The chapel of the Scrovegni and the wonders it contains

You have to travel to Padua to meet the Scrovegni chapel and discover the secrets of this jewel. Its fame lies in the fact that its walls contain one of the most sublime creations of the Trecento: a mural cycle signed by the great Florentine painter and muralist Giotto. Would you like to know all the details? We discover these unique frescoes in western art.

The architecture of the Scrovegni chapel

Chapel exterior

The building is located in the Piazza Eremitani of Padua. He was commissioned to build Enrico Scrovegni. Raised between 1303 and 1305, it was dedicated to Santa María de la Caridad. It seems that Enrico wanted to save his father's soul, Reginaldo Scrovegni. He had been convicted of usurer and Dante himself places him in the Hell of the Divine Comedy.

The construction served a family function as a pantheonIn fact, Enrico himself is buried in it. The chapel was originally connected to the disappeared palace of the Scrovegni family.

The architectural style that follows is simple: stands in brick on a rectangular floor, with a roof finished in barrel vault. The set completes narrow windows and a modified exterior throughout the centuries. The true pearl is behind its walls.

Giotto's frescoes in the Scrovegni chapel

Every year thousands of tourists go inside this temple of art. This is a visit that can only be done in small groups and prior reservation. The care and security measures that are kept to know Giotto's paintings are more than necessary, given their delicacy and age.

The Scrovegni family hires two artists to decorate their chapel. Three sculptures are commissioned from Giovanni Pisano in marble: the Virgin with the Child and two deacons.

For the elaboration of the frescoes it is decided to call Giotto, because the fame of the Florentine painter had already crossed the Italian borders. He had been a disciple of the famous Cimabue and will develop an unprecedented style at the time.

Giotto is considered the main precursor of the Renaissance for his technique, in which he breaks with Byzantine art. His tendency to naturalism seeks three-dimensional space and the almost sculptural volume of the figures. These are the characteristics reflected in what is considered his great work of maturity, the frescoes of the Scrovegni chapel.

The general opinion is that Giotto works in them for about two years, until 1306. His brushstroke completely covers the nave of the chapel, in three overlapping horizontal bands. We observe a total of 36 pictures that tell different biblical scenes, mainly from the New Testament.

The scenes represented by Giotto in the frescoes

The way to travel the different passages is in the helical direction. At the top of the right wall, the narrative begins with the lives of San Joaquin and Santa Ana, the parents of the Virgin. The pictures follow each other as if they were hanging tapestries, separated by borders. Six paintings are dedicated to these two characters.

Then, the story continues with six scenes about different moments in the biography of the Virgin Mary, including his birth, the presentation in the temple and the betrothal.

Next, our eyes meet the great triumphal arch, whose lunette develops one of the essential themes: the Annunciation. The upper part of the arch shows the Eternal Father enthroned, surrounded by angels.

Following the chronological account, Giotto presents the theme of the Visitation. The following five scenes are the most representative of the birth and childhood of Jesus, such as the Adoration of the Magi or the Massacre of the Innocents. The narrative advances with the scenarios that acquire a more solemn tone:

  • Jesus among the doctors
  • The baptism of Christ
  • The wedding at Cana
  • The resurrection of Lazarus
  • The entrance into Jerusalem
  • The expulsion of merchants

After these images arrive the frescoes corresponding to the Passion, considered as the ones with the highest technical quality by Giotto. These scenes include the kiss of Judas. The cycle culminates with the last six moments in the life of Christ, including his death and resurrection.

This monumental creation would not be complete without the representation of vices and virtues, in addition to a great Final Judgment that Giotto places at the foot of the hermitage of the Scrovegni. Everything is covered by the half-barrel vault, painted an intense blue and decorated like a starry sky.

Giotto's style in the Scrovegni chapel

These frescoes, of colossal dimensions and transcendence, are a declaration of intent that allows us to admire Giotto's art in all its splendor. The artist completely breaks with the Byzantine techniques and renews the pictorial language.

The spatial illusion of the scenarios and the painted architectures intensify the depth, the three-dimensional spaces. Giotto's anticipation of perspective is one of the essential points of this work. The characters are close to reality thanks to the expressiveness of their faces.

In some paintings a ceremonial tone is saved and others are dotted with drama. Giotto also uses a dense color to highlight the modeling of his figures in an obvious way. The end result is full of humanity and closeness.

The excellent iconographic development makes these paintings valued as the most outstanding of the Florentine artist of Trecento. Thus, Being under your 'celestial vault' and admiring this stroke made some 700 years ago is an unparalleled experience.

Video: Pondering History in Ravenna's Church of San Vitale (April 2020).

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