Scrovegni Chapel

Enrico Scrovegni of Padua, the ambitious son of the rich Reginaldo, whom Dante Alighieri had sent to hell as a money-lender in his “Divine Comedy”, planned to build a palace and a private chapel. For this purpose, in 1300 he purchased a large part of the land in the area around the Roman amphitheater – known as the Arena. Of what he built, today only the chapel is preserved. Built with clear, simple forms, it is often called the “Arena Chapel” because of its location, or the “Scrovegni Chapel” – after the person who financed its construction. The redemption of his soul and that of his father was the reason why Scrovegni built the chapel. The marble altarpiece was made by Giovanni Pisano, another leading master of this era.


Description: the chapel /picture source: Shutterstock/;

The chapel is dedicated to the Virgin of Mercy. Today it is known as one of Giotto’s greatest artistic masterpieces. Scrovegni hired him to do the frescoes with the lives of the Virgin and Christ. It is the best-preserved fresco work of the Florentine master. Giotto succeeded in creating a new type of pictorial thinking. The solutions he used in this work were actively used by subsequent generations of artists. A type of panel was created, which became the main decorative-compositional theme of monumental painting from the Renaissance era. The frescoes were commissioned shortly after the opening of the church and were completed around 1305, for 2 years. The frescoes cover over 900 sq.m. walls arranged in three rows, the uppermost of which was immediately below the curves of the vault.


Description: part of the interior of the chapel /picture source: Shutterstock/;

When creating the images Giotto was guided not only by the Gospel, but also by several apocryphal texts, among which the “Golden Legend” and the proto-gospel of James “Story of James about the birth of Mary”. For this reason, the storyline he created is also broken. In choosing subjects, he was assisted by the theologian Altegrado de Catanei, whom the artist depicted holding the model of the chapel in the scene of its presentation to the Mother of God. Giotto presented the theme as a series of dramatic episodes, observing in each of them a unity of time and place. Thanks to the simplicity of the composition and the expressiveness of the gestures, he managed to convey the essence of the imagined episodes. Each fresco of the chapel is a separate, finished work. Characteristic features of the compositions are the energetic construction of volumes and space, refusal of detailed depiction of objects from the material world, summaries of rocky mountains and buildings.


Description: part of the interior of the chapel /picture source: Shutterstock/;

Giotto ended the fear of emptiness which was typical of the art of the Middle Ages. He established a clear proportion between the pictorial spaces, following the perspective solutions of the Early Renaissance (“treccento”), preceding the perspective of the Renaissance. The strict arrangement in the arrangement of the spatial plans creates a rhythmicity of the interior and a slow, calm tempo of the narration. It is absolutely necessary to note the new technique used by Giotto – illusory architectural decoration and a cycle of allegories of virtues and vices, executed in monochrome, resembling marble bas-reliefs. This decision lays the basis of a particular genre in mural decoration, enjoying great success in the Quattrocento era, regardless that in the Scrovegni Chapel it was prompted by the small area and the need for creation of architectural illusions in order to expand the space. Giotto used completely new techniques in the images: instead of sharp profiles – soft, continuous lines and light tones. To convey expressiveness of the look – brown darkening around the eyes.

To depict the silent presence of some of the characters – reverse perspective. Clear and realistic depiction of clothing folds, with knowledge of human anatomy. The faces of the characters in the frescoes are vividly individualized and differ decisively from the conventional, refined characters of Byzantine and Gothic art. Now, these frescoes with dense figures and sparse landscape forms may seem archaic and naive, but then, on the border between the Middle Ages and the modern age, it was a very brave innovation.


Description: part of the interior of the chapel, depicting the Last Judgment /picture source: Shutterstock/;

Giotto destroyed the iconographic stillness of the figures, made them move, gesticulate, express their passions – sadness, anger and rapture. It is curious that as a model for the Star of Bethlehem in the fresco “Adoration of the Magi” (second row on the right wall), Giotto probably used Halley’s Comet, which passed over the Earth in 1301. For this reason, and in his honor, the European Space Commission named “Giotto” two space probes designed for encounters with comets.

The masterpiece that Giotto managed to create in the “Scroveni” chapel can rival even Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel in Rome.

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