Giotto's O: Narrative, Figuration, and Pictorial Ingenuity in the Arena Chapel

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Andrew Ladis begins his book with Giorgio Vasari’s famous story of Giotto’s O, in which the artist drew a perfect circle freehand, baffled Pope Benedict XI’s foolish messenger, and demonstrated his artistic brilliance to those qualified to understand. The fundamental premise of Ladis’s work is that the Arena Chapel, like Giotto’s mythical O (or tondo), must be understood as a complete, unified whole. He tells us, “the cycle of murals in the Arena Chapel has a depth that underpins the whole, an unpretentious profundity manifested in a formal order, and as in the case of the O, one must have the wherewithal to discern Giotto’s achievement beyond the directness and emotional power of the narrative.” Ladis does not write about the program from the more expected standpoints of patronage or audience, or via extensive analysis of archival source material. Instead, without discounting the former approaches, Ladis considers Giotto’s conception of the Arena Chapel in terms of biblical exegesis, a central geometry, and what he sees as the program’s carefully planned symmetry. He urges the viewer to abandon the temporal narrative and follow “visual cues that encourage readings that transcend narrative time,” and so he moves through a discussion of Giotto’s frescoes, offering new insights about particular passages and continually considering how the meaning of each section resonates with others throughout the chapel.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“This splendid book represents a culmination of Ladis’s long study of late medieval Italian art, particularly the work of Giotto. Completed just before Ladis’s untimely death, it is a sustained analysis of the interrelated subjects, themes, and theological ideas manifested in the Arena Chapel frescoes. Above all, it represents a remarkable act of seeing, complementing Giotto’s own unique vision. This book, with its emphasis on the poetics of form, serves as the perfect complement to Anne Derbes and Mark Sandona’s equally superb The Usurer’s Heart (2008), which provides a more text-based analysis of the chapel, its donors, and its meaning. Both books will be considered crucial reading for years to come about one of the supreme works of European painting.”
—J. I. Miller, Choice

“For the reader of these extraordinarily perceptive essays, [Ladis’s] book is a prose poem in ekphrasis. Again and again, he inspires the reader to be a ‘thoughtful viewer-pilgrim’; we pilgrims are fortunate to have such a meticulous and sophisticated guide in Andrew Ladis.”
—Mark Sandona, Renaissance Quarterly

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780271034072
  • Publisher: Penn State University Press
  • Publication date: 11/28/2008
  • Format: Library Binding
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 224
  • Sales rank: 1,269,062
  • Product dimensions: 7.70 (w) x 10.20 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

Andrew Ladis was Professor of Art History at the University of Georgia. He is the author of Studies in Italian Art (2001), Giotto and the World of Early Italian Art, 4 vols. (1998), The Brancacci Chapel, Florence (1993), Italian Renaissance Maiolica from Southern Collections (1989), and Taddeo Gaddi: Critical Reappraisal and Catalogue Raisonné (1982).

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Table of Contents


List of Illustrations

Preface and Acknowledgments

Introduction: Giotto’s O

1. The Highest Thing

2. That Obscure Object of Desire

3. Phantom Presences

4. The Rhetoric of Wonder

5. Things and Time

Conclusion: Full Circle




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