Master of Arts (MA)



Document Type



Agnolo Gaddi’s Legend of the True Cross fresco cycle in the sanctuary of Santa Croce, Florence, represents an unusual artistic program. Initiated by the Franciscans around 1388, Gaddi’s is the earliest monumental True Cross program; it set the standard for similar works into the sixteenth century. The objective of this thesis is to shed light on this unusual narrative sequence and the reasons for the selection of the True Cross legend as its subject matter. The unique choice for the narrative program provokes several questions: Why was it chosen? What purpose did it serve? What truths did it attempt to convey? What stories did it imitate? This thesis attempts to answer these questions by tracing the motives of the Alberti family of patrons who commissioned the cycle and of the Franciscan monks who lived adjacent to and worshipped in the church. Attention is paid to which version of the True Cross story is used, which scenes are depicted, and which scenes are left out and why. This thesis investigates the influences of contemporary Florentine politics, the alliances between the Alberti and the Franciscan friars of Santa Croce, and the symbiotic relationship that existed between the church and state. Topics addressed include the Franciscan agenda, with its mimetic desire to imitate Christ’s crucifixion, and emphasis on the mendicant lifestyle. The Franciscans and their possession of a relic of the True Cross as a motive for the selection of the artistic program and its narrative contents receive attention. Finally, comparisons are drawn between Gaddi’s True Cross frescoes and other works containing similar narratives, such as the Stavelot Triptych and Piero della Francesco’s mural cycle of the True Cross in San Francesco in Arezzo. An analysis of these works serves as the basis for a discussion of the choices that were made in the Santa Croce cycle.



Document Availability at the Time of Submission

Release the entire work immediately for access worldwide.

Committee Chair

Savage, Matthew