San Francesco’s Gestures

October 9, 2012 3:43 pm Published by Leave your thoughts

The Pietro Lorenzetti early 14-th century fresco in the Lower Basilica.

San Francesco di Assisi was certainly Italian. No doubt about it: just note how he gestures in various frescoes depicting him in his Basilica di San Francesco in Assisi. My favorite? The Pietro Lorenzetti early 14-th century fresco in the Lower Basilica. You can tell Lorenzetti was from Siena: note the almond-shaped eyes of the personages, their Roman noses and delicate fingers – and Lorenzetti does not spare the gold (another characteristic of the Sienese school). Often the fresco patron left indications in his will on the amount of gold leaf to be used in frescoes. This patron was wealthy – and you can see him on the lower right, near his family coat-of-arms (gold-leaf worn away), in pious gesture. (He’s in Heaven – sponsoring religious images could work wonders in the Middle Ages)

In this image, the Christ Child asks His Mother, “Mamma, whom shall I bless?” In Christian tradition, St. John the Apostle (“the Beloved”) is on Christ’s right, but not here in Assisi: he’s on Christ’s left. After all, the Virgin has answered her Son, “Pick him”, indicating Francesco. Look at his mouth, with lips curving downwards as if he were saying “Chi, io?!” (“Who, me?”) He is the preferred in his church, appropriately. Look at John with furrowed eyebrows as if puzzled, wondering why he is not on Christ’s right, preferred position. Look at his hands: that gesture is “Pazienza” (“patience”, literally – though the sense is “you win some, you lose some..why get an ulcer over what you can’t change..?”).

After all, the greatest thing ever written about the Italians?
“What is the definition of Freud’s pyschoanalysis? Something invented by a Jewish guy to try to teach Anglo-Saxons to learn to live more like the Italians.”

Click here
for more on the St. Francis Basilica
Read about how the Assisani celebrate their beloved San Francesco
Click here to read about my talk on gestures

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