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Pietro Cavallini

Giotto's fresco cycle in Assisi started the Renaissance. But it now turns out that it was not actually by Giotto. The history of western art will have to be rewritten around an obscure Roman artist

By Alasdair Palmer   December 1997

The disastrous earthquake in Umbria at the end of September seemed to have destroyed one of the most precious and important works of art in the world: the cycle of frescos depicting the life of St Francis, in the Upper Basilica in Assisi. Television pictures from inside the Basilica looked awful: dust, rubble, shards of shattered plaster.

A 13th century painting by Cimabue on the ceiling was pulverised, and the bell tower was left in imminent danger of collapse, but the quake miraculously spared the cycle of frescos on the walls of the Upper Basilica. Thousands of people still shivering…

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