Pacino di Bonaguida's Tree of Life: Interpreting the Bible in paint in early fourteenth-century Italy

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


The investigation of works of art on biblical subjects has become an established sub-field of biblical studies, closely connected with the wider interest in the reception history of Old and New Testament texts but also with the manner in which biblical art assists biblical interpretation. Many of the paintings so far investigated come from early modern and modern Europe. Since it is helpful to study a phenomenon at its birth, the subject of this article is Pacino di Bonaguida’s Lignum Vitae (c. 1305-1310 CE). This work was created during the very period when Italo-Byzantine pictorial representation was giving way to a more naturalistic and recognizably modern form. Bonaguida, although inspired by and very loyal to the pre-text of the painting— Bonaventure’s Lignum Vitae—is nowhere near the doggedly literal follower of Bonaventure he is often alleged to be. Instead, while working closely within an Italian tradition of portraying narrative cycles from the Bible in various settings, Bonaguida produces a work that integrates the Bonaventuran scheme, with its focus on Jesus, into a larger context of salvation history. In so doing he introduces biblical themes and subjects not found in Bonaventure’s Lignum Vitae. He thereby reveals his debt both to Byzantine modes of representation, with their gold field, strong lines and dominant colours, and to the Italian revolution in artistic expression as painters discovered ways to create real depth in an image and to situate three-dimensional figures convincingly

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationBiblical Reception
EditorsJ Cheryl Exum, David J A Clines
Place of PublicationSheffield
PublisherSheffield Phoenix Press
Number of pages29
Publication statusPublished - 1 Oct 2015


  • Art and religion
  • Italy
  • Bible
  • Di Bonaguida
  • Pacino


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