Home School Life Journal From Preschool to High School

Home School Life Journal ........... Ceramics by Katie Bergenholtz
"Let us strive to make each moment beautiful."
Saint Francis DeSales

Giotto: The Life of Saint Francis Fresco Cycle: Basilica of Saint Francis, Assisi, Umbria, Italy

For our picture study this week we did something unusual. We looked at two paintings instead of one. They are both in the Life of Saint Francis Fresco Cycle in the Basilica of Saint Francis at Assisi, Umbria, Italy.Saint Francis Preaches to the Birds

First we all looked at this painting. I picked it simply because I love it. It reminds me of my image of Saint Francis as it looks like the statues you see in gardens.
I gave them each a copy of the painting and we took a long look at the painting. The first thing we noticed was the background. It appears blue to blue green, indistinct, like a hill obscured by haze; clearly this is a natural setting. The whole focus of the painting, however, is on Saint Francis and his birds. Francis has an expression of focus entirely upon the birds. What one makes of this is his own interpretation. I don't often ask for these type suppositions, and they are only shared spontaneously. Giotto has given Francis a halo, which is a common indication of sanctity.
Saint Francis has a tonsure, which is a deliberate removing of hair from the top of the head. It was the first of the minor orders and functioned as a reception into the clerical state. St. Francis' commitment to poverty is evident by looking at his feet and those of his companion. the companion is wearing sandals, but Francis is barefoot.

And then as they looked deeper into the painting I read to them the legend of Saint Francis.

"Saint Francis lifted up his eyes, and saw on some trees by the wayside a great multitude of birds; and being much surprised, he said to his companions, 'Wait for me here by the way, whilst I go and preach to my birds,' which were on the ground, and suddenly all those also on the trees came round him, and all listened while St Francis preached to them, and did not fly away until he had given them his blessing. And Brother Masseo related afterwards to Brother James of Massa how St Francis went among them and even touched them with his garments, and how none of them moved. Now the substance of the sermon was this: 'My little sisters the birds, ye owe much to God, your Creator, and ye ought to sing his praise at all times and in all places, because he has given you liberty to fly about into all places; and though ye neither spin nor sew, he has given you a twofold and a threefold clothing for yourselves and for your offspring. Two of all your species he sent into the Ark with Noe that you might not be lost to the world; besides which, he feeds you, though ye neither sow nor reap. He has given you fountains and rivers to quench your thirst, mountains and valleys in which to take refuge, and trees in which to build your nests; so that your Creator loves you much, having thus favoured you with such bounties. Beware, my little sisters, of the sin of ingratitude, and study always to give praise to God.' As he said these words, all the birds began to open their beaks, to stretch their necks, to spread their wings and reverently to bow their heads to the ground, endeavouring by their motions and by their songs to manifest their joy to St Francis. And the saint rejoiced with them. He wondered to see such a multitude of birds, and was charmed with their beautiful variety, with their attention and familiarity, for all which he devoutly gave thanks to the Creator. Having finished his sermon, St Francis made the sign of the cross, and gave them leave to fly away. Then all those birds rose up into the air, singing most sweetly; and, following the sign of the cross, which St Francis had made, they divided themselves into four companies. One company flew towards the east, another towards the west, one towards the south, and one towards the north; each company as it went singing most wonderfully; signifying thereby, that as St Francis, the bearer of the Cross of Christ, had preached to them and made upon them the sign of the cross, after which they had divided among themselves the four parts of the world, so the preaching of the Cross of Christ, renewed by St Francis, would be carried by him and by his brethren over all the world, and that the humble friars, like little birds, should posses nothing in this world, but should cast all the care of their lives on the providence of God."
-Little Flowers of Saint Francis of Assisi by Brother Ugolino
St. Francis Renounces his Father's Goods and Earthly Wealth
Then my older students also looked at this painting, which is suggested for week two in Harmony Fine Art's Medieval and Renaissance Art. As suggested we observed the buildings shapes and angles and asked them to draw some of the buildings shown in this painting to be put into their drawing notebook. Katie was nearby and offered her help with this, as she has taken some art classes.
We decided that we needed to work some more on angles and perspective this coming year.

More information on frescos at Layers of Learning.


  1. Lovely lesson....you might want to watch this YouTube with your children. This simple concept can translate into just about anything you want:


    Hopefully this will help.

  2. Thank you so much! That is exactly what I was looking for. I have the Draw Squad book, but the first 38 pages are missing! Seems the binding cracked and those slipped out. These videos will take their place beautifully!

  3. Oh - now I have a video link, and another book I need to look for :)


Thank you so much for taking the time to comment. It means so much.