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Geoscience Communication An interactive open-access journal of the European Geosciences Union
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© Author(s) 2020. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.
© Author(s) 2020. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

  14 Apr 2020

14 Apr 2020

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This preprint is currently under review for the journal GC.

St. Francis and Giotto: the saint and the artist who started the ecological movement

Ann C. Pizzorusso Ann C. Pizzorusso
  • Independent Geologist, 511 Avenue of the Americas, New York, New York 10011, USA

Abstract. From Antiquity to the Middle Ages, man had a conflictual relationship with nature, seeing it as representing either divine or satanic forces. On the vanguard of a change in perspective toward the natural world was St. Francis of Assisi (c. 1181–1226) who is now, thanks to his pioneering work, patron of ecology. He set forth the revolutionary philosophy that the Earth and all living creatures should be respected as creations of the Almighty.

St. Francis' affinity for the environment influenced the artist Giotto (c. 1270–1337) who revolutionized art history by including natural elements in his religious works. In this manner, Giotto portrayed sacred images on Earth, separating them definitively from their abstract, unapproachable representation in Byzantine art. Giotto’s works are distinctive because they portray daily life as blessed, thus demonstrating that the difference between the sacred and profane is minimal.

Disseminating the new ideas of St. Francis visually was very effective, as the general populace was illiterate. Seeing frescoes reflecting their everyday lives in landscapes that were familiar, changed their way of thinking. The trees, plants, animals and rocky landscapes were suddenly perceived as gifts from the Creator to be used, enjoyed and respected. Further, Giotto recognized that the variety of dramatic landscapes would provide spectacular visual interest in the works. The Umbria/Lazio/Tuscany regions of central Italy, where the Franciscan monasteries were located, are seismically active, geologically complex mountainous areas with faults, upthrusts, nappes and diverse lithologic deposits. By including the striking landforms, and portraying them accurately, Giotto allows us the opportunity to identify the types of rock in his frescoes and possibly even the exact location he depicted.

Ann C. Pizzorusso

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Ann C. Pizzorusso

Ann C. Pizzorusso


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Publications Copernicus
Short summary
In this age of environmental awareness, it is interesting to see how the ecological movement was created with a saint and an artist. The unlikely team of St. Francis and Giotto were revolutionaries. Francis with his ideas on natural philosophy and Giotto who portrayed the geological landscape in a way that made any viewer aware of the majesty of God's creation. These two created a lasting legacy as they shaped man's perspective on the environment over 700 years ago.
In this age of environmental awareness, it is interesting to see how the ecological movement was...