Elegant Padova -- known in English as Padua -- is home to an ancient university, a Basilica that is an important centre for pilgrims and a chapel containing one of the world’s greatest art treasures. Use this website to help you plan a visit to this fascinating northern Italian city and find your way to the other beautiful towns and villages in the Veneto that are perhaps less well known to tourists.

Friday, January 8, 2016

Remembering the genius of Renaissance artist Giotto

The brilliant 14th century painter Giotto di Bondone, who gave Padova its greatest work of art, died on 8 January in 1337 in Florence.

Giotto's depiction of the Last Judgment on the
frescoed walls of the Scrovegni Chapel in Padova

Although much of his work is no longer in existence, the artist who was known simply as Giotto is remembered after nearly 700 years as one of the greatest painters of the early Renaissance period.

It is believed Giotto was born in about 1267 in Florence but it is not known how he learned to paint with such a sense of space, naturalism and drama. His work represented a crucial turning point in the history of art because he painted lifelike, solid figures and put in fascinating background details.

He is believed to be the first artist to make a decisive break with the Byzantine style of painting and draw figures accurately from life.

Giotto’s revolutionary style was followed by many other painters later in the 14th century and it is said that he was actually paid a salary by the commune of Florence because of his excellence.

His most stunning surviving work is undoubtedly the interior of the Scrovegni chapel in Padova. His cycle of frescoes is still considered to be one of the greatest works of art in the world.

Dedicated to Santa Maria della Carita (Saint Mary of the Charity), the chapel was decorated by Giotto between 1303 and 1305. The work was commissioned by Enrico degli Scrovegni, who was hoping to atone for the sins of usury committed by himself and his dead father.

The frescoes narrate events in the lives of the Virgin Mary and Christ and cover the side walls of the chapel. On the wall opposite the altar is Giotto’s magnificent Universal Judgment, which tells the story of human salvation and includes the figure of Enrico degli Scrovegni offering up a model of the chapel to the Virgin Mary in a desperate bid to save his father from hell.

Under a bright blue sky, the realistic figures with their powerful facial expressions and colourful clothes tell the bible stories in a way they had never been told before.
In later life, Giotto was made ‘first court painter’, with a yearly pension by King Robert of Anjou in Naples. He lived in Naples till 1333 but none of his work there has survived.

On his return to Florence he was asked to design the new Campanile for the Cathedral in 1334 and his last known work was the decoration of a chapel in the Bargello.
It is thought Giotto was about 70 years of age when he died on 8 January 1337.

The Scrovegni Chapel in Parco della Arena
Some sources say he was buried in Santa Maria del Fiore, Florence’s Duomo, while others believe he was buried in the earlier church on the site, Santa Reparata.
In the 1970s bones were discovered beneath the paving of Santa Reparata and forensic examination confirmed they were those of a painter.

The bones were reburied with honour near the grave of Brunelleschi in the church, but it is still by no means certain they are actually the remains of Giotto.

It is a miracle Giotto’s frescoes in the Scrovegni Chapel have survived for nearly 700 years. The chapel was acquired by the city of Padova in 1880 and specialised restoration operations have been carried out to preserve them subsequently.

The building, the quality of air and the best way to conserve the frescoes have all been carefully studied.

The chapel can be accessed from Giardini dell’Arena off Piazza Eremitani. There is a separate building where visitors can watch a video to prepare them for seeing the frescoes.

Visits are carefully organised so people can enter the chapel and look at the frescoes without jeopardising their condition.

Tickets should be booked in advance and collected an hour before the visit. For details visit www.cappelladegliscrovegni.it.