Friday, August 14, 2009

Giotto Blue

One of the many pleasures of being in Assisi for Art Workshop International is that I can look at Giotto’s fresco cycle about St. Francis’s life any time I want. Sometimes I look at them—that is, I sit in a pew for a while and look, look, look, look, look. Sometimes I just take a turn through the Basilica on my way to someplace else. It’s the color that draws me back to them, and there is particular quality of blue-green that I love

Wednesday—along with my walking pal extraordinaire, SJ Rozan—I hiked an hour-and-a-half straight up Mt. Subasio to the Hermitage, St. Francis’s retreat. The cave-like dwelling is set into dense forest, and there’s a narrow, winding path that leads down from it to the grottos where the monks went to meditate and pray.

As we walked, we began to notice crosses everywhere we looked. Made from twigs and branches, tied together with everything from bits of plastic bags to ponytail holders to leaf stems and twine, they had been placed on ledges and boulders and in the hollows of trees.

But the really amazing thing was that, as we went deeper into the forest, it became the blue-green in the frescoes. Eight hundred years ago, Giotto had walked the path we were walking; he saw the blue-green we saw.

I imagine him returning to the Hermitage again and again during the years he was at work at the frescoes, descending to the grottos to stand in the silent, working out the problem of that blue-green in his mind. Probably thinking, I’ll never be able to capture this.

But he did.

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