From Body to Icon: The Life of Sts Peter and Paul in the Murals of S. Piero a S. Piero a Grado (Pisa)

Assaf Pinkus, Michal Ozeri

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The narrative cycle that adorns the central nave in the Basilica di S. Piero a Grado in Pisa (ca. 1302) comprises various episodes from the lives of Sts Peter and Paul drawn from biblical and apocryphal sources and local legend and fashioned after the portico frescos in Old St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. While previous studies have engaged mainly with the chronology and circumstances of the edifice's construction, the iconography and political implication of the frescos, which are a unique compilation of the narrative, have gone unnoticed. By analyzing the cycle from within the medieval notion of icon and image making, this article proposes that the painted narrative evokes a theological argument concerning the sacredness of the image and the power it possesses. It demonstrates that the fragmented narratives chosen for the murals are organized in three thematic groups, revealing the process by which the saints’ real, corporeal bodies become transformed into icons. Functioning as a visualized theology that advocates the cult of images, the cycle allows the faithful viewer to identify the saints, compare the various stages of their metamorphosis from body to icon, and, finally, witness, reveal, and affirm their status as a true icon.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)118-141
Number of pages24
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2014


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