Scrovegni Chapel

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Capella degli Scrovegni
Kiss of Judas, one of the panels in the Scrovegni Chapel.

The Scrovegni Chapel ([Cappella degli Scrovegni] Error: {{Lang-xx}}: text has italic markup (help), also known as the Arena Chapel), is a church in Padua, Veneto, Italy. It contains a fresco cycle by Giotto, completed about 1305, that is one of the most important masterpieces of Western art. The nave measures 20,88 metres is 8,41 meters wide and 12,65 meters high. The apse area is composed by a square area (4.49 meters deep and 4,31 meters wide) and by a penthagonal area (2,57 meters deep)


The church was dedicated to Santa Maria della Carità at the Feast of the Annunciation, 1303, and consecrated in 1305. Giotto's fresco cycle focuses on the life of the Virgin Mary and celebrates her role in human salvation. A motet by Marchetto da Padova appears to have been composed for the dedication on 25 March 1305.[1] The chapel is also known as the Arena Chapel because it was built on land purchased by Enrico Scrovegni that abutted the site of a Roman arena. The space was where an open-air procession and sacred representation of the Annunciation to the Virgin had been played out for a generation before the chapel was built.


Building and decoration

The Arena Chapel was commissioned from Giotto by the affluent Paduan banker, Enrico Scrovegni. In the early 1300s Enrico purchased from Manfredo Dalesmanini the area on which the Roman arena had stood. Here he had his luxurious palace built, as well as a chapel annexed to it. The chapel's project was twofold: to serve as the family's private oratory and funerary monument. Enrico called Giotto, the famous Florentine painter, to decorate his chapel. By then Giotto had already worked for the Franciscan friars of in Assisi and Rimini, and had been in Padua for some time, working for the the Basilica of Saint Anthony at the Sala del Capitolo and the Chapel of the Blessings. A number of 14th-century sources (Riccobaldo Ferrarese, Francesco da Barberino, 1312-1313) testify to Giotto's presence at the Arena Chapel site. The fresco cycle can be dated with a good appoximation to a series of documental testimonies: the purchase of the land took place in February 1300; the Bishop of Padua, Ottobono dei Razzi, authorised the building some time prior to 1302 (the date of his transferral to the Patriarcato of Aquileia); the chapel was first consacrated on 25th March, 1303, on the day of the Annunziata; on 1st March, 1304 Pope Benedict XI granted an indulgence to whomever had visited the Chapel, then one year later, the chapel received its definitive consacration on 25th March 1305. Giotto's work thus falls in the time period which goes from 25th March, 1303 to 25th March, 1305. Giotto painted the chapel's inner surface following a comprehensive iconographic and decorative project which in his book I segreti di Giotto. Le rivelazioni dalla Cappella degli Scrovegni (Rizzoli, 2008) Giuliano Pisani has identified as being the work of the Augustinian theologian, Friar Alberto da Padova. Among the sources utilised by Giotto on Friar Alberto's indication are the Pseudo-Matthew and Necodemus (the Apocryphal Gospels), the ''Golden Legend'' (Legenda aurea) by Jacopo da Varazze (Jacobus a Varagine) and, for a series of iconographic details, Pseudo-Bonaventura's Meditations of Jesus' Life, as well as a number of Augustinian texts, such as De doctrina Christiana, De libero arbitrio, De Genesi contra Manicheos, De quantitate animae, as well as texts from the Medieval Christian tradition, among which the Phisiologus. When he worked at Enrico Scrovegni's chapel Giotto, born in 1267, was 36-38 years old; he could count on a team of about 40 collaborators, and it was calculated that 625 work "days" were necessary to paint the chapel. (By "work day" is meant not a 24-hour day, but each fresco's portion that is painted before the plaster is no longer "fresh", which in Italian translates "fresco"). In January 1305 the Friars from the near-by Church of the Eremitani filed a complaint to the Bishop, protesting that the chapel's owner had not respected the original agreement: he was transforming his private oratory into an actual church with a bell tower, thus producing an unfair competition with the Church of the Eremitani's activities. We do not know what happened next, but it is likely that as a consequence of this protest the monumental apse and the wide transept were demolished. Both are visible on the church's "model" painted by Giotto on the counter-façade (the Final Judgement). The apse was the section where Enrico Scrovegni had meant to have his burial place. The presence, in the apse, of frescoes dating to after 1320 strongly suggests the demolition hypothesis proposed by Giuliano Pisani. The apse area, which is typically the most significant one in all sacred buildings is the place where Enrico and his wife, Iacopina d'Este were buried. As it is, the aps presents a narrowing of the space which is quite surprising and conveys a sense of incompleteness. All together, it gives a sense of being kind of "messy". When one observes the lower frame of the triupmhal arch, right above Saint Catherine of Alexandria's small altar piece, one notices that Giotto's perfect symmetry is altered by a fresco decoration (two medallions with busts of women saints and a lunette representing Christ in gory and two episodes from the Passion, the prayer in the Getsemani garden and the flogging of Jesus) that gives an overall sense of disharmony. The artist who painted these scenes is the same who painted the great part of the aps surface: un unknown artist called "the Master of the Scrovegni Choir", who worked a the Chapel about twenty years after Giotto's work was completed. The main focus of the unknown artist's work is constituted by the six monumental scenes on the side walls of the presbitery, which depict the last period of Mary's earthly life - a choice in tune with the iconographic program painted by Giotto.

Modern period

Originally the chapel was connected to the Scrovegni palace, which was demolished in 1827 to obtain precious materials and make space to two condominiums. The palace was built on the remains of the elipitical ancient Roman arena's foundations. The chapel was purchased by the Municipality of the City of Padua in 1881, a year after the City Council's deliberation of 10 May 1880. The condominiums were soon demolished and restoration started on the chapel - a not so easy nor satisfactory task. In June 2001, following a 20-year preparation study, the Istituto Centrale per il Restauro (Central Institute for Restoration) of the Ministry for Cultural Activities in collaboration with Padua's Town Hall in its capacity of owner of the Arena Chapel - started a full-scale restoration of Giotto's frescoes under late Giuseppe Basile's technical direction. In 2000 the consolidation and restoration of the external surfaces had been completed and the adjacent "Corpo Tecnologico Attrezzato" (CTA) had been installed. In this "Equipped Technological Chamber" visitors wait for fifteen minutes to allow humidity to decrease to the desired level and smog dusts to be reduced. In March 2002 the chapel was reopned to the public in all its original splendour. A few problems remain unsolved: in the first place, the flood in the crypt underlying the nave due to the presence of the "aquifer" (the water layer) and the cement strings which were introduced in the 1960s in the place of the original wooden ones, causing visible repercussions on the overall building's stability.

Errors recently confuted

Giuliano Pisani's studies proved the groundlessness of a number of "common places" concerning the chapel. Among them, the notion that Dante inspired Giotto - the theological program followed by Giotto is not Tomistic, namely based on Saint Thomas, but wholly Augustinian -; the conjecture according to which the "Frati Gaudenti" fraternity, of which Enrico Scrovegni was a member, had a say in the elaboration of Giotto's fresco cycle; and the belief that Enrico Scrovegni influenced the iconographic program in order to not have emphasis placed on his supposed "usury vice". Giuliano Pisani pointed out that Dante's condemnation of Enrico's father, Reginaldo, in Canto 17 of Hell dates to a few years after Giotto's completion of the Chapel and cannot, therefore, be regarded as a motive behind any theological anxieties on Enrico's part back in the early 1300s. At a deeper level of analysis, a tennet of Giotto's scholarship was for a long time the belief that Giotto had made a number of theological mistakes, placing, for instance, Hope after Charity in the Virtues series and not including Avarice in the Vices series. Giotto is following a precise and faultless theological program based on Saint Augustin and articulated by one of Europe's leading theologians of the time, Alberto da Padova, based on which what used to appear "mistakes", whether intentional or unintentional, have been proved to be stepd in a perfectly balanced theolological program. Thus Avarice, far from being "absent" in Giotto's cycle, is portrayed together with Envy, forming a fundamental component of of a wider and more comprehensive sin: Envy. "Avaritia" (Avarice) and "Invidia" (Envy) form one and the same "sinful entity", as the money bag which Envy is greedily clutching indicates. For this reason is Envy placed opposite the triumphant Virtue of Charity, to indicate that Charity is the exact opposite of Envy, and that in order to cure oneself of the sin of Envy-Avarice one needs to look at Charity and learn from her. Charity is crashing Envy's money bag under her feet, while on the opposite wall red flames burn under Envy's feet. Giotto's Vices and Virtues are no longer two separate series of negative and positive ethical representations, but, through Saint Augustin's texts and Friar Alberto 's learned mediation, they can now be seen as part of a therapeutic progress proceeding in a zig-zag way from Stultitia (Lack of Moral Judgment) and Prudentia ("Prudence") to Hope and Desperation. Before Giuliano Pisani's book, Vices and Virtues were seen as vertically connected to Hell and Paradise respectively, with no dialogue taking place between and among them. Saint Augustin's ultimate message is that Hope is more important than even Charity, hence its location after Charity, which beforehand was considered a theological "blunder". In the period 1300-1302 Alberto was living at the adjacent convent of the Church of the Eremitani (one of Europe's leading centres for the study of theology at pre-university level). Friar Alberto continued his career at the University of Paris, La Sorbonne, where he reached the prestigious position of "Magister". He was one of the brightest and most charismatic theologians of his time.

It is a really strange and wrong idea that Enrico built the chapel in penitence for his father's sin of usury and to obtain absolution for his own.

Anthology of images

External video
Giotto - Scrovegni - -36- - Lamentation (The Mourning of Christ).jpg
video icon Giotto's Arena (Scrovegni) Chapel - Part 1 Overview (4:57), Smarthistory[2]
video icon Part 2 Narrative Cycle (10:14)
video icon Part 3 The Lamentation (5:42)
video icon Part 4 The Last Judgment (6:23)

The iconography of the fresco cycles are those of the Life of Christ and the Life of the Virgin. The Annunciation occupies a central position over the chancel arch.

Expulsion of the Money-Changers from the Temple
Last Judgment


  1. Anne Robertson 'Remembering the Annunciation in Medieval Polyphony' Speculum70 (1995), 275-304
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  • Bokody, Péter. "Justice, Love and Rape: Giotto’s Allegories of Justice and Injustice in the Arena Chapel, Padua." In The Iconology of Law and Order, ed. Anna Kerchy and others, 55-66. Szeged: JATE Press, 2012.
  • Derbes, Anne, and Mark Sandona. The Usurer's Heart: Giotto, Enrico Scrovegni, and the Arena Chapel in Padua. Pennsylvania State University Press, 2008.
  • Derbes, Anne, and Mark Sandona, eds. The Cambridge Companion to Giotto. Cambridge University Press, 2004.
  • Frugoni, Chiara L'affare migliore di Enrico: Giotto e la cappella Scrovegni Einuadi, 2008
  • Jacobus, Laura Giotto and the Arena Chapel: Art, Architecture and Experience Brepols/Harvey Miller Publications, 2008
  • Ladis, Andrew Giotto's O Pennsylvania State University Press, 2008
  • Giuliano Pisani, L’ispirazione filosofico-teologica nella sequenza Vizi-Virtù della Cappella degli Scrovegni, «Bollettino del Museo Civico di Padova», XCIII, 2004, Milano 2005, pp. 61–97.
  • Giuliano Pisani, Terapia umana e divina nella Cappella degli Scrovegni, in «Il Governo delle cose», dir. Franco Cardini, Firenze, n. 51, anno VI, 2006, pp. 97–106.
  • Giuliano Pisani, L’iconologia di Cristo Giudice nella Cappella degli Scrovegni di Giotto, in «Bollettino del Museo Civico di Padova», XCV, 2006, pp. 45–65.
  • Giuliano Pisani, Le allegorie della sovrapporta laterale d’accesso alla Cappella degli Scrovegni di Giotto, in «Bollettino del Museo Civico di Padova», XCV, 2006, pp. 67–77.
  • Giuliano Pisani, Il miracolo della Cappella degli Scrovegni di Giotto, in ModernitasFestival della modernità (Milano 22-25 giugno 2006), Spirali, Milano 2006, pp. 329–57.
  • Giuliano Pisani, Una nuova interpretazione del ciclo giottesco agli Scrovegni, in «Padova e il suo territorio», XXII, 125, 2007, pp. 4–8.
  • Giuliano Pisani, I volti segreti di Giotto. Le rivelazioni della Cappella degli Scrovegni, Rizzoli, Milano 2008 (ISBN 9788817027229).
  • Giuliano Pisani, Il programma della Cappella degli Scrovegni, in Giotto e il Trecento, catalogo a cura di A. Tomei, Skira, Milano 2009, I – I saggi, pp. 113–127.
  • Stokstad, Marilyn; Art History, 2011, 4th ed., ISBN 0-205-79094-1
  • Giuliano Pisani, La fonte agostiniana della figura allegorica femminile sopra la porta palaziale della Cappella degli Scrovegni, in «Bollettino del Museo Civico di Padova», XCIX, 2010 (2014), pp. 35-46.
  • Giuliano Pisani, La concezione agostiniana del programma teologico della Cappella degli Scrovegni, in Alberto da Padova e la cultura degli agostiniani, a cura di Francesco Bottin, Padova University Press, pp. 215-268 ISBN 978-88-6938-009-9
  • Giuliano Pisani, Il capolavoro di Giotto. La Cappella degli Scrovegni, Editoriale Programma, Treviso 2015, pp. 1-176 ISBN978-88-6643-350-7

External links

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