ROME Dec 6 Restorers believe they may have
found the initials of Giotto in a fresco attributed to the early
Renaissance master in the lower basilica of St Francis in
The discovery, unveiled on Thursday, was made in the Chapel
of St. Nicholas, one of the last parts of the basilica-convent
complex to be restored since it was damaged in by an earthquake
"This is clearly a type of signature. These are clearly
initials and not a decoration," said Sergio Fusetti, who
restored the chapel, which is near the tomb of St Francis.
"It was not added on later but was done at the same time as
the fresco, when the plaster was wet," he said by telephone.
The initials were discovered in a triptych showing St.
Nicholas, the Madonna and child and St. Francis.
In a triangular area dividing the second and third part of
the triptych, restorers found what clearly resembles the letter
B and under it, what may be the letter G.
Giotto's full name was Giotto di Bondone. Italians often use
their surname before their given name, hence Giotto, who died in
1337, could have used the initials BG.
The second letter, the presumed G, is below the first and is
much harder to see because that part of the triangle is damaged.
The chapel was painted in the first few years of the 14th
century after Giotto painted the more famous frescoes depicting
scenes from the life of St Francis in the upper basilica.
The chapel had been for centuries attributed to the work of
Giotto's pupils until modern art historians began attributing
the triptych to the master himself.
The discovery of the initials would strengthen the case that
Giotto was the painter of the triptych.
"Giotto did not sign many things. It is now up to art
historians to study this and see what it means," Fusetti said.
The chapel of St Nicholas, in the northern end of the
transept of the lower basilica, was commissioned by Cardinal
Napoleone Orsini to be his burial place, but his brother died
first and was buried there instead.
For decades before the restoration that discovered the
initials, the chapel near the main altar of the lower basilica,
had been closed to the public. It was used as either a dressing
place for priests celebrating Mass or a depository for candles,
vestments and other material.
The initials were the latest discovery related to Giotto in
Last year, restorers found the figure of a devil hidden in
the clouds of one of the most famous Giotto frescos in the upper
The devil was hidden in the details of clouds at the top of
fresco number 20 in the cycle of the scenes in the life and
death of St Francis painted by Giotto in the late 13th century.
The basilica was severely damaged by an earthquake in 1997.
Two parts of the ceiling of the upper basilica collapsed,
killing four people, including two monks.
(Reporting By Philip Pullella, editing by Paul Casciato)