Cardinal Jacopo Caetani degli Stefaneschi commissioned the Stefaneschi Triptych for the high altar of the Basilica di San Pietro, in Rome, right at the heart of Catholicism. Jacopo Stefaneschi commissioned Giotto di Bondone to do the work. The painter was at the height of his abilities, which suggests it was between 1310 to 1320.  The Triptych is not the only work that the cardinal commissioned to Giotto, but little or nothing remains of the other pieces.

Stefaneschi Triptych - The Retro Side
Giotto di Bondone, Stefaneschi Tryptich, via Wikimedia/Public domain.

One Stefaneschi Triptych, Two Stories

The work has two faces. On the front, the three panels in the center represent Jesus Christ on the throne. Angels surround him, and laterally the Martyrs of St. Peter and St. Paul. On the back, the work presents St. Peter centrally on the throne, cloaked in red, and at his feet St. George who introduces the man on his knees: the same client Stefaneschi. In the other panels, there are two pairs of Saints. 

Stefaneschi Triptych - The Front Face
Giotto di Bondone, Stefaneschi Tryptich, via Wikimedia/Public domain.

Stefaneschi and Giotto di Bondone: other ouvres

Giotto also created a famous mosaic for St.Peter’s Basilica, known as the Navicella, which nowadays is almost not visible anymore, as well as the tribune’s frescoes with it.  Also lost are the frescoes that he made in the Basilica of San Giorgio in Velabro in Rome, which Stefaneschi cherished because he was ordained as a cardinal in that church. For this reason, Giotto represented his patron in the Triptych, introducing him to St. Peter.

Stefaneschi Triptych - A detail
Giotto di Bondone, Stefaneschi Tryptich, via Wikimedia/Public domain.

The Reality into Art

The work shows the cardinal kneeling in the act of giving the Triptych itself as a gift to the Saint. The painting thus creates a form of pure metanarrative. The work in the hands of Stefaneschi is easy to recognize. It shows St.Peter in a red dress, and it is also possible to identify the same figure of Stefaneschi. Moreover, the work reveals its original aspect: the pinnacles and the architectural apparatus, today lost, and the predella, today incomplete.

The relation between art, life, and reality brings to a loop. The same thing happens in Stefaneschi Triptych’s theatrical equivalent, Charlie Kaufman’s Synecdoche, New York. Here, fiction produces reality as much as life itself.