A call to arms to save our wondrous masterpiece of art from further decay!

This fundraising campaign is focused on conserving an extraordinary work of art executed by Giotto: the Stories of St. Francis frescoed in the early 14th century for the Bardi chapel in Santa Croce.

The restoration of the cycle of frescoes coming over sixty years after the last intervention, is a unique opportunity to rediscover the great communicative strength of Giotto and learn the secrets and technique of the artist within one of the greatest and most famous Franciscan basilicas in the world.

The works will involve the whole of the chapel and we have already started thanks to private funding and now we just need you, and your generosity to help to complete it; each and every contribution is precious and will help us to save this marvelous work of art, an authentic expression of the historical, cultural and spiritual legacy of Santa Croce.

Giotto in Santa Croce

Giotto, was a 14th century Florentine artist, considered the father of Italian painting who changed the history of art. One of his most iconic and world famous works is this magnificent cycle of frescoes.

Painted inside the Bardi chapel in Santa Croce, the Stories of the life of Saint Francis hold an enormous cultural, artistic and spiritual value that still today continue to be a magnet for thousands of visitors and academics.

Over time, Giotto's story has been enriched with myths and anecdotes that have lent him an almost legendary aura, to the point of even being mentioned by Dante in his XI canticle of Purgatory.

Discover more about the life of Giotto

According to sources, Giotto was the son of a poor shepherd, born in Vespignano, a small hamlet in Mugello, to the north of Florence. Tradition has it that he was a pupil of Cimabue, one of the most important artists of the early Renaissance and author of the famous Crucifix hung in Santa Croce.

Giotto probably developed his great talent inspired by the powerful and dramatic painting of Cimabue, with whom the artist shares a stylistic similarity, without however imitating him completely: Giotto, ignoring the Byzantine influences of the master, chose to paint from life with a more modern style that gave his figures a realistic and tangible air.

There are many anecdotes about Giotto and his work; one of the more humorous ones was also recounted by Vasari who narrates that Giotto painted a fly with such realism that Cimabue tried in vain to brush it off the canvas!

A highly sought-after artist, Giotto received commissions from all over Italy. It was therefore no surprise that the Bardi family, Florentine bankers, decided to entrust him with the task of decorating the Bardi chapel in Santa Croce.

Discover more about the Bardi family

The Bardi family formed an extremely wealthy and powerful dynasty of Florentine bankers, one of the most prominent lineages of medieval Florence. They were owners of a merchant company among the largest in Europe, in close relationship with the Pope, the king of Naples, the King of England and the all-powerful house of Medici.

In 1290, they had established banks all over Europe including England, Spain, Greece, Brussels, France and many more countries.

Like other families belonging to the richest and most influential classes of their age, the Bardi clan decided to leave their own tangible mark within Santa Croce for all to see. They therefore secured the patronage of the chapel closest to the high altar, a position held to be an immense privilege. At the time, patronage in churches served for the salvation of the souls of the patron through their donations intended for good deeds, or to safeguard and create art and above all to increase family prestige. So, as you can see, donors and philanthropists have always been present in the history of Santa Croce and continue to support us today.

The structure of the chapel

Giotto decided to represent the Stories of St. Francis which the artist had previously illustrated in the upper church in Assisi, in six episodes painted on the side walls of the Bardi chapel, three per wall, plus the scene of the Stigmatization of St. Francis over the arch above the entrance to the chapel.  

Find out more about the conservation

The frescoes should be viewed from the centre of the chapel; in devising the upper scenes, Giotto allowed for the fact that they would be seen from below as can be witnessed by the foreshortened building in the Renunciation scene.

Compared to his earlier works in Assisi or in Padua, the artist here changes the ratio between figures and setting, introducing ploys that alter the spatial nature of his scenes. Giotto also transcends the rigid expressions of the era by exploring his figures' mindset, studying their expressions and gestures: the anger of the saint's father and cries of the boys as they are being pulled by their hair in the Renunciation scene; the Saracens' fear of the showdown with Francis and the Sultan's ensuing wrath in the Trial by Fire; or the grief and sentiment of the kneeling friars, the incredulity of the man probing the stigmata and the amazement of the friar watching the saint's soul being borne aloft into heaven in the Death scene.

The scenes narrate the most significant phases of the Saint’s life. The episodes recounted in the frescoes are based on the Bonaventura da Bagnoregio's Legenda Maior approved by the General Chapter of Pisa in 1263 and recognized in 1266 as the most authoritative, and only official source for the biography of Saint Francis.

Giotto organizes the scenes illustrating Saint Francis in the various phases of his life, in such a way as to ensure a clarity that enables the viewer to easily grasp their significance.

The idea of the artist was to draw parallels between the lives of Saint Francis and Christ, starting with the Stigmatization on the wall above the entrance. Inside the chapel the narrative should be read horizontally from left to right. The Renunciation of Worldly Goods is followed on the opposite wall by the Confirmation of the Franciscan Rule, the Apparition at Arles by the Trial by Fire and the Death of St. Francis by the Vision of his Ascension

Exterior of the Bardi chapel. Florence, Santa Croce, right transept

The exterior of the Bardi chapel

Why restore the frescoes

In order to save one of the most loved and famous paintings in the world we must act very quickly- the Covid-19 pandemic has not helped. The works had to be postponed but we have now commenced.

Find out more

During a storm in 1512 lightning struck the bell tower above the chapel and due to the strong wind it collapsed onto the church. The subsequent infiltration of water and the static instability created extreme damage to the back wall of the chapel, whilst a succession of floods attacked the bottom part.

Later on, halfway through the 18th century the magnificent frescoes were mercilessly covered with whitewash, because in those days the beauty and value of the frescoes was not always understood or appreciated due to the changing perception of taste.

The greatest damage however was caused by the inserting of two funeral monuments onto the walls of the chapel. In 1812 the funeral monument of the architect Giuseppe Paoletti was inserted onto the left wall, while in 1818 on the right wall the one to Niccolò Gaspero Paoletti.

It was only in the middle of the 19th century that the magnificence of Giotto's frescoes and the humility of his St. Francis of Assisi were brought to light. From that moment on, a progressive awareness of the beauty and importance of Giotto's art has contributed to marking the birth of the great Italian tradition of restoration.

Giotto, Death of St. Francis

Giotto, Death of St. Francis, whose soul is carried to heaven by angels; Doubting Sir Jerome views St. Francis's stigmata, scene from the Stories of St. Francis, 1317-1325. Basilica of Santa Croce, transept wall above the Bardi Chapel

The restoration

The restoration of the frescoes has been entrusted by the Opera di Santa Croce to the Opificio delle Pietre Dure, (OPD), the most prestigious restoration body in Italy, also considered an excellence throughout the world.

Initially, the OPD needed to study these pictorial cycles in depth to understand their real conditions and to be able to create a long-term conservation programme.

The Opificio delle Pietre Dure, developed an articulated research on the work of Giotto in the Bardi Chapels starting in 2009. Thanks to the intervention of the Getty Foundation in Los Angeles, an innovative diagnostic campaign of a technical-scientific nature was conducted extending the wide range of non-invasive, analytical investigations that constitute the standard for mural paintings.

The experts involved have studied in depth to understand the real conditions using the most advanced instruments, carried out in collaboration with various research institutes.

The restorations should have started in 2020 but, like many other projects, had to be postponed because of lockdown. Now however we are proud to say that this motivated and impressive project to restore Giotto’s work of art is a reality.

Find out more about the restoration

The analysis of the state of conservation has highlighted critical issues concerning both the plaster and pictorial film. On site there will be a team of approximately 10 specialists, alternating over the months according to the various phases of the restoral project.

An important step in the restoration procedure is the pre-consolidation of the pictorial film followed by an initial cleaning, the restoration of the adhesion between the pictorial film and the support, and then a further cleaning. The experts will then proceed with the consolidation of the film, the grouting of any falls of pictorial layers, to finally move on to restoration and where possible, with reconstruction. A technical team will also periodically monitor the temperature and humidity levels. 

A precious help

In its commitment to this great project, the Opera di Santa Croce has been able to count on the full collaboration of the Opificio delle Pietre Dure (OPD) of Florence, which has put forward its expertise and resources for the project and has conducted, over recent years, an in-depth research on Giotto's work of art in the Bardi and Peruzzi Chapels.

In order to start the complex restoration scheduled to last about three years, the following contributions have been decisive:

  • Fondazione CR Firenze – A foundation of banking origin, a non-profit organization that pursues social interest causes through a careful programme of investments and projects within their local territory, and that has always paid great attention to the promotion of culture and art and the conservation and enhancement of cultural heritage.
  • A.R.P.A.I – Association for the Restoration of Italian Artistic Heritage, which works towards the protection of the Italian artistic heritage and which since 1989 has financed interventions on over three hundred works. With this project A.R.P.A.I has chosen to pay tribute to the memory of Countess Florence and Count Paolo Marzotto, founder and former president of the Association.

Both the Fondazione CR Firenze and ARPAI intervene through Art bonus, a tax bonus for those who support culture.

How to donate

The works will last at least three years. The restoration covers the entire chapel and is supported only thanks to the funds collected through visits and private donations. We invite you to take part in our fundraising campaign #Giving4Giotto: you will become part of a project of great historical importance for the safeguarding of this world legacy. Every contribution, even the smallest, is extremely precious. 

If you are donating from Italy

Donors intending to support culture in Italy can now donate through Art bonus, a legislative instrument that allows you to take advantage of a tax credit equal to 65% of the sum you choose to donate to support the safeguarding of the Italian artistic heritage.

Using this tool is very simple, just provide the tax code or your VAT number together with the name of the project you wish to support in the reason for payment section.

Visit our page on the Art Bonus portal and you will find the exact instructions.

If you are donating from Europe

The Opera di Santa Croce is part of the TGE (Transnational Giving Europe) network that enables citizens’ resident in some European countries to make a donation and take advantage of the fiscal deductions that are applicable in their own nation. TGE links European donors to non-profit organizations all over the world. Following the link below you can find out more and see the updated list of the countries that participate: www.transnationalgiving.eu

For further information on donations from Europe please write to: donors@santacroceopera.it

If you are donating from U.S.A.

Residents of the United States can support the Santa Croce monumental complex through the King Baudoin Foundation United States (KBFUS), which facilitates individuals, families, companies or foundations. You can obtain the maximum tax benefit allowed by law and the donation can be made in three different ways:

  • By credit card: connect to our page on the portal and click on “donate”. This is the direct link -> kbfus.org;
  • By check: write your check to KBFUS, specifying “American fund for Opera di Santa Croce - Giotto” in the memo section of the check; then send it to KBFUS, 10 Rockfeller Plaza, 16th Floor, New York, Ny 10020;
  • By wire transfer or to contribute in other ways: email KBFUS at: info@kbfus.org or calling the number  +1 212 713 7660.