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The Martyrdom of Thomas Becket
Fresco in the Museo Diocesano
from Palazzo dei Trecento, Treviso, Veneto, Italy.
c.1180/90 or c.1260AD

A larger detail of the knights in the fresco in the Museo Diocesano from Palazzo dei Trecento.

Photo by cskriletz
    In Treviso, except for the injury to Edward Grim, the canonical details of hagiography — such as the three or four knights — are neglected. Here Becket does not fall down in front of the altar, which is typically used to highlight his sacrifice. Rather, the pictorial emphasis lies on his episcopal office: unusually for illustrations of his martyrdom, Becket clutches a crosier with his left hand, while the right hand makes a gesture of blessing. The artist was also careful to show Becket wearing a mitre while receiving the blow to his head — a moment when his headgear logically should fall off, as shown in the Spoletian fresco. This focus on the ministerial dignity of the saint is hardly surprising given the provenance of the fresco from the palace of the bishop of Treviso; it indicates how certain qualities of Becket’s personal story could transcend the specific and be read in more general terms, thereby acquiring new meaning. The pictorial interpretation of the saint’s martyrdom as an opposition of Church and king in the wall-painting significantly coincides with a political climate of anti-imperial resentments in the Trevisan March, which reached its height during the oppression of the region by the Ghibelline condottiero Ezzelino da Romano.66 Married to Selvaggia, daughter of Frederick II, Ezzelino was a vital supporter of the emperor’s cause in Italy, for example in the defeat of the Lega Lombarda in the Battle of Cortenuova (1239) and during the imperial besiege of Parma (1247/8); the pope excommunicated him as a heretic in 1248 and launched a crusade to oust him from power but he was seized only in 1259.67 Given such a historic context, a dating of the fresco to the third quarter of the 13th century, as suggested by Otto Demus, seems more convincing than that of 1180/90.68 Italian scholarship has up to now focused on relating the proposed date to the quest for patronage: for the late-12th-century Olderico III was suggested as possible candidate, for the 1260s the Franciscan Alberto Ricco, both bishops of Treviso and known for their Guelph loyalty.69 However, considering that there is no documentary evidence whatsoever for who commissioned the mural, such attempts to identify a possible patron are highly problematic.

66. Cf. Rolandino, Vita e morte di Ezzelino da Romano, ed. F. Fiorese (Milan 2005). 67. Ezzelino’s persecutions of his enemies laid the foundations for his notorierty as villain and tyrant as described by his contemporary Salimbene of Parma or the Guelph Chronicler Giovanni Villani who described him as ‘the most cruel and feared tyrant that ever existed among Christians’. Cf. Giovanni Villani, Villani’s Chronicle being Selection from the First Nine Books of the Croniche Fiorentine of Giovanni Villani (London 1906), 168.
68. On the question of dating the fresco to 1180/90, see E. Cozzi, ‘Treviso’, in La pittura nel Veneto. Le origini, ed. F. Flores d’Arcais and C. Paviano (Milan 2004) (as n. 64), 102–03.
69. Ibid., 103.

Source: p.127, Shaping a Saint’s Identity: The Imagery of Thomas Becket in Medieval Italy by Costanza Cipollaro and Veronika Decker

Other Medieval illustrations of the Murder of Thomas Becket
Italian Illustrations of Costume & Soldiers
12th century Illustrations of Costume & Soldiers
13th century Illustrations of Costume & Soldiers