GIOTTO di Bondone
(b. 1267, Vespignano, d. 1337, Firenze)
Oil on canvas, 740 x 990 cm
Fabbrica di San Pietro, Rome
Around 1300 the work of Roman mosaicists extended to the exteriors as well. At Santa Maria Maggiore mosaics were not only added to the interior but also to the outside of the apse and the façade. Another exterior mosaic was the most famous of all the mosaics produced in Rome around 1300, the so-called Navicella ("Little Ship") that Giotto created on commission from Cardinal Jacopo Stefaneschi. Roughly 9,5 x 13,5 m, the mosaic was placed on the west wall of the oratory of Santa Maria in Turri, in the atrium of the old St. Peter's. Like a huge tableau, it confronted worshippers as they left the basilica. It survives today in the form of a mutilated Baroque reproduction in the basilica's vestibule. Only two fragments from the original, heavily reworked heads of angels that were part of the framing decor, are preserved.
The Navicella, for which Stefaneschi composed a verse caption, must have aroused enormous fascination among contemporaries immediately after it was completed as several replicas are known.
Prior to the mosaic was finally installed inside the church in 1628, Francesco Berretta was commissioned to make an exact copy in paint, shown in this reproduction. The mosaic depicted on its uninterrupted surface St Peter walking on the waters. When Francesco Berretta made the copy on canvas of Giotto's mosaic in 1628 the framework, the figure of Peter and large parts from around the edges had already been lost. However, we can still make out the monumental composition of the mosaic - the great ship, in which Peter's companions, full of fear, watch the events on the water.