An ancient representation of Saint Francis to see in Florence

The Tavola Bardi, an ancient representation of Saint Francis in Santa Croce Church

The Tavola Bardi is an ancient representation of Saint Francis to see in Florence. The work is a tempera on panel illustrating episodes of St. Francis of Assisi’s life. Preserved in the chapel with the same name, inside the Santa Croce Basilica in Florence, the work represents one of the most important figurative testimonies relating to the Assisi saint’s cult in the years immediately following his canonisation. Moreover, due to its iconographic richness, the Florentine table is truly unique thanks to the presence of scenes from Saint Francis’s life that are inspired by the first hagiographies of the saint that were widespread, the same ones that were almost completely destroyed later on because of systematic work of purification and edulcoration implemented by San Bonaventura.

He was the General of the Franciscan Order who, from the sixties of the thirteenth century, undertook to reform the vision of St. Francis’s poverty ideal, going as far as to partially change the most intransigent image of the Franciscan message.

A new franciscan hagiography

To do this, St. Bonaventure understood that there was a need to change the perception of the poor man of Assisi, starting from the literary transmissions of the life of Francis, to even come to revise the artistic representations of the saint’s life. The revision action therefore implied the diffusion of an official hagiography of St. Francis, the Legenda Major, written by San Bonaventura himself in Latin.

Since the Santa Croce altarpiece, one of the representation of Saint Francis to see in Florence, precedes the revision of San Bonaventura, the scenes that we find here reflect what is no longer possible to see today in the official texts of the life of Francis.

Bardi Altarpiece, Basilica di Santa Croce, Florence

The different version of San Bonaventura

The fascinating meaning of some of these scenes, voluntarily excluded in the hagiographic description of San Bonaventura with the intent to sweeten some aspects, can be opportunely discovered thanks to a guided visit of the Basilica of Santa Croce, one of the most interesting churches to see in Florence. The Basilica began as a Franciscan foundation as early as the thirteenth century and is also one of the first in the history of the franciscan Order. The first project of the church is due to the great sculptor and architect Arnolfo di Cambio.

Thanks to its centuries-old history and the complex succession of artistic commissions that have affected the building – from the chapels by Giotto to the series of illustrious personalities of Italian history burials – the Basilica of Santa Croce is one of the most fascinating churches, as well as the ancient representation of Saint Francis that is unmissable to see during a visit to the church