Monday, November 06, 2006

Pious in Padova

Sarah and I were enchanted. The city of Padova blessed us with blue skies, chilly weather and harbingers of autumn. It truly was the first time we could sense the seasons, seeing the muted reds of fall. Dry leaves seem to be accumulating in places around Ferrara but there aren’t many trees in our life to speak of. Padova infused us with fresh enthusiasm: a city larger than our own, smaller than Bologna, full of a mix of architecture and elegant buildings and spaces. Our main objective was to see the Cappella degli Scrovegni but we also absorbed the stories and sights of the Chiesa degli Eremitani and Basilica S. Antonio. I’ve decided to share my three sacred moments…

Trying to pick up our tickets for the Scrovegni Chapel and find tickets for the “sold out” Mantegna exhibit (Sold out doesn’t necessarily mean sold out), Sarah and I accidentally wandered into the Chiesa degli Eremitani. Glorious frescoes of Andrea Mantegna now can either only be projected up on the wall or remain virtually reconstructed in shadowy black and white along with bits of the original fresco. In 1944, during World War II, the Church was unfortunately bombed and, more unfortunately, the work of Mantegna was among the casualties. In the heartbreaking effort of conservation, the discovered bits were matched up with old photographs to put the fresco back together as well as possible. A valiant effort, a display in tragic hope.

Wow. We both said the same thing looking down the street from the Prato delle Valle at Basilica S. Antonio. The mix of domes and turrets on the church in the distance drew us down the avenue and through its doors. Subtle and intricate details tickled my eyes in the dark from the faraway domes. Deep blue painted skies were accented with golden stars. S. Antonio’s tomb was surrounded by relief panels exercising mastery in perspective, but it was the tomb itself that drew visitors: the devout paused behind the tomb and pressed their hand to the cold marble where S. Antonio’s body would be. They were praying and I watched as they closed their eyes, one hand to the tomb. There was something else in that church, something I couldn’t lay my eyes on. Right before leaving, a chapel decorated in the 1920s was soaked in sunlight, making the tile-work glimmer, glow and sparkle. There was something else…

We waited for our designated time to enter the Scrovegni Chapel: five minutes outside, and fifteen minutes inside. In order to prevent pollutants from entering and regulate the air inside the chapel, visitors must sit for a fifteen minute video about the chapel before their fifteen minute visit to the chapel. Commissioned in 1303 to save the soul of Scrovegni’s father, Giotto’s chapel has been meticulously preserved and still radiates. The ceiling is so beautifully blue. Blue radiates from almost every panel depicting the lives of Jesus, Mary and her parents Saints Joachim and Anne. Giotto’s daring use of realism gives life to his figures and integrates a wonderfully angular and awkward perspectival space. Fifteen minutes wasn’t nearly enough to witness the work of an artist so key in the development of art. I’ll remember the blue.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

E un che d’una scrofa azzurra e grossa
segnato avea lo suo sacchetto bianco,
mi disse: «Che fai tu in questa fossa?
Or te ne va; e perché se’ vivo anco,
sappi che ’l mio vicin Vitaliano
sederà qui dal mio sinistro fianco.
Con questi Fiorentin son padoano:
spesse fiate mi ’ntronan li orecchi
gridando: "Vegna ’l cavalier sovrano,
che recherà la tasca con tre becchi!"».
Qui distorse la bocca e di fuor trasse
la lingua, come bue che ’l naso lecchi.
E io, temendo no ’l più star crucciasse
lui che di poco star m’avea ’mmonito,
torna’ mi in dietro da l’anime lasse.

(Divina Commedia, Inf. XVII, 64-78)