s influence is also present in the right transept itself, which has stories from Christ’s childhood and posthumous miracles by Saint Franciscus. Some frescoes bear a close resemblance to those on the walls of the Scrovegni Chapel in Padova, already mentioned a few times above. See for instance the scenes regarding the Flight into Egypt, Christ among the Doctors and the Crucifixion. Rather curiously, the right transept also has a fresco which is clearly not by Giotto, his followers or his workshop. The fresco features a Madonna Enthroned with the Child, Saint Franciscus and Four Angels. It is generally attributed to Cimabue and its dating is problematic, but a date of ca. 1280 – or ca. 1288 if it was commissioned by Pope Nicholas IV – seems reasonable. Although it is certainly not of exceptional quality, the fresco is very famous for its depiction of Franciscus as a bearded young man with a slightly shy look in his eyes.

Giotto’s influence continues in the beautiful Cappella della Maddalena, the last chapel on the right side of the nave. Here the master may certainly have been active himself. The frescoes in the chapel were commissioned by Tebaldo Pontano, bishop of Assisi between 1296 (or 1314) and 1329. Dating the frescoes is again problematic. They may have been painted as early as 1315 or 1318, but perhaps they were executed in the 1320s. Again the influence of the Scrovegni Chapel is evident. The scenes featuring the Deposition and the Raising of Lazarus were obviously inspired by those in Padova. And yet the frescoes are anything but boring copies; an expert concludes that “this cycle is full of innovative effects, and at the same time rich in theological and spiritual significance and affectionate attention to each person”.[15] For me this chapel constitutes the true highlight of the Lower Basilica.

View of the basilica from the Rocca Maggiore.

The left side of the Lower Basilica is dominated by two artists from Siena. Pietro Lorenzetti (ca. 1280/85-1348) decorated the left transept with scenes from the Passion of Christ. Dating is again difficult, but 1315-1320 seems like an educated guess. Simone Martini (ca. 1284-1344) was responsible for painting the frescoes in the Cappella di San Martino. These were executed in ca. 1321-1326, or perhaps in 1312-1320. So in other words, we do not know. The chapel is dedicated to Saint Martin, the bishop of Tours who died in 397. He was greatly admired by Franciscus for sharing his cloak with a beggar and for leaving the Roman army to become a lifelong proponent of peace (note that in the second scene of the Franciscan cycle of the Upper Basilica, we see Franciscus giving away his cloak to a poor man).


From the Lower Basilica one can descend into the crypt below the high altar. This is the holiest spot in all of Assisi. Here rests one of the most famous saints in the history of Christianity in a simple stone coffin. The tomb merely mentions his name, his presumed year of birth (1182) and his year of death (1226). Franciscus is surrounded by the tombs of some his earliest and most loyal followers. Apart from the Brothers Masseo and Leo already mentioned above, Brother Rufino, “a shy man much admired by Francis”[16], and Brother Angelo found their final resting place here.

Saint Franciscus awaits his resurrection in the vicinity of a woman who had for a long time been close to him. This was not Clara of Assisi of course; she has her own basilica on the other side of town. The woman I am referring to is Giacoma Frangipane de’ Settesoli (ca. 1190-1239), a Roman noblewoman whom Franciscus affectionately referred to as ‘Brother Giacoma’ (or Jacoba; as a woman she obviously could not formally join the Friars Minor). Giacoma was probably instrumental in securing a former Benedictine church in Rome for the Franciscans, which later became the San Francesco a Ripa. In the autumn of 1226, when Franciscus lay dying in his cell, Giacoma was at his side. She therefore certainly deserved this place of honour in the crypt.


  • ANWB travel guide to Umbria (2016 Dutch edition), p. 69-71;
  • Donald Spoto, Reluctant Saint;
  • Dorling Kindersley travel guide to Umbria (2016 Dutch edition), p. 76-81;
  • Giorgio Vasari, Lives of the Most Excellent Painters, Sculptors, and Architects;
  • Italian Wikipedia;
  • Francesca Flores d’Arcais, Giotto;
  • Key to Umbria


[1] Francesca Flores d’Arcais, Giotto, p. 15. All quotes from her book are translations by Raymond Rosenthal.

[2] Saint Peter’s Basilica, San Giovanni in Laterano, Santa Maria Maggiore, San Paolo fuori le Mura and San Lorenzo fuori le Mura in Rome and San Francesco and Santa Maria degli Angeli in Assisi.

[3] Innocentius consecrated the cathedral of San Rufino in Assisi in 1253 as well.

[4] Donald Spoto, Reluctant Saint, p. 79 and p. 119.

[5] Especially in the Latin Vulgate with which Franciscus would have been familar (even though he never formally learnt Latin): “et dixit Dominus ad eum: Transi per mediam civitatem, in medio Jerusalem, et signa thau super frontes virorum gementium et dolentium super cunctis abominationibus quae fiunt in medio ejus.”

[6] Donald Spoto, Reluctant Saint, p. 62-63.

[7] What follows is mostly based on Francesca Flores d’Arcais, Giotto, p. 15-16.

[8] There is another Crucifixion in the right transept.

[9] Francesca Flores d’Arcais, Giotto, p. 20.

[10] Quote taken from Francesca Flores d’Arcais, Giotto, p. 32.

[11] The name is a mess: we also find Giovanni Mincio or Minio da Morrovalle or Murrovale and Giovanni di Muro della Marca. It is, however, clear that Vasari referred to the thirteenth Minister General of the Franciscans.

[12] Francesca Flores d’Arcais, Giotto, p. 32.

[13] Francesca Flores d’Arcais, Giotto, p. 83.

[14] Francesca Flores d’Arcais, Giotto, p. 219.

[15] Francesca Flores d’Arcais, Giotto, p. 297.

[16] Donald Spoto, Reluctant Saint, p. 79.