Saint Martin and the Division of the Cloak

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Simone Martini, St. Martin and the Division of the Cloak, 1317

Martin of Tours, a patron saint of soldiers, is depicted in this Simone Martini fresco impulsively sharing his military cloak with a beggar by cutting it in half. An unbaptized Roman soldier, Martin saw a vision of Christ in his dreams the next night, clad in the half-cloak he had given to the beggar. In the morning, he found his cloak whole and uncut. He converted to Christianity and later left the military service, citing his faith as his reason, even though his superiors supposed cowardice. Exiled from Italy, he traveled through many countries of Europe, eventually dying in Candes-Saint-Martin, Gaul, which would later become central France.

Simone Martini, a prominent Italian painter, painted this work in the Basilica of San Francesco d'Assisi, the first of ten frescos depicting the life of St. Martin in the San Martino Chapel. The work has suffered some damage over the years, including a scraped-off area over the horse's head and flaking off of the blue background. Part of a head is visible in the upper-right hand corner, the remnants of an older composition that Martini eventually changed. Artists of this time period still lacked a good understanding of perspective and foreshortening, demonstrated by the buildings along the left side and the beggar's foot - check out those long toes. A rudimentary diagonal composition can be seen in the line of sight from the beggar to St. Martin, enhanced by both men's arms and the curve of the draped cloak. 

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