The Bardi were an affluent Florentine family of bankers that dealt mainly with cardinals and princes, and had twenty-five branches throughout the whole of Europe. They were so projected beyond the Florentine confines that they commissioned the decoration of their chapel to Giotto, maybe not only for his talent but also because of his fame as a notable Florentine celebrated by Dante.
The frescoes depict the story of Francis, based on the biography written by Bonaventura da Bagnoregio, and we can observe the Renunciation of his paternal inheritance, the Confirmation of the Franciscan Rule, the Apparition at the Arles Chapter, the Trial of Fire before the Sultan, the Death of St. Francis, post-mortem miracles and St. Francis receiving the stigmata.
Solemn and composed, the stories about the Saint – frescoed probably around 1325 – unfold on the walls with great clarity, increasing the expressive power of the figures and the intensity of the feelings that they communicate to the viewer. In the scenes, architecture helps the faithful to identify themselves with the humanity of the characters, among whom the figure of Francis of Assisi dominates with the realness of his acts and his spiritual searching.
The conservation proceedings regarding the murals in the Bardi Chapel have been quite troubled. The probable rainwater infiltrations and static damage to the wall structure that occurred over time, for example those caused by the collapse of the bell tower in 1512, were followed by the cyclical flooding of the Arno river, which flows close to the basilica of Santa Croce, and whose damage affected the lower area of the chapel. In the eighteenth century, the paintings were also covered with plastering and whitewashing. The most serious devastation, however, was caused in the early nineteenth century when the two funeral monuments were added onto the walls of the chapel. They were later transferred during the rediscovery of Giotto’s pictorial cycle, which took place between 1850 and 1851. This is the time of the first restoration work entrusted to Gaetano Bianchi, one of the best known Florentine restorers of the time, followed a century later by a second intervention, carried out by Leonetto Tintori, under the supervision of Ugo Procacci, who completely removed the nineteenth-century integrations, restoring the paintings to their original condition.
Diagnostic investigations, carried out by the Opificio delle Pietre Dure in 2010, have shown that the chapel's wall paintings are still affected by serious deterioration, which, in some places, gravely endangers both the cohesion of the pictorial film and the adherence to the support of the entire thickness of the plaster, progressively compromising an ever wider surface. The detachment of the plaster could be the result of ancient damage, to which the previous restoration works provided only a partial remedy; the characteristics and type of fallen colour particles testify, however, to the existence of a sulphation phenomenon: this is a serious process of alteration of the actual composition of the plaster, called "wall cancer", a sign that the degradation has not been resolved and therefore represents a tangible danger that prompts an urgent intervention.
The total restauration of the frescoes will last three years, and has been entrusted by the Opera di Santa Croce to the Opificio delle Pietre Dure, one of Italy’s best restoration bodies, that has already conducted an in-depth research on the masterpiece and decided on the course of action.
The total cost is 800.000 euro. The Opera of Santa Croce does not receive any State or Church funding, and can exist only with the help of visitors and donations. A part has already been covered thanks to private donors and we are now appealing to all to raise the outstanding amount.
In order to save one of the most loved and famous paintings of the fourteenth century we must act very quickly - the Covid-19 pandemic has not helped. The works had to be postponed but as things slowly begin to improve we are now ready to commence! We just need you, and your generosity to finance it.
The quickest and easiest way to donate is through our official website. Simply click on the amount you wish to give or decide your own personal sum.
If you are a USA citizen donations can also be made through the KBFUS , King Baudouin Foundation United States, which also enables you to claim tax relief.