Holy Spirit Province Saint-Esprit
Franciscans of CanadaFranciscains du Canada

Ordo Fratrum Minorum

Giotto: The Coronation of the Virgin

Giotto -The theme of the Coronation of the Virgin has for object the bodily Assumption of Mary into heavenly glory. In the tradition, this truth of faith is attested only from the 6th century, firstly in legendary stories. These, although devoid of historical value, however express a certutude of faith. As shown in the liturgical feast, celebrated since the 5th century, the ‘Dormition’ and later ‘the Assumption of Mary’ (15 August), the Catholic Church has since, throughout the centuries, remained unanimous in this conviction.

This painting of the Coronation of the Virgin certainly represents the summit of the last period of Giotto, and this painting is the only one to remain in its original location. The name originates from the Baroncelli family, who commissioned the altarpiece in 1327, for their Chapel in the Santa Croce Franciscan church in Florence, dedicated to the Virgin of the Annunciation.

Under the central panel of the Coronation, there is this inscription: ‘Op(us) Magistri jocti d(e) Flor(enti)a’ (‘the work of the Florentine Master Giotto’). While the weakness of the style and the technique suggest that this altarpiece was not actually painted by Giotto, this inscription indicates the active involvement of his workshop. It may have provided the design of this panel, perhaps not that of the entire Chapel.

The Baroncelli altarpiece presents a completely unified field through its five panels. Most important, the altarpiece presents an event involving the Virgin – her Coronation – rather than simply presenting her as an object of worship. This may explain why the two central characters, Jesus and Mary, are represented on a somewhat larger scale, while multiple figures on the side panels stretch over a flattened area, preventing us from fully imagining the dimension of the bodies below the heads.

The central panel sheds light on the whole of the scene. Mary and Christ sit on a broad throne. Mary bows her head reverently in order to receive the celestial crown from the hands of her Son. Mother and Son form a whole through their gestures, but mainly through their garments: both are clothed in radiant bright white and pink interlaced with gold. The elegance of their clothing, in particular the trumpet-shaped sleeves on Christ’s robe, indicates a great affinity with the style of courtly Gothic, a tendency which can also be observed in the frescoes of the Bardi Chapel of Santa Croce.

A multitude of angels and saints crowd into a radiant Assembly, hoping to attend the coronation of the Mother of God through her Son. The first rows consists of musician-angels on their knees; all other spectators, saints of all ages and from all eras, are facing the central event.

The Golden Legend describes the scene of the Assumption with an accompaniment of ‘soft vocals and melody’. Music was therefore associated with the Assumption and the Coronation of the Virgin in the most influential paintings, which could have had a major influence on the decision to include the instrumentalist angels in artistic representations.

Georges Morin, o.f.m.