The Giotto Chapel – One of Art History’s Gems

September 22, 2011 by

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Giotto depictions of religious figures among everyday scenes was groundbreaking
- photo courtesy of That’s How The Light Gets In

If you have any interest in art history, then you must visit Padua and go to Cappella degli Scrovegni. The chapel was built by the wealthy Enrico Scrovegni for his father who was denied burial in an existing church due to his occupation as moneylender. Scrovegni did it his own way and he did it well, employing the wonderful painter Giotto to fresco all the walls inside the chapel.

In art history terms, the paintings were a major breakthrough in style and content. This was the first decade of the 14th century (around 1303-05) and most church painting was still the flat religious icons of the middle ages. Giotto heralded in the Renaissance by painting figures going about every day activities in familiar landscapes, incorporating them into religious stories. For example, Joseph falls asleep over the cradle of Jesus; people gossip as they stand in the background of the Holy Family.

The chapel is small and the paintings fragile, therefore there is a strict entrance protocol. You must book ahead, choosing a time slot – only 25 people are admitted to the chapel at any one time and then only for 15 minute periods. Before you enter the chapel, you enter a room that is sealed off behind glass doors and there you cool down for 15 minutes, reducing the amount of sweat and outside air that enters the chapel itself with you. It’s all rather modern – lots of glass sliding doors and instructions. But then, at the time he painted the Chapel degli Scrovegni, Giotto was creating the most modern of the modern painting; we are just paying homage to this.

-Philippa Burne

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