Re-Visualising Giotto's 14th-Century Assisi Fresco “Exorcism of the Demons at Arezzo”

Re-Visualising Giotto's 14th-Century Assisi Fresco “Exorcism of the Demons at Arezzo”

Theodor G. Wyeld (Flinders University, Australia)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-8142-2.ch012
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In this chapter, Giotto's Assisi fresco, “Exorcism of the Demons at Arezzo,” was modelled and analysed in three-dimensions. The process revealed that Giotto's techniques for creating the illusion of depth in his paintings were more advanced than initially thought. His Exorcism fresco was chosen as it is often heralded as an exemplar of the initial shift to the later perspective style of the Renaissance proper. The 3D modelling of the fresco revealed much that could not be deduced by other means. An aerial view of the architectural elements in his fresco shows Giotto's ordered urban layout. That a fully perspective view can be generated, which closely matches the original fresco, suggests a deeper understanding of the geometric construction of depth cues in Giotto's work than previously reported.
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Much has been written about preserving artefacts and sites of cultural heritage significance. Laser scanning and photogrammetry are now routinely used to digitally preserve and record ancient tombs, frescos and other interior and exterior archaeological and architectural sites and artefacts (Cameron & Kenderdine, 2010; Fotakis, Anglos, Zafiropulos, Georgiou, & Tornari, 2006; Ch'ng, Gaffney, & Chapman, 2013). Similarly, much has been reported on the mathematical, scientific, and anthropological analysis of paintings, sculpture, and architecture (Marijnissen, 2011; Schaefer, Von Saint-George, & Lewerentz, 2009; Baxandall, 1988; Loran, 2006; Hours, 1977; Askew & Wilk, 2002). However, apart from x-ray imaging, few such scanned recordings or analyses extend beyond the surface of the artwork itself or attempt to reconstruct the spatial arrangements depicted within it. What this chapter reports on is the three-dimensionalisation of Giotto di Bondone’s (1267-1337) thirteenth-century Assisi fresco: Exorcism of the Demons at Arezzo using standard architectural 3D CAD methods. By re-visualising Giotto’s fresco as an interactive 3D model it was possible to analyse Giotto’s depth of knowledge and understanding of spatial concepts. The 3D model provides an insight to Giotto’s concepts of spatiality not possible from the surface alone. The results of this study reveal that Giotto had a more profound understanding of spatial relationships than previously reported.

Some authors are critical of Giotto’s understanding of spatial depth. They variously cite a lack of any coherent spatial unity in his paintings; missing the necessary depth cues typical of a perspective; more reminiscent of the Byzantine style than the perspectives of the renaissance; and, an intellectual rather than phenomenological exploration of depth (Damisch & Goodman, 1994; Edgerton, 1991, 2008; Ruskin, 2009; Gombrich, 2000; Panofsky, 1991; Elkins, 1994; Perez-Gomez & Pelletier, 2000). Yet, many of the same authors concede Giotto’s understating of spatial depth was nonetheless the precursor to the invention of the rules for linear perspective that came later in the renaissance proper (Ruskin, 2009; Gombrich on Fry, 1934, 2000; Perez-Gomez & Pelletier, 2000; Elkins, 1994; Edgerton, 1991, 2008; Wolf on Vasari, 1550, 2006; Vasari, 1998; Panofsky, 1991; Kemp, 1990). It is against the background of this apparent contradiction that this project was initiated.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Horizon Line: A virtual horizontal line, which indicates the eye height of the viewer of a perspective picture.

Vanishing Point: A point on the horizon line where the receding parallel lines of a perspective picture diminish.

Perspective: A technique of depicting volumes and spatial relationships to create the illusion of depth on a flat surface, first formulated in the Italian Renaissance.

Chiaroscuro: The use of subtle variations in tonal quality (such as that produced in a charcoal drawing) to distribute light and shade in a picture.

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