The Making of Assisi


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The Pope, the Franciscans, and the Painting of the Basilica

Donal Cooper and Janet Robson

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For a brief moment at the close of the 13th century, the town of Assisi was the focus for the two greatest powers in the Latin Church: the Roman papacy and the Franciscan Order. The election in 1288 of Nicholas IV, the first Franciscan pope, was the catalyst for the creation of frescoes of unprecedented intellectual ambition in the Basilica of San Francesco. At the heart of the new decorative scheme were twenty-eight scenes depicting the life of Saint Francis. Putting to one side the long debate about whether the Saint Francis cycle was or was not painted by Giotto, The Making of Assisi takes a fresh approach and treats the cycle as part of a larger, integrated, and far-reaching program of renewal at the Basilica.


In this deeply researched, illuminating, and beautifully illustrated book, Donal Cooper and Janet Robson investigate the particular historical moment in which the frescoes were made, casting new light on their patronage and iconography.

Donal Cooper is an associate professor (lecturer) in the History of Art Department, University of Warwick. Janet Robson is an independent scholar.

“It is those frescoes – notably the 28 that make up the St Francis cycle – that are the subjects of this lavishly illustrated and thought-provoking work of exemplary and accessible scholarship by art historians Donal Cooper and Janet Robson.” —Peter Stanford, The Daily Telegraph
“[A] beautiful book . . . the golden age of Franciscan art . . . lives on in Assisi and in reproduction in this book.”—Holland Cotter, New York Times (Holiday Gift Guide selection)

“[A]n extraordinarily sophisticated investigation of [Assisi's] patronage and iconography.”—David Ekserdjian, The Spectator

“With typical attention to detail and sparing no expense, Yale has come up with another treasure trove of a book.”—Catholic Herald

 “[An]outstanding book which show how art can change the world [and] demonstrates, through an intelligent combination of visual and historical research, the transformative role of art and architecture within this revolutionary process. . . [T]he originality of Donal Cooper and Janet Robson is to give a more considered and convincing account than ever before of the care with which the imagery in the church was devised, in order to convey to a diverse audience the complexity of Francis’s example of Christian living.”—Gervase Rosser, Apollo Magazine

“[A] beautiful book . . . richly illustrated . . . should serve as the crucial source for the Assisi frescoes for decades to come.”—J. I. Miller, Choice

‘Clearly this impressive and densely argued book will stimulate lively reactions. . .This is above all a lucid, courageous and extremely well-informed discussion of the decorations of the Upper Church.’—Julian Gardner, Burlington Magazine

"This book is a must-read for anyone interested in learning more about the theology, artistry, politics, history, and ideologies of the Basilica San Francesco di Assisi. . . . The book's interpretation . . . offers key theological, political, and ideological interconnections that together construct the meanings and messages that fostered the cult of Saint Francis of Assisi."—Jay M. Hammond, Renaissance Quarterly

"A truly remarkable annotated compendium of all that has been said about the murals. . . . The greatest contribution of this volume is in the area of relating the theological core of the order and its mission to the mural images and their locations. . . . One can only hope that readers of The Making of Assisi will reap the fruits of Cooper's and Robson's original research and use them wisely."—Marilyn Aronberg Lavin, Renaissance Quarterly

"There is insufficient space here to allow us to list all the numerous thought provoking ideas and new insights offered by the authors . . . but together they unquestionably contribute to make this a must-read book, and an indispensable reference for scholars and students for years to come."—Claudia Bolgia, Catholic Historical Review

Winner of the 2014 Authors' Club Art Book Prize
ISBN: 9780300195712
Publication Date: October 8, 2013
296 pages, 9 1/4 x 11 1/4
60 color + 134 b/w illus.