The Scrovegni Chapel at Padua, frescoed between 1303 and 1305 by Giotto, at the request of Enrico degli Scrovegni, is one of the greatest masterpieces of western art in Italy and Europe. The pictorial cycle of the chapel is developed in three main themes: episodes in the live of Joachim and Anna, episode in the life of Marcy and episodes in the life and death of Christ. It is a pictorial itinerary that merges color and light, poetry and pathos, the human and the divine, nature and faith, in a unique, inimitable style that forever revolutionized western art.
Seven centuries ago, during the first Jubilee Year (1300), the foundation stone was laid for the chapel that Enrico Scrovegni, a wealthy banker and merchant, wanted to build as the finishing touch to his new home in Padua. To embellish the building, which was intended to hold his own tomb and those of his descendants, Enrico summoned two of the greatest artists of the period. Giovanni Pisano, who was commissioned to sculpt three marble altar statues of the Virgin and Child between two angels, and Giotto, who was asked to fresco the walls and ceiling. Giotto was already an established artist – he had worked for the Pope on the Basilica of St. Francis in Assisi and the Basilica of St. John Lateran in Rome, and in Padua on the Basilica of St. Anthony and the Palazzo Comunale (town hall), also known as the Palazzo della Ragione. For the Scrovegni Chapel, Giotto was asked to depict a series of stories from the Old and New Testaments, culminating in Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection, and the Last Judgement. The aim was to encourage visitors to the Chapel to meditate more deeply on Christ’s sacrifice and the salvation of mankind. Giotto planned an architectural structure in painted imitation marble supporting the vaulted roof, decorated as a star-spangled sky, with framed stories of episodes in the lives of the Virgin Mary and Christ on the walls. The whole project was finished in a short space of time and, in 1305, after only two years’ work, the Chapel was consecrated for the second time (the first time was on completion of the building). Very little is known about the history of the Chapel from then until the 19th century, when it was almost destroyed as a result of lack of interest on the part of its new owners. The portico on the façade collapsed and the house built by Enrico was demolished. These events had a disastrous effect on the Chapel, the left side and façade of which were left unsupported and exposed to the elements. In the meantime, the building had passed to the City Council (1881), which took steps to prevent further loss and damage. But the building and its frescoes had already undergone severe deterioration. Major restoration work was undertaken in the late 19th century and again in the 1960s. More recently, a new problem has arisen – damage due to atmospheric pollution, which causes the painted surfaces to crumble away. In order to decide what action to take, a series of scientific studies was carried out, lasting several years. Results showed what could be done to slow down deterioration and, just as importantly, how to prevent further dangers arising in the future. Urgent restoration was carried out immediately and, on May 31 2000, a special technical installation was set up, a sort of “artificial lung”. This special air-conditioned environment now both purifies the air inside the Chapel and monitors its atmosphere continuously, in order to protect these unique frescoes, some of the most important of all time. Nearly a year was needed to check that the environmental control system was working properly, after which further restoration and conservation work could be planned.
Piazza Eremitani 8, Padova
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