Boosting the Emotional Power of New Liturgy: The Hidden Sides of Things in Giotto's Crib at Greccio

Research output: Chapter in Book/Conference paperChapterpeer-review


On the lower walls of the Upper Church at Assissi there is a series of frescoes (1297-1300) by Giotto that celebrate the life of St Francis as recounted in Bonaventure’s life of the saint (from which excerpts are found beneath each fresco). One of these frescoes, The Crib at Greccio, shows an unusual view of the exposed carpentry on the verso of the cross fixed above the doorway of the solid tramezzo screen that divides the chorus from the nave. The lecture explores the issue of whether the purpose of this view strangely occluded cross is to interrupt the customary focus of the devout on the mass that takes place on the frontal side of the cross on the other side of the screen. Would this increase the emotional impact of the miraculous vision associated with St Francis’s unprecedented nativity play (that other mass) taking place in the chorus with priest, the saint himself, monks and leading citizens of the city? What is the significance of displacing the scene from its humble hill town setting at Greccio to this new setting in the wealthy Franciscan church pictured in the fresco? Does this deviation from the Bonaventure’s text increase the prestige of the order without destroying the spontaneity of the event? Does it constitute a precedent for liturgy with fresh and moving ideological connotations? Finally, is the setting of the nativity drama in the chorus a ‘front region’ masquerading as a ‘back region’ (in Irving Goffmann’s terms) providing worshippers in the actual church with an especially privileged and emotional identification with the events taking place within the fictional church? Contrasts will be made with Duccio’s double-sided Maestà at Siena, and innovative use will be made of the theories of indeterminacy attributed to the ‘wrong’ sides of things by philosophers such as Edmund Husserl, Luc Ferry and Jan Patocka.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationPerforming Emotions in Early Europe
EditorsPhilippa Maddern, Joanne McEwan, Anne M. Scott
PublisherBrepols Publishers
Number of pages20
ISBN (Electronic)9782503572963
ISBN (Print)9782503572376
Publication statusPublished - 2018

Publication series

NameEarly European Research


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