Date on Master's Thesis/Doctoral Dissertation


Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation

Degree Name

Ph. D.


Fine Arts

Degree Program

Art History, PhD

Committee Chair

Fulton, Christopher

Committee Co-Chair (if applicable)

Beattie, Blake

Committee Member

Beattie, Blake

Committee Member

Maloney, Thomas

Committee Member

Levin, William

Author's Keywords

Navicella; mosaic; Vatican; Peter; Giotto; basilica


The Navicella mosaic is most famously an artwork created by Giotto di Bondone. Evidence for the appearance and dating of this giant mural is discussed in this dissertation with the conclusion that it was made in 1298 and its composition is best recorded in a Parri Spinelli drawing preserved in the Musée Condé in Chantilly, France. It was admired by untold numbers of worshipers who visited the grand Constantinian basilica of Old St. Peter’s in the Vatican in Rome. The Navicella was located on the façade of Santa Maria in the Towers, an important chapel as well as the gatehouse affording entrance into the beauteous atrium of the church. Beginning in the sixteenth century and continuing into the seventeenth century Constantine’s building was gradually demolished and replaced by New St. Peter’s basilica, but this was not the end for Giotto’s masterpiece. A copy of the mosaic can be seen today in the narthex above the central entrance into the church, comparable to its original location. Just as Giotto’s Navicella was reconstructed for the new basilica, it is argued here that Giotto’s mosaic was the replacement for a mosaic mural that had existed on the gatehouse probably since the middle to late fifth century and that was eventually destroyed in 1167. That the subject matter of this ancient mosaic was, like Giotto’s Navicella, a scene of St. Peter being raised up from the Sea of Galilee by the hand of Jesus Christ is accepted to be a strong likelihood. Although Old St. Peter’s basilica is no more, its atrium was the last feature to be demolished, continuing to exist into the early-seventeenth century, and the subject of detailed architectural surveys and visual documentation. This evidence for reconstructing the old atrium, and the late-sixteenth-century copies of the Navicella, is considered together with the inscription beneath the mosaic, exegetical material on Matthew 14:22-36 (the verses which describe the event depicted in the Navicella), and writings on the symbolism of the mosaic’s iconography in order to discuss the signification of the mural for worshiper’s at Old St. Peter’s during the late Renaissance.