This amazing painting by Giotto captures the dramatic moment when St. Francis of Assisi (on the right, naked) throws off all his clothes in protest to his father (being restrained on the left), who was a rich merchant.
Francis says that he will from now on only follow his “heavenly father” (you can see the hand of God at the top of the painting).
I love the expression on the bishop’s face (who covers up Francis), the children front left who are caught up in the drama without really understanding what is going on, the onlookers, who probably also weren’t exactly sure what was going on apart from a domestic row, and the way Giotto uses the building to highlight the conflict between the two parties.
I wrote this poem about this moment in Francis’ life, captured so beautifully by the painting:
Piero’s painting hangs in the National Gallery in London:
There is a beauty to the stillness of the figures, to the depth of this vision of heaven-on-earth, to the beautiful colours (look at the rainbow effect of the angel’s wing on the left-hand side, for example).
It is the moment when Jesus hears the words “You are my beloved”. John the Baptist hardly seems to dare to touch Jesus’ body, his approach is so reverent. The dove of the Spirit hovers as if it were a cloud and completely naturally part of the scene.
In the background someone else is getting ready to be baptised. It is the everyday action of getting undressed. Is this humanity in general? (we cannot see the face of an individual as it is hidden by his clothes).
Also in the background are the religious authorities of the day, in their fine robes (compare with Jesus’ near-naked body) and tall hats. They are dressed with the robes of status. But Jesus identifies with our basic humanity – “a poor, bare, forked animal” as Shakespeare describes us in King Lear.
The following sequence was inspired by this painting:
Inspired by Psalm 1, this poem comes from “Songs of Gladness, Songs of Pain”, a modern rendering of twenty-nine different Psalms, ancient texts that speak of human struggle to understand and relate to God.
Like the Psalms, these poems seek to understand evil and violence in the world, searching for peace and meaning, searching for joy and gladness in the midst of pain.
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