Skip to comments.Giotto's Restored Masterpiece
Posted on 03/20/2002 8:01:15 AM PST by ppaul
After eight months of restoration, the scaffolding finally came down March 18 on one of the world's great art treasures, the Scrovegni Chapel in Padua, Italy. The 700-year-old chapel contains frescoes depicting more than 100 scenes from the Bible painted by the early Renaissance painter Giotto between 1303 and 1305, and they are considered his masterpiece.
The frescoes are seen as one of the major turning points in the history of European painting. For centuries, painting had followed a slavish, almost formulaic pattern that became highly stylized and was descended from the Byzantine tradition. Figures were flattened and perspective was practically nonexistent, as was depth and volume. Equally important, there was an emphasis on religious iconography and royalty, with a complete exclusion of the less exalted.
Giotto changed all that. Using softer modeling on the features and a more colorful palette, he created figures that looked true to life. In the place of the mask-like visages of the Byzantines, he gave his subjects emotions and personality. His attention to detail is just as evident in the background of his frescoes; he introduced supporting characters, peasants, merchants and animals that made the Kingdom of God more accessible and human.
Detail from "The Last Judgment"
Commissioned by Enrico Scrovegni, a wealthy, politically ambitious merchant, Giotto was around 40 when he began his work on the chapel. Despite its small size and asymmetric interior due to the six windows along the right wall, Giotto conceived a monumental undertaking that would illustrate, among other things, scenes from the life of Christ and, in one of his most famous works, the Last Judgment, which takes up the entire rear wall.
The restoration project, which has stirred controversy from many in the art world over concerns that the restoration would betray Giotto's original vision, has cost more than $2 million of Italian taxpayers' money and began 25 years ago. Because it was a private chapel, for years the building was closed to the public except for one day a year, which accounts for the relatively well-preserved condition of the frescoes even before restoration began. To ensure the continued health of the frescoes, only 25 visitors at a time will be allowed into the chapel to avoid damage from condensation formed by tourists' breath.
For more information, please call 049 20 100 20. Admission is 11 for adults.
The fresco, from the Italian word for "fresh," was a common painting technique for centuries, although its popularity waned after the Renaissance. Essentially, a fresco is a wall painting made from pigment that is applied to a fresh layer of plaster and then soaks in to form a permanent bond. Among the other prominent painters that employed fresco were Cimabue, Leonardo da Vinci and Sandro Botticelli.
It was my pleasure to view these frescoes back in '93. The experience is one I definitely treasure.
It certainly is.
MUSLIM leaders in Italy are demanding the removal or destruction of a priceless 15th century fresco in Bologna that they say offends Islam by showing the Prophet Muhammad being cast into the flames of Hell.
Miss Marple is right.
The Euroweenies know better. It's our imperialism.
Giotto was over 100 years ahead of other painters.
Giotto did the church in Assisi as well, but much of his work was destroyed when plaster came crashing down during earthquake in '98 , killing a couple of people. Fortunately, a marvelous photographer had just completed a book about the church with detailed pictures of the Giotto murals, so restorers could put it back the way it was. I was lucky enough to see the original Giotto's several months prior to the earthquake. Uplifting!
And if the Muslims were to win the war on the West, you can be sure they would destroy all of Giotto's work, just as they have already destroyed many beautiful frescos and icons in Kosovo.
From the standpoint of simple history I know you're right, but there's an odor of the Myth of Progress about your comment that's unattractive. After all, are we to say that painting is a continuum of progress, a line forever moving onward and upward? Are we to say that later painting (or literature, or culture, or politics) is superior simply by virtue of its later date?
The author of the article posted comes down hard on Byzantine painting because she doesn't know or care what it was about. To find it lacking because it's "unnatural" and fails to depict ordinary people is to miss the point entirely, begging the question of what it was for (a highly-evolved representation of precise theological ideas is the answer, btw). The author assumes that painting is properly all about naturalistic illustration -- a concept as utterly alien to the Byzantines as it is to the mainstream of painters today.
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