I have to start by saying that, wanting to see The Scrovegni Chapel was a dream of mine since I learned about it in my first college art history class so many years ago. As time and more classes had gone by, I have learned more about the artist, the project, and the chapel, and felt even more compelled to visit this sight. Before I even came to Florence last June, this was one of the top three things I wanted to see on my “art history bucket list” as I call it, and last weekend, I FINALLY got to see it!!!!
Before I go any further, I have to tell you about the planning that went into this visit, because it was not a spontaneous decision. My friend and I took an early train to Padova and enjoyed the city for about two hours prior to getting to the chapel for our timed visit at 12:30. Trains on this route only go once an hour (from Florence) and are only offered on the speed train, both factors that make train tickets more expensive. It was slightly less than €50 to get to Padova Centrale in less than two hours from Florence (bonus though, it was only €4 to get to Venice from Padua! Another post coming soon on that one!). Guests can only visit the chapel at a specific time that has to be pre-booked at least one day before. I’m not sure what happens if you miss your ticket time, but the chapel is a very popular attraction so I would recommend getting there on time, or come well beforehand and enjoy the other museums within the Musei Civici. Click here to see the museum’s webpage to book your visit!
Okay now for some history: the cappella (Italian for chapel) was commissioned by Enrico Scrovegni, an extremely wealthy banker and money-lender in the late medieval/very early Renaissance era. Enrico hired Florentine master Giotto de Bondone and his workshop to paint the interior of the chapel to depict the life cycles of Mary and Jesus. Giotto was in his 40’s when he took the commission, and was very well renown as an artist throughout Italy. Giotto worked on the chapel from 1303-1305. Aligned in three rows, the cycle begins with Mary’s parents and the story of her conception, then the early life of Mary including the annunciation, then follows the important events of Jesus’s life until his death and resurrection. The back wall opposite to the altar features the Last Judgement. You can watch a wonderful video about the chapel from one of my favorite art history resources, Khan Academy. The project was started as a “good work” to atone for the sin of usury.
What makes this chapel so important, besides the artist and the family that commissioned it, is the fact that almost the entirety of the chapel painted in blue. The color blue was the most expensive paint that could have been used back in the day, because it was made from the semi-precious stone, lapis lazuli. Lapis was historically mined and exported from Afghanistan, and imported through Venice; so the preciousness of the stone combined with the travel time made this the most expensive ground, and was sometimes more valuable than gold … can you imagine?! And remember, this chapel was almost entirely painted in blue. The stone was ground up and mixed with egg white to make tempera paint, and would have only been applied by the workshop master because of its preciousness.
When you arrive to the chapel, you are taken into a small glass room where you watch a fascinating video about the chapel, the family, and the artist as you “decompress”, so to speak, from the outside air to preserve the frescoes inside. Once inside with your small group, you’re only given 15 minutes to see the frescoes and listen to the audio guide, and the time goes by so much faster than you would think!! I would have wished for just a few more minutes to take everything in more, but I am sure I will visit again in the coming years.
After the short visit, you go down a small glass hallway to leave the complex. All in all, we had a wonderful time doing a bit of exploring of Padova then seeing the chapel. It was almost a surreal moment finally getting to see the frescoes that I have seen in photos and learned about for so many years now. I would recommend anyone go to see the chapel, just make sure to plan your day and goals well ahead of time!
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