NCMA Recommends: The Perruzi Altarpiece

Giotto di Bondone and assistants, The “Peruzzi Altarpiece,” circa 1310—15, H. 41 5/8 x W. 98 1/2 x D. 6 in. Gift of the Samuel H. Kress Foundation

The Florentine painter, sculptor, and architect Giotto di Bondone was the most celebrated artist of his day. By the time the Peruzzi altarpiece was painted, around 1310, he was known throughout the Italian peninsula as the best and most innovative painter. Poets and chroniclers of the 14th and 15th centuries praised his ability to paint figures and gestures al naturale (in a lifelike manner) as well as his success and fame.

What distinguishes Giotto’s paintings from those of his 13th-century Tuscan predecessors is the sculptural quality of his figures–they are more three-dimensional than flat–and their emotional and psychological realism that suggests they are human. These qualities in Giotto’s art have led generations of art historians to credit him with sparking the artistic revolution known as the Italian Renaissance.

The Peruzzi altarpiece is one of only 40 works belonging to the Giotto “canon” established by Giotto’s earliest biographer, the Florentine artist Lorenzo Ghiberti (1378—1455). Half of the works mentioned by Ghiberti have survived, and our altarpiece is among the small number of complete altarpieces. Of those, it is the only one preserved outside of Europe.

Local Artist Connection

Christopher Holt, the artist behind the exhibition Contemporary Frescoes/Faith and Community, talks from his home in Asheville about his appreciation for Giotto’s altarpiece and its connection to the fresco he created at the Haywood Street Church.”‹ In this video Holt describes how the practice of making art can achieve its own spiritual level, how connections to his community informs his art, and what it means to have this altarpiece featured at the NCMA.

Global Artist Connection

Giotto was known for his skill as a fresco painter. Succeeding generations of artists–including Michelangelo –studied and emulated him. If you are interested in seeing Michelangelo’s famous Sistine Chapel frescoes of 1508—12 up close, check out this free Epic Games VR experience, “IL DIVINO: Michelangelo’s Sistine Ceiling in VR”. Using an Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, or Valve Index, you can explore the religious paintings on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. You will find many of the same figures in our Giotto altarpiece and others in our collection. Don’t have a VR headset? You can view the Sistine Chapel in 360 degrees with the Vatican Museum. –Felicia K Ingram, Manager of Interpretation

A Word from the Curator

Most scholars agree the Peruzzi altarpiece was executed by Giotto as part of a decorative program designed for the private chapel of the Peruzzi family in the great Franciscan church of Santa Croce in Florence, founded in 1294. From 1311 to 1315, Giotto covered the chapel’s walls with frescoes illustrating stories of St. John the Baptist and St. John the Evangelist–the Peruzzi family’s two titular saints–and probably created the altarpiece now in Raleigh, around the same time. It was designed to rest on top of the central altar and serve as the focal point and backdrop for the celebration of the mass. The frescoes are still in situ in the chapel, so it is not difficult to imagine the altarpiece in its original setting, a lavishly decorated but intimate space that itself was part of a magnificent, orchestrated tableau, the east wall of Florence’s grand new church, just a few steps from the high altar. Read more about Giotto and the altarpiece on NCMALearn.–Lyle Humphrey, Associate Curator of European Art and Collection History

Film Recommendations

  – S©raphine (2008). Director: Michael Provos. (In French with subtitles.) S©raphine de Senlis is a simple and devout housekeeper who finds that the act of painting brings her spiritual fulfillment. Watch on YouTube, Amazon Prime, or iTunes.–Maria Lopez, Manager of Film and Lecture Programs

 – A Room with a View (1985). Director: James Ivory. Academy Award—winning film based on the E. M. Forster novel of the same name is set in Florence and features landmarks such as the Piazza Della Signoria and the Church of Santa Croce. Watch on YouTube, Amazon Prime, or iTunes.–Lyle Humphrey, Associate Curator of European Art and Collection History

Altars, Altars, Everywhere

Take a brief and inspiring journey with Karama Thomas–Triangle-based “songspeller,” astrologer, and storyteller–on her land in Durham as she discusses her spiritual practice of building small nature altars. This process connects her to the land and her voice as an artist.

Music as Spiritual Practice

Nearly every culture uses music in spiritual practice, perhaps in meditation as the Sufi whirling dervishes do, or perhaps in praise of a Great Creator, as in the case of Gregorian monks. We hope you enjoy this beautiful Indian bhajan raag. “Bhajan” refers to a devotional song that often follows the melodic framework of Indian classical music, known as “raag” or “raga.” While a raga provides the musical motif in which the musicians operate, it is free form, and performances are improvised.–Janette Hoffman, Acting Artistic Director and General Manager, NCMA Amphitheater

Audio Description

The recording below is an audio description of The Peruzzi Altarpiece. Audio description is narration for individuals who are blind or have low vision. It is a means to inform them about visual content essential for comprehension.

Family Activities

Create a gold medallion or family portrait. Download a free digital copy of a book about Giotto as a boy. Find these and other ideas inspired by the Peruzzi Altarpiece at NCMALearn.–Courtney Klemens, Manager of Family Programs, and Emily Perreault, Pre-K Programs Educator

Reading Recommendations

Here is a mixture of articles, historical fiction, blogs, and more reading recommendations around the intersection of art and spirituality.–Natalia Lonchyna, Librarian, and Erin Rutherford, Library Assistant

– A Psychology Today blog entry on the “priceless living bridge between mind and spirit.”

– Art Is a Spiritual Path: Engaging the Sacred through the Practice of Art and Writing by Pat B. Allen

– A Month in Siena by Hiram Matar. A Libyan author reflects on Sienese paintings to work through difficult times in his life, reflecting, “The painting understands this. It knows that what we wish for most, even more than paradise, is to be recognized; that regardless of how transformed and transfigured we might be by the passage, something of us might sustain and remain perceptible to those we have spent so long loving.”

– The Empowering of Art and Spirituality. This article was written by an art librarian who is of Native American descent and a practicing artist.

– Reconsidering the Spiritual in Art, a journal article by Donald Kuspit

– Artnet article: Ellsworth Kelly, an Atheist, Has Built a Transcendent Church for Art in Texas

– The Forest Lover by Susan Vreeland. Vreeland’s novel tells the story of how artist Emily Carr found her artistic, feminist, and spiritual power painting First Nations villages, Pacific Northwest Indian totems, and the forests of British Columbia.

Circa Recommends

– The Art of Healing: Cat Power for Egypt


May 15, 2020


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